The path of succession at Printing SA

Printing SA or the Printing Industries Federation of South Africa is the industry body for the printing and allied industries within the borders of South Africa and as such has certain powers but it also has numerous responsibilities. Through the vehicle of one of the two official Employer Organisations, Printing SA is tasked with the role of collective bargaining when it comes to salary negotiations between employers and union representatives. It also acts as an independent arbiter in disputes between printers and clients and, it assists its members with a range of services – not all of which are pleasant but which are essential to the continued success of the printing industry as a whole. The South African printing industry comprises more than 2000 printers involved in all sectors. However, a mere 40 percent of this total are actually members of Printing SA. That said, this 40 percent accounts for 90 percent of the industry’s annual turnover of R65 billion and the same proportion of employment in the industry. Many of the companies which are members of Printing SA are not even directly involved in the process of printing, as the membership includes companies who supply services to the printing industry. There are equally as many people who are in favour of the role played by Printing SA as there are people who are not really so much in favour of the organisation. There are possibly as many reasons for the feelings on each side as there are people who have an opinion. One of the most common negative comments is that Printing SA does not really do anything for its members. Without being derogatory this is often made by members – or non-members – who have not made use of the service of the organisation or who have not looked at the various functions undertaken by the industry body. There are many examples of services which Printing SA provides, but a great many of its offerings take place behind closed doors. According to Printing SA CEO Patrick Lacy, ‘Printing SA’s achievements are often invisible or not acknowledged by industry.’ An example of this is the fight which Printing SA took to the Government to combat the Air Quality Act. The actions of Printing SA saved the printing industry more than R1,5 billion as an initial outlay as well as, an additional R200 million per year. In the past few years, Printing SA has improved the outward appearance of both the organisation and the printing industry, restructured internally and at the same time has made determined efforts to demonstrate how it is working for the benefit of its members. The aim of this process was to give the organisation a larger profile to the very industry it serves. In keeping with this aim, a plan for the succession and governance at Printing SA was put in place towards the end of last year. Part of that program was the appointment of Steve Thobela to the position of Deputy CEO with a view to taking over the reins at the beginning of 2015. Despite the appointment being ratified by the board of Printing SA and therefore, by the members, who is Steve Thobela and what makes him suitable for such an important role? In order to bring you the facts and to introduce you to the man, The GAPP interviewed Steve Thobela with the hope of finding out what sort of leader he will be for the industry. Perhaps the most important thing to mention about Steve is that this is not a political appointment, he comes from the printing industry having done his apprenticeship and served his time as a compositor. He came to the printing industry straight out of school and in 1989 joined the Pretoria News as an apprentice. He was one of the two top students in his N2. He scored the second highest mark in Composition Theory and the highest mark(99%) in Printers Science in the country. He went on to complete his N2 and N3 at Pretoria West Technical College where he won the National Merit Award as the second Best Student in the country. During the same time period he also completed his diploma in Christian Ministries. During his time at the Pretoria News he was instrumental in the formation of MWASA branch and actually became its first chairman. He then left Perskor and moved to The Sowetan. In 1995, he became the production manager of The Sowetan and completed his Bachelor of Business Aministration (BBA) degree. He is now in the final year of his Master in Business Admin (MBA). After five years he moved to The Newspaper Printing Company and two years later he was approached to manage Independent Newspapers in Cape Town. It was during this period that he was approached to run The Mandela Rhodes Foundation as general manager. Although this move took him out of the industry he was so passionate about, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He was able to work closely with and learn from Madiba himself. Something which Steve will forever cherish. However, being a dutiful son and husband, his family responsibilities called him back to Pretoria and he made the move to head up the Printing Department at Unisa. It was from this position that Steve made the move to Printing SA, after four-and-a-half years. There were a number of reasons for his decision to move to Printing SA. As already stated, he is passionate about the printing industry and the valuable contribution it makes to the GDP of the country. Given his history of constant self-improvement, it is little wonder that the training aspect of Printing SA is also close to Steve’s heart. Talking of his year as the deputy CEO, Steve commented, ‘This is a very valuable time for me. I am working closely with and learning from Patrick, who has a wealth of knowledge. I came to Printing SA at the right time. The team here under the leadership of Patrick has taken the organisation through what I have called “the ICU period” where all the problems of the past have been addressed and corrective measures put in place. ‘It has been an intense four months and I can see that the rest of the year will continue to be a steep learning curve. I have visited the various Chambers around the country and I now have a better understanding of what is needed. We have a strong and dedicated staff around the country and our members are firmly committed to the improvement of the industry.’ Steve sees it as being important that both he and Patrick, with the support of the team at Printing SA, spend the rest of this year creating a basic strategy to improve services to members, increase the profile of the organisation and to attract new members. This will be done through Steve’s five point plan – an abridged version of the full plan –central to it are the values consisting of Professionalism, Integrity, Fairness, Sustainability and Accountability. Steve believes that this can be achieved by building relationships, both within the industry and on a larger scale, training for all levels of industry and, defending the industry both from outside attack and from the general trends which have influenced the industry. Given that he is such a believer in training, Steve is determined that the training courses offered by Printing SA should achieve greater recognition. He commented, ‘Of the 125 trades courses which are offered in South Africa, 33 are aimed at the printing industry. The team is working tirelessly to ensure that the course materials are updated and improved. I would like to see more courses become available to the point where even degree courses and maybe even PhD courses are offered at South African universities in the printing disciplines.’ The arrival of an energetic and proactive person, combined with the lengthy hand-over period from the experienced and knowledgeable leadership already in place at Printing SA, should mean that the future for the printing industry in South Africa will be brighter and more stable.