When Andile Nqandela left his corporate job to launch Brimis Engineering, it was because he had spotted a clear gap in the market and an opportunity for change in the corporate culture that predominated in the engineering sector.

Manufacturers and distributors would launch new products to support plants, but aging infrastructures meant that there wasn’t always an affordable solution – or any solution at all – to broken equipment. OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) tend to focus on selling their own products, and therefore they do not look at holistically solving plant problems.

Brimis addresses this challenge through precision reverse engineering that focuses on refurbishing existing equipment where possible and offering advice on how to solve mechanical engineering problems throughout customers’ plants. With some replacement parts taking up to 14 weeks to arrive in South Africa, these solutions keep plants operational.

Based on this idea, Brimis has found success in a niche market, but Andile also wanted to change the way engineering firms operate, particularly from a human resources perspective. “We’ve built this business as if it’s a listed company because one day we will become a listed organization. Governance is therefore key to our business.

“I wanted to get rid of the red tape observed in big organisations that makes it so difficult for people to voice their issues or be recognized when they are doing something great. The foundation of Brimis is our people. If we understand their value and appreciate their work, we need to look after them. As a leadership team, if we serve the people who serve our customers, we can create a culture that always delivers – and that’s good for everyone. But it begins at the top.”

We sat down with Andile and he shared the top lessons that he’s learnt implementing a strong service culture in his business.

1. As a leader, be willing to serve the people who serve your customers

“As a young engineer, I did not belong to a union. I believe in asking for what I deserve myself. I’d find out what was required of me and I’d just do it because of the high ambition I had – particularly if I wanted to reach the next level in my career. I’ve built that attitude into my business, but it comes at a price. I have an open-door policy and everyone in the business knows that they have access to me – they can’t ask management what is required of them to excel if management is not accessible. Likewise, I can’t support them in their journey if I’m not willing to serve the people who serve the customers.”

2. Culture begins at the top

“As a first-time business owner who knew I wanted to change the culture of engineering firms, I researched various ways that I could build a culture that supported my employees and delivered exceptional service. I found the philosophies of Simon Sinek and Ian Fuhr particularly enlightening – and Ian had achieved his success with Sorbet in South Africa under our unique operating conditions. It was because of Ian’s talks that I do all inductions personally as MD of my company.

“It’s important that they understand the bigger picture of what we are trying to achieve. Our good-as-new refurbishment techniques keep plants operational and people employed. We offer solutions that avoid downtime and save money. We’re addressing a real need, and every one of our 38 full-time and 50 project-based employees contributes to that. When we show employees where the business fits into the broader value chain, and what their roles in those value chains are, we create a common purpose, and when everyone shares the same purpose, you build a culture that is dedicated to supporting each other and our customers.”

3. Live your values

“You can’t say one thing and do another. Our values are honesty, responsibility, respect, collaboration, non-traditional solutions, continuous improvement, and continuous personal development. These aren’t just words on a wall though. For example, how we positively impact local communities reflects our responsibility as a South African business. When we train interns, apprentices and junior engineers, it’s to increase the talent pool and job creation across the industry – even if they don’t remain with us.

“We are particularly focused on instilling a culture of caring and respect within the workplace. This is a male-dominated industry and women face harassment and worse. We’ve worked hard to create a safe, transparent environment where our female employees feel that they will be heard and protected if they voice a grievance, particularly if they work offsite.

“To achieve this, we encourage uncomfortable conversations because they are so important. If we can discuss what’s really happening in the workplace, we can solve real, on-the-ground issues.”

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