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Top Executives: Johan Cilliers, Managing Director, PERI Formwork Scaffolding Engineering
Management sat down with Johan Cilliers, Managing Director of PERI Formwork Scaffolding Engineering, one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of formwork and scaffolding in the world, to find out how the construction industry in South Africa is performing and how important environmental sustainability is to the sector.
How has PERI achieved such positive results recently?
Johan Cilliers: It is about people and team-effort. We only recruit people that fit our culture and who are passionate about our products and services.
What strategies are in place to identify talent?
JC: A number of things: firstly, we determine whether a person will fit into our PERI culture – what we call the PERI family; then we are obviously looking for people that have talent and potential to grow – like young engineers or other professions required in our industry. Lastly, we are not only looking for academic qualifications – which is important – but we are looking for “that something special” in a person.
With that in mind, how important is innovation to your business?
JC: That is one of the cornerstones and keys of our business. We have to keep innovating and improve our business processes to remain an industry leader. Innovation is very evident when you compare today’s new-age formwork to the construction materials and techniques used 15 to 20 years ago.
What impact did the financial crisis have on the South African construction industry?
JC: It had a huge impact on PERI and the industry. However, the new stadiums and infrastructure improvements required for the FIFA Soccer World Cup for a period buffered the South African construction industry. The industry peaked in 2008 when most of the new stadiums were completed, but momentum and periphery work carried us through to 2010. At that point, everyone, myself included, thought South Africa to be immune to the financial crisis. After the emotional high of the world cup, we returned to work in January 2011 to find everything has come to a grinding halt, specifically for the construction industry. Those were very tough times.
Tell us about your social development programmes and what you are involved in?
JC: PERI has various development programmes. A few examples: we have a learnership programme where civil engineering technikon students do their practical work through us and get to know the industry. We also sponsor individuals and typically deploy them in our drawing-offices. We currently sponsor four students in Midrand and another four in Cape Town. We also have a continual education policy for employees – for example, a competent – but unqualified – boiler-maker or welder would be encouraged and sponsored to do the relevant trade tests in order to become certified.
In terms of social development, we focus on pre-primary education and support a local NGO, Masikhule, who specialises in early childhood development and teacher training in under-privileged areas. Last year, for example, we had to replace about 300 laptops in our company due to system upgrades. Most of these were in perfect working condition and we donated them to Masikhule. We are also involved with ad-hoc projects such as Oasis – a waste recycling facility in Cape Town, which only employs intellectually disabled people.
How important is environmental sustainability and ecological awareness in the construction industry?
JC: I think it is becoming more and more important. Green building construction is proliferating and we often find it specified that construction products on site must originate from green, sustainable sources.
PERI girders, for example, are manufactured from wood grown in certified sustainable forests in Scandinavian countries. At our PERI factory in Weissenhorn, Germany, PERI only process timber products that contains no toxic or harmful substances. In addition, PERI has it’s own biomass power plant where energy is extracted from wood chips – a waste product from girder production and formwork assembly. It is used for power production, process heat extraction, heating and hot water treatment, with any over-capacity fed into the national power grid.
PERI takes environmental sustainability and green production very seriously.