An agile organisation in the midst of an extensive transformation programme, Lesedi Nuclear Services is branching out into new industries and regions alike, its success founded in bespoke customer-centric attitudes
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Lewis Bush
Owed to the studies of physicist Enrico Fermi in 1934, and German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Stassman beginning 1938, its discovery provided proof of Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence theory (E=MC²) almost 35 years after his theory was first proclaimed.
By 1942, a group of scientists led by Fermi had gathered at the University of Chicago in the United States and begun their attempt to create self-sustaining nuclear fission through the development of the world’s first nuclear reactor. And they were successful, propelling the world into the nuclear age.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the properties of atomic energy have since become both more fully understood and, in many ways, celebrated.
Being a relatively low cost and clean source of power, producing 10 million times more energy per atom than the burning of fossil fuel alternatives, nuclear has been hailed for its massive potential – potential that was recognised by Shane Pereira back in 2005.
“Having always been interested in the energy space, I was excited when an opportunity came along to join the marketing department of Lesedi,” he explains.
“It seemed like the ideal entry into the industry with my background in marketing and communications, and looking at Lesedi’s business value proposition which was, at that time, focused solely on nuclear, I could foresee the growth journey that the company was about to embark on.”
Indeed, Pereira’s premonition of the business’s upward trajectory has since come to fruition.
Owed to an ongoing transformation strategy, underpinned by a recent rebranding exercise, Lesedi is now firmly established as a leading provider of effective engineering, project management and maintenance solutions for a variety of sectors, having leveraged its solid grounding in providing specialised nuclear EPC services to diversify into other power generation segments, as well as mining and oil and gas.
“Lesedi is currently one of very few players operating in these niche EPC environments,” Pereira, now the company’s Business Development Executive, continues.
“There have been turbulent waters recently which have led many companies to failure or exit in these markets. But by sticking to our game plan and altering our navigational course in an agile manner we have been able to and will continue to grow.”
Pursuing a proactive and progressive path, the firm’s offering remains as unique today as it was 14 years ago.
“Quite often we’re one of very few bidders for specific EPC contracts,” Pereira affirms, pointing to the evidence in the form of Lesedi’s current Medupi coal-fired power station EPC contract for the balance of plant (BOP) for all the low pressures systems undertaking, where it was the sole tenderer in 2009.
Further, the same can also be said of the company’s delivery of 14 150 MW open cycle gas turbines to South African national utility Eskom in Atlantis (Ankerlig) and Mossel Bay (Gourikwa) in the Western Cape. Again, Lesedi was the exclusive bidder on the BOP contract back in 2006.
Yet it is not only the specialist environments in which Lesedi operates that stands the organisation apart. Equally the EPC player differentiates itself by ensuring a close marriage between both the engineering and procurement functions – something often undervalued by industry contractors.
“Generally speaking, there is a lack of appreciation for these two elements,” Pereira affirms. “What we try to do differently is mitigate our EP risk with in-house engineering, covering all disciplines in detail, which is complemented with appropriate project management, procurement, planning, legal and proposals departments.”
Each of Lesedi’s individual departments remain agile and adaptable, readily able to align with the requirements and briefs of any clientele, upholding the company’s core principles built upon professionalism, superior expertise and a bespoke approach.
Resultantly, owed to this structure, the firm has amalgamated a sizeable, diversified project portfolio.
“The Koeberg PTR Tank replacement project is one that we’re particularly proud of,” the Business Development Executive responds when asked to outline some particular highlights.
Here, Lesedi was mandated to design, procure, construct and commission two complete 1,800-cubic-metre stainless steel tanks for the reactor cavity and spent fuel pool cooling system (PTR) at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, in consortium with Group Five.
The installation includes the decontamination and removal of the old tanks as well as the removal and replacement of the PTR tank room roofs.
“Across more than 450 nuclear reactors around the world, such an undertaking had never been done before,” Pereira adds.
The company’s own operational structure is not alone in powering such projects, however, the firm also heavily reliant on the pivotal role of its suppliers and partners.
Often operating in environments that are subject to intense legislative scrutiny, Lesedi is required to not only undertake strong corporate governance in its own operations, but equally ensure that its suppliers adhere to similar practices – something that the company is grateful for.
“We work with over 1,000 vendors in our supply chain, and value meaningful relationships highly throughout this network,” Pereira explains. “In South Africa, there are also a number of preferential procurement topics related to black economic empowerment and local procurement, and when we’re working with state owned entities, these are even more prevalent.
“Because of this we proactively pursue and support supply chain development initiatives.”
Such initiatives include enterprise development programmes run by Lesedi itself, alongside an annual supplier day where the firm invites partner businesses to discuss upcoming opportunities and provide an indication as to where Lesedi’s interests lie.
Meanwhile, the firm pursues similarly sensical investments to the benefit of its human resources, directly or indirectly, namely via the Lesedi Skills Academy.
Launched three years ago in the town of Atlantis near the Koeberg Power Station in Cape Town, this particular facility has assisted the company greatly in ensuring that artisans are fully qualified and capable before undertaking any job.
“The Lesedi Skills Academy is one of the very few MERSETA accredited centres offering learnerships and apprenticeships across a variety of different disciplines,” Pereira adds. “It was originally for our own purposes, but we opened it up to industry late last year – something that’s proven to be an exciting development of late.
“Further, as of October, the Lesedi Skills Academy also became an accredited trade test centre for mechanical artisans.”
Indeed, these people-centric practices are extended into a multitude of other areas, Pereira pointing to the firm’s corporate social investment policy as a second example of community-driven empowerment.
“In the town of Lephalale in the Limpopo province where we are in the final stages of our contract at Medupi, we often venture into the surrounding areas to see how we can make an impact, and previously delivered a water purification plant to an orphanage,” he explains. “Meanwhile, we’ve also donated a number of screens and projectors to needy schools in Cape Town and supported non-profits organisations such as ORION in Atlantis that assist a variety of disabled children.
“We always try to ensure that these initiatives are sustainable. It’s not about handouts, but rather committing to meaningful investments that will make a tangible, long term difference to people’s daily lives.”
Be it corporate social responsibility, employment and supply chain excellence, or Lesedi’s ever-growing portfolio of diversified services and project successes, the Business Development Executive remains optimistic about the business’s outlook for 2020. And rightfully so.
“We’re excited about a number of nuclear related opportunities that we are looking at in Africa, Saudi Arabia, Finland and the UK,” he states, also eluding to similarly bright prospects in the wider power segment.
“The recently implemented carbon tax has placed pressures on companies to address their carbon footprints, and Lesedi is well placed to assist in this regard too. Meanwhile, we’re also looking to capitalise on a number of fuel storage, biomass and waste to energy projects that are in the pipeline.”
Gaining traction in each of these areas via a continued transformation programme will see the firm pursuing an increasing number of priorities moving forward. And while the EPC environment remains relatively cutthroat, there is a level of confidence that the company’s client-centric, bespoke approach to challenges will continue to bear fruit in the long run.
“We recognise how much risk we’re able to take on, and what our financial limitations are,” Pereira affirms. “Yet at the same time, we’re not afraid to shy away from risks that we know how to manage with our expertise.
“It’s something that’s helped to set us apart, and we’re hopeful that it will continue to do so moving forward.”