HomeFeatures & AnalysisSRK Consulting story finally gets told

SRK Consulting story finally gets told

SRK Consulting’s four-decade anniversary book – ‘SRK: 40 years in the deep end’ – was launched to clients and media during the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town this week, at a special event held at Shimmy Beach Club.

The book captures a roller-coaster journey from SRK’s early days in the 1970s South Africa to its global presence today – charting a course started by three young engineers with a zeal to do things differently and better.

“Reliving SRK’s past through the stories in this remarkable book has reminded us of the main reason for SRK’s success – the high calibre of its people,” said group chairman Mike Armitage.

“Thrown in at the deep end and expected to swim, numerous individuals have risen to the challenge and performed at levels exceeding even their own aspirations.”

SRK Consulting SA board members Vassie Maharaj and William Joughin with chairman of SRK Consulting SA Graham Howell
SRK Consulting SA board members Vassie Maharaj and William Joughin with chairman of SRK Consulting SA Graham Howell

The SRK Consulting story is told characteristically not just through its achievements but rather through the lives and voices of its staff. Its title reflects both the reality of consultants often having to tackle the unknown, as well as their vital quality of retaining a sense of humour.

For what SRK founders Oskar Steffen, Andy Robertson and Hendrik Kirsten built in 1974 was a magnet that attracted many of the best brains to their cause – described by the book’s author, Ian Mulgrew, as an “overachieving, intellectual individualism, a work-hard-play-hard professional camaraderie within a loose communal framework.”

This was clearly not going to be like any other consultancy of its day, which tended to favour corporate-style bureaucracy with autocratic leanings. For a start, partners were to remain involved in delivering engineering services, and all levels of staff were to be drawn in to all stages of a project.

The business model itself was revolutionary: employees would own the company, being allowed to purchase shares and being required to sell them back to the firm when they left or retired. This was to foster the culture of belonging and responsibility; indeed, staff were to stand on their own feet rather than look to the company for job security.

What all this accomplished was to keep alive the fire of discovery and technological progress that universities ignite in their students – and transfer it to the ‘real world’ of science and engineering. The link with universities has remained vital to SRK’s modus operandi.

“We set out to take on young people every year so that we could continually bring the latest technologies into the business,” said Kirsten. Early on, they invited an overseas professor to spend his sabbatical in the office – and that became a regular practice.

What mattered, said Steffen, was “getting the best people in their field … and keeping the best by giving them the freedom to grow.”

According to SRK chairman Graham Howell, the group has now grown into 20 countries on six continents, with quality systems to optimise integration between practices and continuously raise the bar of global standards.

“SRK’s culture endures despite its size,” said Howell, “binding colleagues in pursuit of excellence.

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