A company with a difference, making a difference

When interviewed just prior to the 20th anniversary of Rheochem’s inception in 1993, the company’s founder and MD, Jacqui Swart, was asked about the highlights of the past 20 years.

Jaqui-Swart-Rheochem

She responded by saying that the water treatment industry is so diverse and dynamic that it would be difficult to select one particular highlight, but that what had been particularly rewarding was to have not just experienced the growth of the company but to have witnessed the personal and professional development of the people that have been such an inherent part of its success. “The sector is extremely dynamic despite a generally sluggish economy. This is due to the provision of  water  being  considered  a  basic  human  right  and  the need for continuous progress towards the goal of supplying drinking  water  to all South  Africans  that consistently meets international standards,” says Swart.

Rheochem has and continues to contribute through providing a high level of technical support to rural water plants. “Particularly in outlying areas there remains a significant skills shortage that is only relatively recently being addressed on a countrywide basis. From inception, Rheochem has played a positive role through operator training, either in the form of formal short courses or through our service technicians working closely   with   plant   personnel    and   thereby   sharing knowledge,” she explains.

According to Swart, one of the major challenges we face as a nation is anticipated water shortages relating to global warming.   “Recycling   and  advanced   treatment  processes   will  become   the  norm  rather  than the exception in the future and Rheochem remains cognisant  of  this  in  terms  of  our  strategy  going  for- ward.  Although in value it comprises a small portion of our turnover, Rheochem is experienced and trusted in the treatment of industrial effluent, where we have in-house capability to operate small plants. Being involved in this sector also creates opportunities for the placement of previously unemployed people who have completed the Rheochem Learnership.”

Capable collective

Swart  believes   that  most  people   are  capable   of  so much more than they realise and that giving people an  opportunity   and  expecting  them  to  achieve  their defined goals while simultaneously providing a strong support  base,  is  the  reason  for  numerous  employees’ success stories.

 

Another  Rheochem   philosophy   is  that people  should  mainly  (if  not  practically always)  be  happy  with  what  they  do  to  earn a living and within their work environment. Inclusivity   is  another   key  factor   in  terms   of how the company is structured and operates, with black employees enjoying the benefits of ownership,  and all employees  being financially rewarded  based  directly  on  company  performance.   This   underlying   philosophy   creates the pleasant and positive working environment that is apparent the moment one enters the Rheochem reception area.

The notion of inclusivity can be expanded to include the entire industry, she notes.  “The  exciting  thing with  water  treatment  is  that  it  is  ‘happening’  throughout  the country  and  alongside  all  communities.  Unlike  other  sectors that  are  restricted  to  certain  geographic  areas  due  to  factors such as distribution,  access to resources,  etc., there is no reason  to  exclude  any  section  of  society  from  a  positive  spin-off from the water treatment  sector,” says Swart.

She adds that rural water plants usually draw on local people to run them and there has to be sensitivity to the fact that the local water or sewage plant may be a rare opportunity for some people to work close to their homes and families. “We need to train and inspire these people so that they can be positive inftuences in their communities. This is just one example of how inclusive this industry can be – it provides considerable employment opportunities countrywide,” says Swart.

Skills development in focus

Well   before   BBBEE   was   legislated,  Rheochem   focused   on skills  development,  an  ongoing  effort  that  has  benefited numerous   employees   as   well   as   people   external   to   the company,  including  in-house  trainees  who  gained  valuable work  experience with  Rheochem. The  concept  is  to  ‘give back’ to the water treatment industry by passing on specific and  scarce  skills  that  enable  people  to  play  a useful  role  in related  sectors  of the economy.  The Water and Waste Water Operations Learnership currently being run in-house includes eight learners, four of whom were previously unemployed. Through this initiative they can look forward to placements as water plant operators when the course ends in mid-2013. Rheochem’s  corporate  social  investment  programme  aims to  support  rural  schools  that  otherwise  receive  little  or  no  external   sponsorship   due   to  their   remote   locations.   After three years assisting Ntlambamasoka Junior Secondary School near Umzimkhulu, largely but not exclusively through   computer-related   donations,    the   company    is   in the process of identifying a new project. The core attitude is  that  it  is  a   privilege  to  be  able  to  help,  as  well  as  being  a social  imperative   because  as  South  Africans  we  all  need  to be proactive in finding solutions to the many challenges this country faces.

In conclusion, Swart expressed her gratitude to the many customers and suppliers who have and continue to support Rheochem, adding that it has been an absolute pleasure to meet and interact   with so many different   and interesting people over the years.  Apparently something that  she  instils in Rheochem personnel is that in any organisation it is the  customer  who  pays  salaries  and  one  should  not  forget that  people  doing  business  with  a  company  is  a  matter  of their  choice  rather  than  a  supplier’s   ‘right’.   “At Rheochem, we aim to earn business through technical support, attention to detail and efficiency.  This has certainly created a winning formulation.”