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Hein Engelbrecht

Hein Engelbrecht: From Accountancy to Leadership

Navigating the Numbers, Leading Mustek, and Embracing a Holistic Leadership Approach!

Every journey has a tale that just needs to be shared. How does a small-town boy from Belfast become the CEO of a leading company? What fuels the trajectory from accounting to the helm of Mustek Limited?

Meet Hein Engelbrecht, a name synonymous with resilience, leadership, and a journey that intertwines personal passion with professional excellence. Hailing from the chilly town of Belfast in Mpumalanga, his academic voyage led him to the University of Pretoria, where he delved into the world of accountancy. Little did he know that this would be the stepping stone to a remarkable career marked by growth and leadership.

The Mustek story begins with Hein’s entry as the group financial manager in 1997. The cultural fit between him and the company, combined with the potential for a fulfilling work environment, proved to be the catalyst that set his journey in motion. Rising through the ranks, he assumed the role of group financial director in 2001, followed by the position of group managing director from 2008 to 2022.

In 2022, an unexpected shift occurred with the passing of David Kan, leading Hein to take on the role of group CEO. His journey within Mustek has not only witnessed the company’s growth but also allowed him to contribute significantly to its evolution. From the finance department to day-to-day operations, his commitment to the company’s success has been unrelenting.

Beyond the boardroom, his life is a blend of professional acumen and personal passions. A sports enthusiast, he actively engages in various activities, with golf holding a special place in his heart. This holistic approach to leadership is reflected in his ability to navigate challenges with resilience, drawing inspiration not only from the corporate landscape but also from the diverse world of sports.

Below are the interview highlights:

Could you please elaborate on Mustek and its inception story?

Founded in 1987, Mustek originated in Garankuwa, just outside Pretoria. Initially, our primary focus was the supply of components to the local market. At that time, the warehouses were situated in Garankuwa, while the sales office operated from Weinberg, Sandton. As our business expanded, we introduced the Mecer brand to the market, emphasizing desktop PCs.

In 1996, after experiencing significant growth, we moved our operations to our current premises at 322, 15th Randjespark, Midrand. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the importance of mobile notebooks surged. While our Mecer notebook initially performed well, we faced formidable competition from larger OEM players entering the market after the lifting of sanctions. To meet this challenge, Mustek diversified its distribution business by incorporating a broader range of international brands into the local market.

In 1997, Mustek achieved a milestone by listing on the JSE under the ITC sector, becoming a publicly traded company. This move allowed us to showcase our performance and results to the public. From a group perspective, Rectron was established to complement Mustek’s focus on Tier 1 completed products, filling a crucial role in the component side of the business.

In recent years, Mustek has expanded its portfolio by investing in Mecer Inter-Ed, a training company with a specific focus on the ICT sector. Seeking to diversify revenue streams, we ventured into manufacturing, with notable investments in companies like YOA, which excels in manufacturing fiber cables in Dube Trade Port in KZN. Another strategic investment is CPS, which is dedicated to manufacturing server cabinets and related products.

As a testament to our growth and success, in the last financial year, Mustek reached the significant milestone of reaching the R10 billion mark. This journey reflects our commitment to adaptability, diversification, and sustained excellence in the ever-evolving technology landscape.

How would you describe your leadership style, and what values do you prioritize in leading a team?

Describing one’s own leadership style can be challenging, but I aim to lead from the front, unhesitant in decision-making, especially in the face of challenges. To truly understand my leadership style, it might be more insightful to inquire with the broader management team about their perspectives.

In alignment with Mustek’s values, I prioritize integrity, respect, and appreciation. These values are not only expectations for myself but also for my team. I foster an environment where individuals feel valued and comfortable being authentic. Given the dynamic nature of the industry, I emphasize the significance of knowledge and a positive attitude. Building robust relationships and alliances with stakeholders is a core focus, aiming for long-term benefits for all parties involved.

Flexibility is paramount in our ever-changing technological landscape, where innovative solutions are crucial for addressing new challenges. I advocate for a proactive approach, always seeking adaptable strategies. Ultimately, responsibility and accountability are non-negotiable. My approach revolves around making decisions with the aim of ensuring more correct decisions than incorrect ones.

What are the key challenges you face in your industry, and how do you approach overcoming them?

In our ever-evolving landscape, new issues, solutions, and technological shifts continuously emerge. Although artificial intelligence plays a pivotal role in various sectors, we must discern its potential impact on our business.

To navigate these challenges effectively, knowledge and experience are paramount. Maintaining close ties with our vendors, especially industry giants like Microsoft, Intel, Lenovo, and Huawei, provides invaluable insights. Proximity to these major players allows us to make informed decisions, anticipating potential challenges on the technological front.

