An engineer through and through
Andre Cilliers, managing director at BPW Axles, shares the tale of his rise to success
Cilliers studied mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria between 1974 and 1979. He then completed his honours degree in 1982 and has been registered as a professional engineer since that year.
He has been a member of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE) since 2001 and has served on the steering committee of the Johannesburg centre since then, which included a couple of terms as chairman.
“I have always had a keen interest in everything with wheels, and the engineering around it in particular,” Cilliers says.
After ten years at the Atomic Energy Corporation he joined Astas, as manufacturing engineering manager, at the end of 1991. “It produced transmissions and drive axles for the truck industry. After a few years, the group to which Astas belonged bought a few smaller manufacturing companies, and grouped them together into a division called Astas Automotive, and I was appointed as general manager,” he explains.
In August 1999, he was approached to join BPW Axles, where he was appointed managing director of the company. “I have been at BPW ever since, and will hopefully retire from here in around five years from now,” adds Cilliers.
During the past 17 years at BPW, he has surrounded himself with a strong management team. “Together, we have seen the company grow from strength to strength. Initially, the market share was well below ten percent, with very strong local competitors.
“Today, we boast a market penetration of over 30 percent – boosted by strong volume sales during the last very tough year, in particular. Our volumes produced grew eight times in the past 17 years, while our number of employees has more than doubled. A decent improvement in productivity!
“We have a company that performs well, sells a brand associated with quality and low cost of ownership, supported by superior product support,” he continues.
Looking ahead, Cilliers comments on some of the challenges facing the industry: “The cost of logistics and transport is a major issue. Furthermore, when we compare South Africa to other countries around the world, we certainly do not rank very well.
“We have serious road safety issues and a bad reputation in this regard. This is exacerbated by poor roadworthiness of vehicles, which can be linked to lack of maintenance. This relates specifically to trailers, which are major objects of neglect!”
He concludes: “I believe ‘to measure is to know’ and operating costs should be measured and known for every tonne and kilometre – to the last detail. There are many transporters that do exactly that, and for them the discussion – about cost of ownership, cost of maintenance oversights and the cost of opting for cheap, alternative parts in lieu of the original – is usually an easy one.”