Sparks Electrical News

Johan Basson, managing director of JB Switchgear Solutions, has a long and successful track record of more than 40 years in the industry. Prior to JB Switchgear, he owned RBF Technology which, at the time, was the largest privately-owned LV switchgear company in South Africa, and which was sold to Schneider Electric in 2007.

Personality of the month JOhan BassonA senior member of the SAIEE and numerous technical committees of the SABS, Johan also serves on the executive committee of the Electrical Switchgear Association of South Africa, and has held chairmanship positions of two large industry associations, ESASA and EEAIA. In addition, he acts as a technical advisor to numerous organisations including Anglo American, De Beers, Kumba Iron Ore and Sasol.

Sparks: Where were you educated?

JB: I went to Brandwag Hoërskool in Benoni, but circumstances were difficult, so I left school at the age of 16 to start working. I joined SA Railways as an apprentice electrician, and achieved my NTC 5 certificate before qualifying. Afterwards, I completed a national diploma in production engineering at Witwatersrand Technical College.  Numerous other management diplomas followed in subsequent years.

Sparks: How long have you been involved in the electrical industry?

JB: After completing my apprenticeship, I joined a small switchgear company. That was back in 1970, so overall it has been some 47 years, of which 40 years have been at senior management level.

Sparks: When and where did you start your career?

JB: I started my career at the South African Railways in 1966.

Sparks: What are the greatest changes you have seen over the years?

JB: I have seen many changes, the most significant being rapid technological advances and the substantial challenges facing our economy.  Our manufacturing footprint and capability in South Africa needs to be stepped up dramatically to secure a future for our young people.

Sparks: What major projects have you worked on and what is your greatest accomplishment?

JB: I have had the privilege of being involved in many large projects for all the major mining companies and project houses. I consider my greatest accomplishment to be the management buy-out of my previous company, RBF Technology, and making it into one of the largest panel building concerns in South Africa.

Sparks: Have you won any awards?

JB: Other than an ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award, there have been no personal work-related awards. My companies have achieved a number of industry awards giving recognition for our role in the field.

Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?

JB: Career-wise, the person that mentored me most significantly was Paul Nitchmann, the charismatic original owner of RBF Engineering. The biggest inspiration for my personal growth has been Nelson Mandela, through his selfless sacrifices and reconciliatory initiatives during our transformation years towards becoming a democracy.

Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?

JB: Our country faces a number of serious challenges, the most critical being unemployment and the high level of political uncertainty. Corruption, education and training need to be addressed as national priorities, and the private sector will have to play a stronger role in driving change for the future.

Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?

JB: My greatest reward is a happy customer. There is no bigger joy for any businessman than receiving positive recognition for commitment and hard work.

Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?

JB: I always try to lead by example. I treat my staff with respect, acknowledge their positive contributions and promote a team spirit whilst keeping things simple. I am a tough task master, but always endeavour to be totally open and fair. I am also a firm believer in management by walk-about, so I stay involved with all aspects of the business.

Sparks: If you could "do it all again", would you change anything? If so, what would that be?

JB: Although going into the electrical industry was not my dream as a young man, it has been good to me, and I have enjoyed most of it. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably be less naïve. Over the years I suffered disappointments from devious people through dishonesty and suspect ulterior motives. On the positive side, this has made me wiser and stronger as a person.

Sparks: Would you advise a person leaving school to enter the electrical industry? And, if so, why?

JB: I would strongly encourage any young person interested in the electrical industry to go for it!  We have a huge shortage of technical skills, from artisanal level to graduate engineers. The variety of directions and specialist fields is huge, and the industry is dynamic and constantly evolving to present an ever-fresh and exciting work environment.

Sparks: What is your advice to electrical contractors and/or electrical engineers?

JB: My advice is simply to remain focused and committed. Make sure you understand the standards governing performance and safety. Always keep an open mind, never stop learning, and above all, have fun. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  And then you will reap the rewards.

Sparks: What is your favourite quote?

JB: The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well – Sir William Oster.

Sparks: Name three things on your ‘bucket list’ (things you want to do before you ‘kick the bucket’).

JB: My bucket list is quite long, despite the fact I have done some great things, and experienced some very special moments. But, if I have to list three things, they are as follows: undertake an extended motorbike tour through Europe or America; explore Namibia; and attend the ‘Goodwood Festival’ in the UK.


Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Gregg Cocking
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

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