Looking beyond the fog brings positivity to the horizon – and no one understands this better than Techniplas CEO Ali El-Haj, who has taken a long-term approach to overcome global economic and logistical challenges.
“Today the issue is demand,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s a perfect storm. And where it used to be a three-element storm – now it’s four or five and it’s a big challenge. It’s really keeping us on our toes and, as we say, active management at all levels 24/7.”
Accompanying consumer demand has been semiconductor shortages, supply chain issues, material inflation, lack of labour availability and the COVID-19 pandemic – all combining to create this five-element storm, resulting in Ali needing to be readily able to manage distractions.
“My job is to keep the team focused on what they can control and what they can influence,” Ali explains. “These are the biggest issues or the biggest problems that people face, because once you get those distractions, you stop focusing on what you really need to do.
“We can’t influence COVID-19 and we definitely can’t influence the semiconductor shortage or supply chain issues, but we can manage knowing the environment that exists today, and stay focused on the things that we can do better.”
Personal endeavours reinforced
Over the past 14 years, Ali has strategised with private equity firms to grow organisations to what they are today, and the acquisition of Techniplas played its part in reinforcing his personal endeavours.
“I spent about the last 32 years of my career in the automotive business. We wanted to stay in this space and build a differentiating business, something that will be minimally impacted by the direction of powertrains,” he says.
“A few years ago, there was still a lot of hesitancy and unknowns about the direction of electric vehicles and how quickly autonomous driving would develop.
“We didn’t want to buy a company that is solely focused on power trains, especially with internal combustion systems and the current traditional technology. So we wanted something in the interior and exterior space, but something that had technology and could add some value – Techniplas fell into that.”
Techniplas’ core competence is in the development and production of tailor-made solutions in automotive and consumer technology, offering customers development, tool manufacturing, prototype production, quality control and supply chain management.
As a specialised plastic manufacturer, the main technological competence areas consist of functional components, decorative solutions, lighting and mechatronics. These areas culminate in a business model that puts the focus on people before product and profit.
“People are always going to be first, because without them, I’m not sure the other two will exist,” Ali asserts. “If you don’t have the right people and you don’t develop and really create the right environment for the team to thrive, it’s very difficult to be a profitable company, so ultimately people are still the number one factor.
This is probably weird to say as a CEO, but I don’t like my team focused on the profit portion of it. I want them to focus on what they can control.
“If you have the right people and you get them to focus on the right product, then the profit is really a resultant. This is probably weird to say as a CEO, but I don’t like my team focused on the profit portion of it. I want them to focus on what they can control.
“So to me, if you focus on the things between the top line and that profit line, the result should be there, so that would be people, product, profit.”
Seeking sustainable solutions
Boasting manufacturing operations across more than three continents, the mid-year acquisition of Nanogate in 2021 strengthened and expanded Techniplas’ presence in more than 10 countries.
The company has an extensive technology and intellectual property portfolio, however, it was their surface-finishing capabilities that was the missing piece to the wider Techniplas manufacturing puzzle.
So far, we’ve probably doubled the size of the company from the top line and we’ve added a few customers we didn’t have before.
“The main reason for acquiring Nanogate had nothing to do with strategic locations or revenue,” Ali explains. “We really wanted the company for some of the technologies that it had – what we lacked at Techniplas was a strong surface-finishing capability.
“At the time we had no painting or surface-finishing capabilities except one, which was a leading technology for us. Nanogate really provided us with several types of finishes that were very environmentally friendly, giving us that ability to expand our market potential within our existing and future customer base.
“So far, we’ve probably doubled the size of the company from the top line and we’ve added a few customers we didn’t have before.”
According to Environmental Health News, plastic manufacturing in the first decade of this century surpassed the total produced in the entire last century. As a result, more than 300 million tonnes per year are being produced, recycled and discarded all around the world.
As the volume of plastics grows, the issues surrounding sustainability become a concern. To combat these issues, some companies are trying to reduce the number of materials in their plastic products, so that it can be more easily reused or recycled.
Scratching the surface
Ali notes that the utilisation of Techniplas’ materials and innovative ideas when it comes to plastics and finishing applications is a step in the right direction.
“We’ve developed a product where the appearance looks like it’s painted, but it’s a plastic that’s moulded, and during the moulding process we inject the paint into the tool,” Ali explains. “We’ve developed this process internally and we make our own paint from this vertical integration type process.
When somebody has a passion about what they want to do and they’re willing to do it and they’re committed to do it, obviously it works.
“This has been in production and proven in vehicles for the last five years. The surface itself feels like your skin; if you scratch it lightly, it heals. We believe it is unique and environmentally friendly, as well as cost effective. You always need to consider the human and environmental element of what you do.”
Sometimes innovation leads to mistakes, but when organisations like Techniplas have the capability to create something from scratch, the passion shines through.
“When somebody has a passion about what they want to do and they’re willing to do it and they’re committed to do it, obviously it works,” Ali says. “I don’t need superstars that are self-focused; I need ones that are team oriented and company focused.
“There’s a place for them and we have some of those, and we have them in certain positions within the organisation, so we put them in the right seat where they can contribute the most to the organisation while understanding the expectations.”