By: Keith Campbell
17th February 2006
“We see intellectual capital as the ability to generate one’s own intellectual property (IP) or to put other people’s IP to good use through the employment of highly-skilled people,” he explains.
“As the demand for different engineeringsolutions arises in the economy, whatever they may be, IST will adopt them, master them, and offer them to the market,” heassures.
“We are first and foremost an engineering company – we are led by engineers,the majority of our staff are engineers,supported by other disciplines,” heelucidates.
IST’s primary skills sets are electricalengineering, electronic engineering,computer engineering and software, and then mechanical engineering – it hassome work which requires chemical and metallurgical engineers.
“There is no other company in SouthAfrica that has the breadth of engineering,the depth of skills, and the breadth and depth of experience that we have, under one roof,” he maintains.
The phrase ‘under one-roof’ is almostliterally true; except for IST Industrial,located in Centurion, in the Tshwane Metro, south of Pretoria, all IST’s otherdivisions are located in a single building in Menlyn, eastern Pretoria. “It is important to stress that we are not consulting engineers; rather, we deliver turnkey solutions – we don’t do just advice; we dodesign and delivery; and our investment ineffort has always been on getting a continualinflux of new, skilled people from universitiesand technikons, and on the continuous acquisition of new, high-tech products and solutions,” he affirms.
Technologies have always changed over time; once those time periods could bemeasured in centuries then in decades and now in years.
The company does not seek merely to keep up with these changes; it seeks to ride the crest of the technology wave and bring the latest to the South African market.
The company is able to do this because its diversified nature means that, while onedivision is spending money and time onabsorbing and mastering new technology, it can, if need be, be kept afloat by the profits generated by the other divisions.
“This allows us to take on new technologiesin their early gestation phase: we are committed to supplying leading-edge technologiesat the front of the learning curve and we do so with a blend of our own IP and imported IP which we adapt to local conditions,” points out Coetzee.
That also means that the group is constantly evolving and adapting. Founded 25 years ago, today’s IST bears little resemblance to theoriginal company, except in spirit.
“IST started as a defence company; if ithad remained a defence company, it would not have survived – but it adapted; by its nature it continues to adapt, and it will always adapt,” he states.
“In a smaller company like ours, whichhas a flat managerial structure, a culture offrugality, and an egalitarian ethos, instilled by IST founder Derrick du Toit, you have theadvantage of quicker decision-making, and a more entrepreneurial approach,” he highlights.
These factors, plus one more, also explain how the company can survive, in fact thrive, in the face of competition by giant multinationals.
That extra factor is location.
IST is not a global player – it is an African player; it does some work outside Africa but its core markets are South Africa and Africa: the company’s skills base is here, and not in Europe or North America, and that gives IST its competitive edge, as its clients do not have to wait for its people to fly in from across the world.
Further, the company has established a strong relationship with one of the biggest and most powerful of the world’s great technology companies: General Electric.
“I think we have ample evidence that this strategy is a good one,” he affirms.
Today, the IST group comprises IST Holdings, which controls the group; three branches or wings; and eight divisions orcompanies.
The three branches are: Electronics, Intellectual Property and Development (IPD), and Industrial.
Electronics comprises IST Data, IST Energy, IST Otokon, and IST Telecom.
IPD comprises IST Dynamics and IST Nuclear.
Industrial is now composed of IST Industrial and IST Technik.
“Provided we continue to build our skills set, which we are committed to doing, this company has a fantastic future,” concludes Coetzee.
Edited by: Keith Campbell