Prasheen Maharaj - You can invent something totally new, or you can put the pieces of the puzzle together

Chief Executive Officer at the Southern African Shipyards

PRASHEEN MAHARAJ's studies include a B.Com, a Management Advancement Diploma, a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management and an MBA from the University of Natal.

Maharaj began his career in financial services, where he was involved in the insurance industry, international currency and derivatives trading, asset management and corporate finance.

His early influencer was investor and financial journalist, Richard Cluver, whose articles and books he read religiously from the age of 11 years. In his teenage years and young adult life his uncle, Vishnu Sharma, a property mogul, taught him a lot about entrepreneurship and business moral ethics.

"When I was in business school, I met the Father of Black Economic Empowerment, Dr Don Mkhwanazi, who then shaped my life from a business, political and personal point of view - I was literally his apprentice until his passing last year in July. It was through Ndonga that I got a seat at the table of Corporate South Africa and learnt to apply knowledge, networking and entrepreneurship skills to address the issues of inequality, poverty and unemployment." Maharaj co-authored the KZN Provincial BEE strategy in 2004.

"I also learnt to be a principled business leader. The Prasheen you meet today will be the same Prasheen you will meet next month. I have a moral code or a set of guiding principles by which I make leadership decisions, which leads to consistency in decision making. Consistency leads to less volatility and hence more trust with stakeholders."

"Shipbuilding and Ship repair are by its nature social enterprises. It's very labour intensive and supports a large supply and sub-contractor chain that is made up primarily of SMMEs. As a conscious capitalist and a socialist at heart, this is the main appeal of the Marine Engineering Industry to me. The ability to run a business and make a profit whilst contributing to the greater good of society is a common theme in all my business and personal endeavours."

Maharaj says that he has always maintained that there are two ways to be successful in business: "You can invent something totally new, or you can put the pieces of the puzzle together". He says that he falls into the latter category. "I read extensively - not just books but newspapers, magazines, and journals. I also network a lot and have forged lifelong friendships and relationships with key stakeholders, within the public and private sector. I absorb millions of pieces of information that seem random, but I have the ability to bring this all together to form a picture."

Key to putting the pieces of the puzzle together is cooperation and collaboration between private sector industry players, government and workers. It's through this approach that the private sector and government stakeholders managed to get Operation Phakisa Ocean Economy off the ground.

The result is that Southern African Shipyards has been involved in a number firsts, these include:
  • Winning the largest shipbuilding contract ever awarded in South Africa to build nine Tugs for Transnet.
  • Undertaking the first successful refit on a modern frigate on the African continent. This was on the SA Navy Frigate SAS Amatola.
  • Signing an agreement with China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), the largest shipbuilding and ship repaircompany in the world, to become their exclusive partner in South Africa. CSSC is a 100% Central Chinese Government owned company, which is willing to invest Billions of Rands in the South African Marine Engineering Economy in partnership with SAS to make Operation Phakisa Ocean Economy a reality.
  • Being the preferred bidder for building a hydrographic survey vessel, with the contract signing expected before the end of August 2017. This is a complex science and research survey vessel, which will be another African first.
Maharaj says that he is a great fan of long term financial sustainability versus short term profit maximisation. This outlook has been influenced by great investors like Warren Buffet and Allan Gray. Creating long term predictable, consistence and solid growth is far more respected in the business environment than profits and performance that swing between the extremes. "What this means for shipbuilding and the ship repair is that we need to secure long term order books for shipbuilding and enter into long term maintenance contracts with our ship repair clients.

This requires that the shipbuilding/ship repair industry become more customer centric and project performance orientated. This is a fundamental shift from the current mind-set of the industry that is currently inward looking."

"I think the shipbuilding and ship repair industry is ready for consolidation from both a national level and international level. This industry is about scale, efficiencies and economies of scale. "Bigger is better" definitely applies to our industry," says Maharaj.

In the near future Maharaj will be looking to merge with a local player in the industry to create a giant on the African Continent. The new merged South African entity will look for global partnership and/or merger and acquisition opportunities in other emerging markets/developing countries, with the ultimate aim of listing on the local and/or international stock exchange. The end result would be a Global Marine Engineering emerging market player across multiple emerging markets, spread across the globe - a world first.

Maharaj personal life is definitely part of his puzzle. "I'm married to my best friend and gossip buddy Marcina. She is a graduate in politics, media and communications and an entrepreneur in her own right. We are blessed with two beautiful children. Our daughter Milahn is 12 years old and is a budding movie start having completed her first movie earlier this year and she starts shooting her second movie within the next four weeks. Our son Mekhai is eight years old and fanatical about Chelsea Football Club."

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