South Africa’s steel production and conversion capacity is at an all- time low and, as a result, the industry has been forced to downsize by selling off less-efficient assets to cover operational costs and working capital, says diversified boutique and investment holding company Africa Steel Holdings (ASH).
“Unfortunately, there have been significant job losses in the steel industry, which is the most painful thing to observe, as every job lost constrains a family’s livelihood. The industry has also seen a number of steel companies go into business rescue,” says ASH founder Mayleen Kyster.
She believes that companies that invest in business development, identify new markets to pursue and customise their product offering to suit their chosen markets stand a chance of surviving the tough economic conditions.
“Developments in the renewable-energy industry have presented a significant opportunity for the steel industry and some companies have already successfully moved into that space.
“Further, broad-based black economic empowerment has also [presented] an opportunity for those companies eager to maintain or expand market share into the mining and State-owned-enterprise market segments,” Kyster says.
She also highlights positive developments in the automotive industry as government continues to encourage local production.
She maintains, however, that South Africa could be more aggressive about Africa and extend its manufacturing capacity into this developing market.
Kyster tells Engineering News that ASH supplies fabricated and manufactured steel, facilitates steel structure installations and provides steel processing services.
“If it is made of steel, we can do it. In fact, we can project-manage the entire steel supply chain on behalf of a client.”
The company has successfully created a niche for itself and has stayed true to its mission of positioning itself as a boutique, diversified and value-adding investment holding company, Kyster adds.
“There are a few investment holding companies in South Africa, but not many are focused exclusively on the metals industry as we are. ASH also actively pursues projects on behalf of its business partners,” she says.
Most Transformed Business
ASH was presented with the Most Transformed Business Award for an employer of fewer than 100 people last month by metals and engineering industry body the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (Seifsa), at the inaugural Metals and Engineering Indaba held at Emperors Palace, in Ekurhuleni.
Kyster tells Engineering News that the award is an affirmation of Seifsa’s acknowledgement, encouragement and support of ASH’s entry into the steel industry, specifically as a black-owned, women-owned and youth-owned business.
“I am confident that there were many other worthy contenders for this award, as the industry is transforming, even though the pace is currently quite slow. “I cannot wait to see who will take this award next year and will encourage and challenge everybody to participate to win this award.”
Kyster reveals that she is a product of steel major ArcelorMittal South Africa’s (AMSA’s) transformation initiatives. “We should give credit where credit is due and we should acknowledge and support strides towards transformation in the industry, as Seifsa does through the award to ASH and the development of a small business hub.”
She maintains that the steel industry should regard transformation as an opportunity to develop women, small businesses and previously marginalised groups. “These individuals become consumers of our products on a retail and an infrastructure level.”
Kyster joined AMSA in 2005 as a graduate in training. She later established ASH, having realised that she wants to be in the steel industry for the rest of her career.
“I have always been surrounded by steel. My father was a welder and would weld gates for neighbours in our backyard. “Although I had envisioned a career as a chartered accountant, destiny had chosen steel for me. I was raised by the steel industry in South Africa.”
Corporate Social Investment
Kyster tells Engineering News that ASH has a “dynamic” and “exciting” take on transformation through its nonprofit organisation, Alpha Foundation Africa.
The foundation enables ASH to ensure that the company’s transformation is broad-based and independently managed. The foundation supports small businesses, mentors youth and does its best to take care of the needs of less fortunate children.
“Our activities in our communities are not about compliance only – we put some heart into it,” she concludes.