Beyond technology, the prevailing high interest rates pose a significant challenge. As a distributor carrying stock, the associated interest costs demand careful management. Additionally, the volatility of exchange rates, especially concerning the Rand, introduces complexity. Local logistical challenges, particularly with port authorities, and the persistent issue of crime necessitate substantial investment in protecting infrastructure and inventory.

Having been in the industry for an extended period, we possess the advantage of recognizing trends early and proactively addressing them. While these challenges present hurdles, they also act as a protective barrier, deterring newcomers unfamiliar with the nuances of our unique trading environment.

As a CEO, my role involves not only spending time with industry leaders and vendors but also leveraging a team of specialists focused on specific brands. These specialists stay attuned to market dynamics, product changes, and strategic shifts. Personally, my interactions involve maintaining high-level relationships with local stakeholders, ensuring a broad understanding of our business landscape.

In addressing the delicate balance between innovation and stability, I acknowledge that much innovation stems from industry giants. Our role is to align ourselves strategically with their vision, target markets, and pricing strategies. While our direct impact on product innovation may be limited, but our focus lies in enhancing the overall customer experience. This involves innovations in service, support, warranties, and streamlining business processes to ensure efficiency.

How do you balance innovation with the need for stability and consistency in your business strategies?

I believe a critical aspect of achieving this equilibrium lies in the specialization within our team. We have specialists dedicated to specific brands, ensuring they remain well-versed in the dynamic landscape of their respective markets. Their responsibility is to stay abreast of industry changes, potential product developments, and strategic positioning for our offerings. On a personal level, my role involves maintaining high-level relationships with local stakeholders and receiving key insights from specialists without delving into technical minutiae.

Emphasizing strong relationships has been a cornerstone of our business, and I foresee it continuing to be integral. This collaborative approach ensures that everyone is informed not only about our initiatives and innovations but also about external factors influencing our industry. Looking forward, nurturing these relationships will remain paramount in steering our business in the right direction.

When addressing the question of balancing innovation with stability, our organization relies heavily on the insights provided by dedicated specialists. These individuals play a crucial role in relaying market dynamics and potential innovations, allowing us to strategically position ourselves. While significant innovation often emanates from larger industry players, our focus lies in understanding how we can align with their vision, target markets, and pricing strategies.

In terms of product innovation, we recognize that our primary contribution is in how we position ourselves and the additional elements surrounding our products. This encompasses aspects such as service and support, warranties, and ensuring a streamlined and efficient business process for our clients. Our innovation, therefore, revolves around enhancing the overall customer experience and addressing specific technical product needs when required.

In your opinion, what are the most critical skills or qualities for a leader in today’s rapidly changing business landscape?

I think you’ve got to have integrity and show respect and appreciation. You’ve got to have a certain amount of knowledge and attitude, an attitude that is quite important and flexibility. And then be responsible and accountable. If you don’t have integrity, you won’t have respect. And then your appreciation of other people will probably be very little. So, I think those are quite key for me from a leadership point of view, to make sure that people have got no doubt in those specific fundamentals.

How do you personally invest in your continuous learning and professional development?

So from an accounting point of view, we’re obliged to actually have continuous professional development. I won’t say that I’m where I should be, but I’m also not going to sign up on any financial statements as an auditor.

There’s a lot of information that’s available about the industry, new products, new lines of business, new inventions. It’s continuous learning. At the end of the day, I think and do some self-reflection and ask what have I learned today. I’ve learned to appreciate that there’s a lot of lot of knowledge within the organization. There are some clever people around. There are people who are extremely passionate about technology and where technology is going. Staff share their knowledge with me so for me that is continuous learning. On a day-to-day basis, without actually sitting down and writing an exam or some sort, I think what`s more valuable than anything else is being close enough to the action that you know what’s going on and you learn on the go. I think a key to learning is to be able to step away and let the other people go and do their magic.

Beyond professional achievements, what personal values or experiences do you believe have contributed to your success as a CEO?

I’ve always been active in sports, engaging in long-distance running, completing the Two Oceans marathon four times—an achievement I take pride in. These experiences laid the foundation for the mindset and attitude crucial in leadership. Additionally, my tennis background, playing at a competitive level on the B side and participating in Sunday afternoon matches, contributed positively to my interpersonal skills. I’ve ventured into global sports like golf and have found that my competitive nature often emerges on the golf course. I enjoy taking calculated risks and backing myself, even if I’m not the best golfer in town. Beyond sports, I value humility and authenticity, finding moments to make light of myself to bring joy to others. Coming from Belfast, I recognize the fortune of my current position and understand the fragility of success. Expressing gratitude and maintaining humility are essential to me, given the unpredictable nature of life.