Change the world


Written by: Zandile Mbabela

Published in The Herald on 21 September

Eastern Cape Exporter of Year award winner keeps the cogs turning

HE WAS bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in the late 80s when economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa saw many factories either close their doors or cut down on staff numbers. Mechanics were in his blood, as his father was a motor mechanic, which spurred his love for all things mechanical.

With a wife and small child to think of, Jendamark Automation managing director Quinton Uren put his energies into Nasquin Designs – the company he started with his wife, Nasieba, and ran from a converted room in their northern areas home.

This while working at SKF Bearings by day and building Nasquin Designs by night. Jendamark Automation as we know it, came into being in 1992, when Uren merged with an electronics company, Jendamark ECI. Today, Jendamark is a global force to be reckoned with when it comes to the design and building of special-purpose automation solutions, and boasts an illustrious client base.

“Our very first customer as Jendamark Automation was the man who is now the managing director at SJM Flex, Deon Joubert,” Uren recalls. “From there it was an organic growth. Nothing fantastic – we were just two guys, then we became three.”

Uren grew up in Springdale, and attended Chapman High School, before matriculating at Paterson High. Due to a lack of funds for tertiary studies, he took on a rather interesting job at the municipality to raise the necessary funds.

He had applied for a bursary at General Motors for a cooperative training programme, but when he did not hear from them, he took on the municipal job.

“I worked at the municipality as a trade effluent officer. “I collected sewage samples for six months of my life, until I had enough money to go and study at the then Port Elizabeth Technikon,” he said.

With his first year of mechanical automotive engineering studies under his belt, Uren was then contacted by General Motors and included in their cooperative training programme.

After working for GM for four years, he then worked as a design engineer at SKF Bearings. Uren also then acquired his first computer-aided design machinery (CAD).

“I’ve received some amazing breaks, I am very blessed that way,” he said. “I concentrated on my design work at home with my new CAD machinery, and basically started moonlighting in the evening.

“I would design in the evenings and my wife, whom I’d taught auto CAD, would detail during the day.” Uren met his business partner at work at SKF Bearings. The two shared a similar vision and needed each other’s capabilities to thrive.

“What I wanted to do was build machines, but didn’t have the electronics. What he wanted to do was build machines but didn’t have the mechanical side, so we were a perfect match. “So we got together and started working on an adhoc basis from 1989 until about 1992, when we made it official after a retrenchment from SKF in 1991,” he said.

Uren recalls how they took on a job at the tanneries, which was a big jump for Jendamark, which had been doing some automotive business. “At that stage, the automotive business was very much like it is right now.

“You ’re either choking on too much work or you’re in famine in a seven-year cycle – no in-between. “So what we would do is other things in-between – pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, tanneries – to keep a steady income,” he said. It was when the country’s political climate started changing in the early nineties and the motor industry started exporting that the company came into its own.

“The more the companies were exporting, they needed a higher level of expertise, so we did a lot of work, and Volkswagen really took us under their wing as a big exporter then. As did Ford, actually,” Uren said. “That’s when we really cut our teeth and learned with automation there. Because of their good service in the automotive arena, the company became an agent for a number of well-known products.

These included Bosch tightening systems, which was their “most important one” and Kuka robots.

The real change to their business after the global economic crash in 2008, was when Jendamark started doing infrequent but fairly large exports. “We saw that it’s just not feasible to have a business of our size and the type of expertise we required in South Africa. So we made some really strange decisions as part of our plan, which were not so strange for us,” Uren said.

“Most people were divesting out of the automotive industry and looking for other forms of income, while we focused on the automotive industry but just changed our market place and not only worked in South Africa.”

About 90% of their business today comes from exports. Jendamark was recently lauded at the Eastern Cape Exporter of the Year awards as the overall winners for more than doubling its export turnover and increasing profits by 45%.