THERE is no such thing as bad employees, only bad managers. This is the philosophy of SJM Flex SA general manager Deon Joubert, which has led to the great success of the exhaust systems manufacturer – the company is seen as the benchmark amongst its international peers.
SJM Flex – a global enterprise with operations in China, Malaysia, the US and Germany – began operations in Port Elizabeth 15 years ago and it has enjoyed no less than 15% annual growth since then.
Employees at the Port Elizabeth plant are seen by their Korean head office counterparts as the best.
A group of them recently flew to China to train workers at a new factory.
As head of the South Africa operation, Joubert says he has a "fairly easy job", which is to provide leadership while employees are the drivers of the business.
"The human resources [employees] are what I hold close to my heart and my job is to make sure that people want to come to work every day," he said.
"I do not believe in separating management and employees because we are one."
Joubert started out at Dorbyl Automotive as a tool maker and took up an engineering degree while in that position.
He worked through the ranks until he attained the title of general manager.
He joined SJM Flex in 1998 and has never looked back.
SJM's South Africa operation boasts an average employee attendance rate of 98%, while its production levels are above 97%.
SJM manufactures about four million parts a year and 75% of those are exported.
"We are big on measuring. Another one of our philosophies is what we cannot measure, we cannot manage," Joubert said.
Each employee gets a hot meal daily – a tradition inherited from the Korean head office – that is enjoyed at the canteen area equipped with a foosball machine.
"We try our best to create an environment where people can feel a sense of belonging and the canteen helps play a role in employee satisfaction," he said.
"I am by no means saying people come to work for the food, but many people here have big families to support and this meal could mean one less stomach at home."
Executive staff spend three days a year working as operators on the production line – a project with dual benefits.
"Apart from the olden day philosophy that management should be able to do the work in case workers go on strike, it is more so about being able to understand the conditions under which operators work," he said.
"We would even have secretaries breaking their nails working on the floor and that's the reality of a lot of people working on the floor."
Last week, 45 employees were treated to Trevor Noah's coming home tour performances, while a further 120 staff members got tickets to watch the hotly anticipated game between Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic, to be played at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.