Dr Paul Potgieter

Chairman, Aerosud Aviation

Have you always liked aeroplanes?
Fraid so! I don’t know where it came from, but for as long as I remember flying has always been a passion of mine.

What’s so special about Aerosud?
I had the privilege of starting Aerosud as a one man company in 1990, albeit in the context of an agreement with my five other partners who would be following me later.

What do you consider your proudest achievement (in life or business)?
The fact that, despite lots of pressure and stress, my sons in the end opted to join me in the business; so maybe I have gotten at least something right, and that gives me great joy.

If you could hit just one more goal in life, what would that be?
That we should become an OEM in our own right, successfully manufacturing and supplying an aircraft of South African origin.

You’ve proved South Africa can compete at the top table – where next for manufacturing here?
We have to move firmly beyond make-to-print, by adding value using our own Intellectual Property (IP), such as we are already doing for CFRTP parts. Next to come must be our emerging Laser Additive Manufacturing technology.

Which pieces of wisdom would you pass on to your successor?
I believe the single most important trait in business is to be brutally honest with yourself. In responding to any problem, challenge or opportunity, believe what you need to, and not what you want to. Saying the same thing differently – being in denial renders it impossible to finding a solution.

Nobody’s perfect. What quality or ability do you wish you had?
Patience, patience, patience! And with that, the ability to better listen.

Name someone who has been an inspiration to you.
The late Dr. Tom Hugo, our Chief Director at the National Institute for Aeronautics and Systems Technology of the CSIR during the 70’s, where I started my engineering career (and where we did the first helicopter project called the XH1, a tandem version of the Alouette III). If only I could rekindle half his wisdom and insight ....

What mistakes have you made (professional or otherwise), and what did you learn from them?
Probably in getting the timing wrong – sometimes the idea is good, but the environment may not be ready for it. Comes back to impatience. But generally I have few if any regrets.

How has technology changed your working – and personal – life?
Cell phones, computers, emails, internet, TV of course, communications and information more generally, all of which have contributed to a vast change in the pace at which we live and do things. But the most profound change has been in computing power and related applications. Could you imagine having been able to have done the Rooivalk helicopter using CATIA?

www.aerosud.co.za