Marco Valente, CEO, discusses the role of innovation within the company and its vision of being a key strategic partner and business enabler in the global arena.

 This article originally appeared in the August 2017 Edition of the Leadership Magazine. Click here to read the full article.

Please could you provide us with an overview of the company’s history, establishment and what it does?

PFK made a name for itself as a leading player in both the local and global markets, with established offices in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, the UK, Canada, the USA and Portugal. The company has supplied all of the major automotive OEM producers operating in South Africa—and a number of international ones—racking up numerous awards over the years. PFK originally designed products for the South African Defence Force, which led to the creation of the Autowatch brand in 2009.

In 2012, PFK was able to expand its capabilities into control instruments by acquiring Pi-Shurlok and moved its production facilities into Pietermaritzburg as a result. This stateof-the-art production facility afforded the rebranded PFK Shurlok the ability to custombuild unique solutions in high volumes, to a variety of clients and design specifications from around the world.

 What makes your facilities state-of-the-art?

PFK offers a world-class manufacturing facility in Pietermaritzburg as well as our Nerve Centre, which is our research and development facility in Umhlanga. We employ some of the best engineering talent in the country for our Nerve Centre and have an extensive range of production machinery at our 9 000 Sqm plant that also houses around 400 staff members. What makes these facilities stateof-the-art isn’t necessarily just the technology but also the people, processes, standards and practices that we rigorously maintain and hold to ensure research and development (R&D) and production of the highest quality products. PFK has maintained an excellent standard of quality throughout the years (primarily driven by the stringent Automotive Manufacturing Standards we have become accustomed to over the decades), is ISO certified, accredited by some of the largest Global Automotive OEMs and has won numerous awards from various industry bodies.

 How does the company achieve its vision of being a key strategic partner and business enabler globally?

This is a very relevant question—especially when you consider that PFK is all about partnerships. We have a “Business to Partner to Business” model and this is the very core of PFK’s go-to-market strategy. We have a number of partners around the world that engage with us through our Powered by PFK programme. It all begins with finding the right partners who share the same goals and vision as we do, have a passion for quality solutions and who are relevant in the industry they contribute to. We see ourselves more as business enablers and not just tech manufacturers. We have invested (and continue to invest) in the right calibre of staff that range from product champions, account managers, engineers and technical resources to find the best fit for our partners and how we can leverage business success for them in the areas and industries that they operate in. Then, it’s all about applying the best practices we have learned as a business with nearly four decades of experience in growing and retaining these partnerships with the end goal being a rewarding business relationship for both parties.

 What are the core services and solutions that you offer and what makes them unique?

PFK’s end offerings fall into two categories: Proactive Mobile Resource Management (PMRM) Solutions and Contract Manufacturing. Our PMRM business is divided into three Strategic Business Units. Our Vehicle Convenience and Security Systems business has been in operation for decades and is very well represented in South Africa under the Autowatch brand as well as in various countries around the world.

Our Telematics SBU is focused on the manufacture and provision of our Video Telematics range of products to the Telematics industry via a global partner network. The Breathalok SBU is involved in the manufacture and provision of state-of-the-art Interlock solutions to various offender and DUI enforcement programmes around the world. All these business unit offerings are sold through our extensive partner network and make up the PMRM side of PFK. These offerings have been designed by our in-house R&D teams and manufactured in our facility in Pietermaritzburg. The contract manufacturing side of business focuses on the bespoke manufacturing needs of our longstanding OEM Global Automotive partners (with some relationships spanning over 20 years) as well as manufacturing offerings as diverse as print material for marketing companies to cell phone and tablet manufacturing for distributors around the world.

 What role does innovation play within the company and how does this translate?

PFK’s very nature is to innovate—we have been doing so for nearly four decades when the business started in a small basement facility in Durban with a modified bread toaster used as a soldering machine. Today, we have state-of-the-art robotics and technology, which can bring whatever innovations our partners need, to life. PFK houses R&D facilities in-house and can build anything from print design. This allows the innovative juices to flow and we offer this openly to our partners to take advantage of.

 PFK recently announced its withdrawal from direct tracking and telematics sales—what was the reasoning behind this decision?

Our focus has always been on design, development and manufacturing and therein lay the reason for the change of strategy within our Telematics business. PFK is not a direct sales business and works exclusively through a partner network. A few years ago, we opted to start supplying telematics end users directly — given their requests to do so and the opportunities this presented to us. This proved to be a mistake in the end as we are not geared up to function as a Service Provider to these clients—as our partners—and we started to become something we are not. We recently announced a complete retraction from the direct supply market and are now 100% focused on designing and building bespoke telematic solutions for the largest telematic Service Providers in South Africa in the same way we built bespoke solutions for many competing vehicle manufacturers here in South Africa and around the world. South Africa is fast becoming the contract manufacturing global destination and PFK is exceptionally well-positioned to take full advantage of this.

 What are some of your company’s biggest successes?

PFK’s biggest success is in our reputation for quality design and manufacture. I was recently in Germany meeting a very well-known multinational engineering business. The respect these engineers had for PFK and the acknowledgement of the quality levels PFK has become renowned for, was a very proud moment and a realisation that our leadership has a responsibility to keep this up and even improve it wherever we can. Our partners and their clients walk through our facilities and are stunned by the standards (with various ISO and OEM certifications firmly held)—amazed that we have this level of R&D and manufacturing prowess right on their doorsteps in SA. Our global partners are attracted to the obvious cost and currency advantages when they initiate discussions with us and are always astounded when they visit our operations, often commenting that this surpasses expectations and their experience.

 Please could you provide us with an overview of your educational and career background, prior to being appointed CEO?

I’ve held various Directorship and Managing Director positions in technology companies over the years, which include ICT and Telematics businesses. I have Honours degree qualifications in Industrial Psychology and Business Law and I have done various business programmes and diplomas. My passion is two-fold: Sales and Marketing and building dynamic leadership teams that work cohesively to grow the business. Business development is a key deliverable and something I have done all my life—from my days as a door-to-door salesperson to CEO.

 What does your position entail and what excites you most about your role?

My core responsibility is to build and manage a team of world-class leaders and specialists in their field; create an open, encouraging environment for them to work in, ensure that the vision is clearly communicated and give them the freedom to do what they do best whilst ensuring we keep focused on our core objectives. I am constantly impressed by the calibre of individuals who work at PFK and of the leadership team. The key is to get the team to think collectively while still embracing their individual talents and uniqueness. Harnessing this is superbly powerful and leads to great decisions and great results. I am at my happiest when the team is performing optimally, happily and seamlessly. This is where the magic happens.

 What does effective leadership mean to you?

Leadership is about serving. It’s about serving the needs of your team and bringing out the best in them. It’s about making the workplace a genuinely great place to be so that people can fully achieve their potential and feel that they are making a difference to the organisation.