With an appetite for innovation and a natural sense for business, Adriaan Scheeres, chief executive officer and co-founder of Pragma, guided the business from a small start-up 25 years ago to a multinational, physical asset management solutions provider with more than 400 employees.
“Even after 25 years I’m still surprised by the value unsheathed by proper physical asset management practices and strategies. It simply cuts through unplanned downtime and the losses associated with it in terms of wasted resources and time,” says Adriaan who believes that optimising physical assets should be the first step a company should taking in its journey to become more sustainable.
“We chose the name Pragma, because we approach business related asset management issues in a pragmatic manner. By applying our theoretical knowledge and practical experience within the parameters of the real world,” says Adriaan.
The idea behind the business concept for Pragma first presented itself in 1984 when Adriaan started working on his thesis based on locomotive maintenance as part of his Masters degree in Industrial Engineering with a specialisation in Information Technology at the University of Stellenbosch. Later, when he did his national service in the navy where he was responsible for support logistics for submarine maintenance the importance of this concept reaffirmed itself. Here Adriaan met Pragma’s Director of Research and Development, Arnold Botha, who worked for Armscor where he focused on military logistics at the time.
At the time the South African military industry lead the field and started making use of military maintenance standards, developed in the USA and used by NASA, to ensure the reliability of their equipment. “25 years ago physical asset management wasn’t on the business radar screen, industry suffered from equipment availability, reliability and basic maintenance management principles which negatively impacted companies’ ability to meet production targets,” explains Adriaan.
Adriaan and Arnold realised that very little of this was taking place in the private sector and that there simply was no structure in place to optimise companies’ huge investments in physical assets. The dynamic duo decided to seize the opportunity in the market to deliver maintenance and asset management services and tools to support organisations’ equipment availability, reliability and performance objectives. On 4 June 1990, Adriaan and Arnold got to work. Like many entrepreneurs they were cash starved during those early years. Yet they opted to take the leap of faith that they could develop sufficient cash flow to support themselves and their families.
Adriaan has never looked back and as time went by saw Pragma reaching one milestone after the other. Today Pragma operates from four offices in South Africa and one in Brazil. The company has more than 300 clients, globally and offers training to assist clients to upskill workers as part of the change management process.
“Adriaan is the father of Pragma in all respects. He is the founder, strategic driver, decision maker, carer, provider and leader. He is truly larger than life, but what impresses me most about him, is his transition from an entrepreneur to the CEO of a large company. The way in which he built a competent team and the trust he puts in their abilities to perform the responsibilities delegated to them, is astounding. Very few entrepreneurs succeed in this!” says Arnold.
Adriaan was honed to become an entrepreneur from an early age by his grandfather who owned a joinery.
“I spent many holidays working with my grandfather. He was my mentor and taught me the value of honest, hard work and the importance of investing in good people. When he told me that engineers could ‘design and build big stuff’, I was captivated by that idea,” Adriaan says as he reflects on his childhood.
Adriaan found the Industrial Engineering field especially appealing because it would give him the opportunity to put his aptitude for systems and processes to the test on a daily basis, while his caring nature and ability to connect with people would enable him to implement new ways of thinking and doing swiftly.
“Adriaan is a very humble, caring person who leads by example. His calm, understated charisma has certainly contributed significantly to the growth and development of Pragma over the years.” Says Pragma’s Managing Director for International Services and Consulting Ronnie Taljaard.
Adriaan sees culture as one of the most important factors in managing a successful company. “Culture isn’t something that you can buy, you have to work at it every day. Choose the right people, but make sure that they share your company’s values. It gives you an element of trust. Trust is priceless,” advises Adriaan.
Stéphan Pieterse, the organisational development (OD) manager at Pragma, echoes this sentiment, “Adriaan knows that the success of a bigger company hinges on the knowledge and expertise of more than one person, therefore he surrounds himself with competent people. I use the word people because our people are our biggest asset. Adriaan embraces this concept and it has filtered from the top down throughout the company.”
While Adriaan loves the challenges that running his business presents, his family life is equally important. He has protected his family time from the get-go.
“I would rather cancel a social engagement to spend time with my family. My wife, Hettie, is like a friend to me. We have been blessed with a marriage of more than 32 years and three beautiful daughters, Cornelle, Karike and Adri.” says Adriaan. When it comes to leisure time, he enjoys traveling with his family and friends, fishing, water-skiing or sailing.
“Initially I thought that Pragma would remain a small company with less than 20 employees. As the business grew, I realised that the value we could offer businesses were immense and the dream kept on growing from there. My hopes for the future is to share the value of physical asset management with the world. For us to become more sustainable, we have to make the most of everything resource we have available and I see physical asset management as the first step in that direction.” concludes Adriaan.