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Arnold Vermaak - A culture of engagement

Arnold Vermaak, the chairman of Durban based Constantia Afripack lives by the Mahatma Ghandi maxim, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Change is something that we all should encourage and embrace in order to grow sustainably. Durban-based Afripack has evolved from a small paper sack producer to one of the most prominent flexible packaging companies in Africa. This led to the acquisition in 2015 of Afripack by Vienna based Constantia Flexibles – the fourth largest flexible packaging company in the world. Vermaak has had 20 years of involvement in Afripack and is proud and humbled by the company’s achievements. He said, “Afripack has an 83 year history and hence it is important to do what is right for the business. At a fundamental level this transaction is perfect. Our vision has been to become Africa’s preferred flexible packaging partner. Constantia as a global player wants a leading position in Sub Sahara Africa. A perfect match.”

The success of the company may also be attributed to Vermaak’s democratic style of leadership and in his belief in the empowerment of people. This involves having the right people in key positions and allowing them the space to manage and grow themselves and their people

“Constantia Afripack will learn a lot from our Austrian parent company, but we can also offer a lot. One of the company’s strengths is our people and company culture. A critical ingredient in building a resilient business that thrives long term is truly engaged people. People that daily walk through the plant gates with their heads and minds engaged and their talents focused around building a successful business. Our employees on the whole are happy, which contributes significantly to our accomplishments,” said Vermaak.

In order to build a people focused culture, Vermaak led the development and implementation of the HERO
programme. HERO is an acronym for Highly Engaged and Resilient Organisation. It represents the desired company culture. The extensive implementation included taking all employees through two day workshops in groups of 32. HERO is value based and emphasises personal ethics, focus and excellence. Structured communication channels also assist in ensuring that employees fully participate in the effective functioning of the business.

Vermaak said, “We have been building a culture of empowerment for many years now and it is at the heart of what makes us successful. A winning company culture is the ultimate sustainable competitive advantage: it takes years to build and is not easy to copy. It’s not only about people – it’s about the right people doing the right things.”

In addition, Vermaak said, “Employees have also gone through diversity training: understanding the traditions and thinking of the different cultures you work with. We have a Zulu word – Sisonke – meaning we are all in this together. We are different but we are all employees of Constantia Afripack. This is our common cause.”

“We also very involved in the community; it’s about putting your hand up and making a difference. One of the projects I have a particular interest in, is Muthande Society for the Aged. Afripack built a R7m community centre for Muthande in Lamontville and I serve as their Treasurer. Our old people are often neglected and have few support structures – they deserve so much more,” commented Vermaak.

In his spare time Vermaak enjoys travelling, which ensures that he has a broad outlook on life. He said, “I try to be a happy human and make the most of this incredible gift of conscious life. I try to live a life of significance by adding value to others and having an open mind. Leading a business with 1 200 people is not about prestige, title or money. It is about realising and respecting the responsibility and opportunity to positively influence others towards a common goal. It’s about building a successful and resilient business, your people and customers loving the company. It’s not about building a personal legacy but a successful business where people are proud to say: I work here.”

  Arnold Vermaak - KZN Business Leader -.pdf

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