Intense loyalty to customers, employees and vendors has powered the growth of Aptronics - one of SA’s oldest technology companies.
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Aptronics recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. As with many SMEs, it was started with zero capital and run from a suburban garage.
Founder Appie Pema, 24 at the time, had lost his job after the company he was employed by went under due to poor management.
Today, Aptronics has a turnover of just over half a billion rand and employs 220 people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Pema tells us how he did it.
Reward your people for loyalty. In the first month I hired an IT guy who I could not afford to pay so I gave him 50% of the business which we then worked hard to grow. Following the dilution of company shares over time, he now owns 35% and retains his position as a tecchie because he has no interest in management.
Great leaders respect the business. I may be the CEO of Aptronics, but I am first and foremost an employee and I respect the business as I would any company that pays me a salary.
It’s a lesson I learnt from my first job – the executives did not value the organisation properly, and when it was liquidated as a result of bad management, the fallout was extremely negative for everyone involved.
Anyone can sell a product. The key is how well you make it work in the customer’s environment. Our success is the result of partnerships we form with our customers to ensure that they derive the greatest value possible from the solutions we provide.
Repeat business is what has enabled us to grow exponentially. It’s widely known that it costs far less to retain a customer than it does to recruit a new one. I strongly believe that how you manage the post-sale relationship secures the next sale to that customer and ensures their ongoing loyalty.
I have always avoided debt and work on a cash basis only. When I was growing the business I made sure that before I hired a new employee, I had saved up their salary for 12 months so that their arrival would have no impact on cash flow.
Now, we have sufficient savings to cover all overheads for 24 months. This ensures that we will be protected in the event of something going wrong.
Segmentation equals focus.
In a business where you work with many vendors, managing and satisfying them becomes as important – if not more so – as taking care of your customers. Vendors are demanding. That is why I segmented the company into different portfolios that take care of specific vendors.
It’s allowed us to focus on each business more closely, and has been a major contributor to the growth of the Aptronics group.
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