ureka has employed a new quality control manager, Ken Gray. He spoke to Johann Gerber about his career at Mercedes and the excitement of being part of South Africa’s most buoyant industry
Ken Gray, quality control manager, Eureka.
DIY: Morning Ken. Please tell me more about your background.
KG: I am a born and bred Johannesburger. I grew up on the West Rand and attended Saints High School. After matriculating I went to Wits where I studied Industrial Engineering.
I completed my studies in 2005 and joined the Mercedes Group in South Africa. I was immediately sent to Germany where I was trained as a Quality Run-in Controller. This enabled me to be involved in the checking processes for the launch of the new C-Class Mercedes.
At the beginning of 2007 I moved to East London where I swapped to campaign management. Here I looked into identifying problems so that Mercedes could deliver better service and offer higher quality. At the end of the year I joined Eureka as quality control manager.
I am very happy with the move into hardware and enjoy the fast pace of the industry. The motor industry is somewhat boring and basically follows a seven-year cycle.
DIY: What challenges do you see for the hardware industry?
KG: The biggest challenge will be to control China. The influx of grey products, low quality products and sub-standard products is something which companies should rather try to help solve than to drop their prices.
The next challenge is to then adapt to the changing economic climate which we are seeing in South Africa at the moment.
DIY: How do you control China’s influence?
KG: Well, the Chinese are very enthusiastic, but the people there need knowledge and skills. The other problem is that there is no legislation in place which forces the businesses there to look after the environment.
Almost none of the companies there are ISO compliant. At the end of the day, the help offered to China should not just be in terms of standards and improving quality, but also to assist in the country taking better care of the environment.
Companies that have a relationship with China should invest in helping them to build companies based on best practice principles. It is a concern to see the other powerhouse, India, following a similar route.
DIY: What are Eureka’s strengths?
KG: Eureka has very strong physical logistics. It is one of the few companies in South Africa which can deliver to the small stores in the far outlying areas of the country.
From a sales perspective, the company boasts flexible sales people that are willing to help when a customer is in dire need of assistance.
DIY: What inspires you?
KG: I am self-motivated and very ambitious. I am an outdoors-type person and enjoy mountain biking and getting in touch with nature.
DIY: Looking at the next 3-5 years, what are the challenges Eureka and other South African companies will face?
KG: For us, the price of steel is a big concern. Steel prices have jumped 60% during the first half of 2008. The problem herein lies that all fasteners are made from steel. This is followed by direct supply and quality of the products supplied. With petrol prices continuing to climb, transport costs are also expected to shoot through the roof.
DIY: Where is Eureka’s next opportunity for growth?
KG: We are investigating the viability of solar energy. There seems to be some potential. Personally I am driven by bio-fuels and would like to investigate the possibility even further.
DIY: What is the secret to your success?
KG: Vasbyt! For some odd reason I’ve always been thrown in at the deep-end. For example, when I went to Germany, I went to a little town where no one spoke, or wanted to speak, English. They were happier with me speaking really bad German!
I think another attributing factor is my ability to make decisions and to adapt to certain situations.
DIY: How would you describe quality control?
KG: In one word – measurement. It is the identification of the critical variables and measuring them, thus controlling them. However, one has to take the market’s perception into consideration.
It is not only about giving the people the right product for the task at hand, but meeting their expectations. It can be quite challenging as sometimes I spend quite some time trying to work out what the designer’s intentions were with certain products.
In the hardware industry this is even tougher as the maturity of quality control in this industry is fairly unknown.
DIY: How can quality control be improved?
KG: It is definitely going to take a mindset shift. It is about producing the correct product for the consumer and not about the volumes which can be produced. It all boils down to manufacturers producing the correct product at the right time at the correct quality.
DIY: What are Eureka’s plans for the future?
KG: We are looking into upgrading the Fort Knox range – the range needs a bit of a facelift. When people think about Fort Knox, they shouldn’t think screws, nails and bolts, but rather locks and handles.
The range has a very good name in the industry and we now want to expand on this. Fort Knox should become an entity in its own right. With this in mind, we are embarking on a period now, where we want to separate the identities of Eureka and Fort Knox and will even move the Fort Knox merchandising away from the Eureka merchandising.
DIY: What impact will the changes have on quality at Eureka?
KG: It will definitely make life simpler. The great thing about upgrading certain ranges is that one gets to be part of the selection process from the beginning. This will help us to select the right supplier, delivering the right products. It makes controlling the critical points much simpler.
DIY: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KG: I would like to move into the world of manufacturing consulting.