Powerstar going stellar
People tend to have mixed feelings when it comes to Chinese products – with consumers fearing them and manufacturers starting to feel intimidated by their price. JACO DE KLERK discovers that the leaders at Powerstar, the captains of this industry, are in the process of changing the former’s perceptions and reinforcing the latter’s concerns.
According to Mark Beukes, head of sales and networking at Powerstar, people were laughing at Chinese products three years ago, but this is changing as they are now starting to become aware of them. “The competition is starting to take us seriously now, where before they thought we were a joke,” he elaborates. “However, we are starting to become a serious threat, and we intend to carry that threat through.”
And this seems no idle warning when one considers that this year the company’s market share has increased by seven percent and its truck sales by 330 percent. Beukes adds that Powerstar aims for a 30 percent increase during 2013, taking its units sold up from 600 to 800. “We plan to be fifth in the South African market by 2015,” he proclaims.
Beukes’s confidence isn’t newfound; this is his seventh year with the Powerstar brand. He owned the first ever South African Powerstar dealership from 2006, with Chinese holding company Norinco buying it back in 2009. Beukes joined the organisation as regional sales manager, and has changed job titles numerous times along the way.
He says the brand’s present-day success wouldn’t have been possible without Bob Wang, chief operating officer at Powerstar. “The only reason this company achieved what it did is because of him,” says Beukes. “Bob has a vision, but we can talk and make decisions together, which makes a massive difference. If this man goes, we’re in trouble.”
Wang, who has been with Powerstar since 2010 and Norinco for seventeen years, says he doesn’t know why the big boss chose him to come to South Africa. “But perhaps it is because I passed the English test,” he notes with a smile, adding that all Chinese employees have to pass such a test before they can work abroad.
Wang studied engineering at the University of the South East in China, one of the top 10 in the country. He then also studied international business – he says it is a popular course “because all the big companies want to do international business”.
Beukes points out that Wang didn’t come to Powerstar pushing the Chinese way of doing business – “which works there but won’t work here”. He adds that in any company the operations team has to understand the local market, which Wang fully embraces.
This is where Beukes plays a vital role, with his extensive experience in the trucking industry stretching back to 1988. He has gained extensive knowledge of the South African commercial vehicle market, from being a Volvo agent to owning two MAN dealerships (which later merged with Associated Motor Services, resulting in Beukes being the group’s managing director and running its transport services).
These management gurus have completely different management styles, and this also contributes to the business’s success. “We aren’t corporate at all,” explains Beukes. ”We have a very flat management style. Bob is basically my direct senior, but we make decisions within minutes.”
He explains that this is achieved through the simple process of him running upstairs and talking to Wang. “Bob and I agree on 90 percent of what we need to do, so we generally make decisions instantaneously,” Beukes adds. “We have a simple philosophy, which enables us to do things quickly.”
The final and most important ingredient to their success is the Powerstar product, with the brand’s philosophy also centred on keepings things simple yet effective. “We have a completely different transport solution for South Africa,” says Beukes. “We are offering a simple and effective machine, with the trucks being more durable because less can go wrong.”
He emphasises that Powerstar is building a truck for Africa in Africa, with China supporting the project all the way.
“The Chinese approach is, ‘Okay guys, we don’t have a clue how South Africa works, so you develop the business model – just make sure it works’,” he says, adding that their managing board has given the local team the responsibility to design the general strategy and business model. “We don’t get told what to do and how to do it, we just get told that it has to work – and that’s the difference between the East and the West.”
And what a difference Beukes and Wang have made to the Powerstar brand, making it soar towards the stars with their simple, laidback, fun and friendship-like – yet effective – management style.