Headquartered in the South African city of Centurion, Alaris Antennas produces radio frequency products, including custom antenna equipment. The products are used in electronic warfare, defence, homeland security, communication and frequency spectrum monitoring, as well as other specialised market sectors.
Juergen Dresel has been CEO of the company since 2015, but his involvement in the sector began much earlier. After completing studies in IT and telecommunications as well as electrical engineering, Juergen worked in designing and developing antennas and antenna placement simulations.
Focusing on core strategies
“I was a co-founder of Poynting Antennas, so I’ve always been in a leading role,” Juergen says. “I was running the defence-market-related activities of the company early on and built it up from when it was quite small, into something more significant.” Poynting Antennas later split into different divisions for commercial and defence antennas, with Juergen involved in the latter.
The defence division of Poynting Antennas later rebranded as Alaris Antennas to reflect its renewed focus as a B2B company. While there were previous efforts to diversify the company, Juergen says it has recently reaped the rewards of developing specialised expertise in defence and communications antennas. “If you follow the larger industrial conglomerates, like General Electric and Siemens, they are starting to splinter off parts of the company and get back to their core areas. My view is that it is better to stay focused on what you’re doing and build in that direction.”
The two companies in Alaris Holdings group are Alaris Antennas and COJOT, a company that originated in Finland and designs and manufactures antenna products for military and security markets, including antennas suitable for manpacks and mission critical vehicles. There are significant synergies across the two companies, and the collective skill set of the sister companies has allowed Alaris to access new markets and present opportunities for cross-selling.
As Juergen tells it, the company’s unique selling point is its adherence to three strategic pillars: its expertise in the radio frequency technology space; the global reach of its products; and its capacity to develop and exploit its intellectual property.
While many local competitors are concerned purely with importing and distributing radio frequency technology, Alaris Holdings has invested heavily in research and development to create its own proprietary technology. “That’s something we’re quite proud of,” Juergen says. “Having your own intellectual property gives you more independence, it allows you to control your destiny.” The company’s decision to concentrate on its own technology also saw it sell off Aucom, a value-added reseller, as it was no longer a strategic fit.
Major trends and client partnerships
The next major trend in antenna technology is smart antennas, which Juergen defines as equipment that includes an electronic component that allows for functions such as automatic frequency tuning, beam forming, beam switching and beam steering. “We are definitely positioning ourselves to follow this requirement,” he confirms. The company is continuously innovating towards smaller, lighter antennas capable of operating with wider bandwidths and higher frequencies.
Alaris has embraced vertical integration by insourcing some time-sensitive services such as spray painting. Partnerships with reliable parts suppliers remain a key element of the business model. “There are a couple of suppliers in sub-Saharan Africa that we have close relationships with,” Juergen says.
The company also works closely with its partners to source difficult-to-find parts such as connectors, cables and other specialised components. “There is a little bit of everything – we source components from across Europe, the United States, sometimes Asia, but we have developed close relationships with certain suppliers.”
A particular field of expertise Alaris offers is its ability to design and manufacture tailor-made and boutique solutions for the specific needs of its customer base. “We position ourselves as a client-centric organisation,” Juergen says. “We typically win business by helping our clients with unique, innovative, bespoke solutions.”
“We typically win business by helping our clients with unique, innovative, bespoke solutions.”
Juergen says Alaris has built up electrical and mechanical engineering expertise to make such tailored products possible. It has know-how in CAD modelling, prototyping and simulation-based design, allowing the client to find the optimal antenna configuration for their needs. Antennas are also thoroughly tested to ensure they can withstand environmental conditions such as salt spray, vibrations, extreme temperatures and exposure to water.
In a field where technical expertise is all-important, Juergen says attention to detail is one of his strengths as a leader. “I’m a firm believer in details,” he explains. “The view I take is that the more people within the business know and the more detail they have at their disposal, the better our business will be. The strategic path forward can be more clearly defined when you have more detail to work with.”
“I’m a firm believer in details… the more people within the business know and the more detail they have at their disposal, the better our business will be.”
The company also works with an eye to the commercial needs of its clients. “We operate as competent, trusted advisers,” he explains. “This often helps the client to win business themselves. So, we have a fairly unique kind of position in the market and a unique product offering.”
Coming off strong performance in the last financial year, Alaris is exploring the possibility of offices in the US, Europe, and, later, Asia. The business is already overwhelmingly export-based, with 95% of revenue coming from sales outside South Africa.
Juergen acknowledges there will be significant challenges moving into the US market, where acquisitions will be more expensive and the company will have to come to terms with a very different regulatory framework.
Alaris is committed to being a global concern, however, and is cognisant of the payoffs that come with gaining a foothold in what is by far the world’s largest market for defence and communication antennas. There are also tangible benefits, Juergen says. “Being client-centric, we need to be in close vicinity to our clients. The more often we can have face-to-face discussions with them, the better it is for us.”