Rob Shongwe, the CEO of Sandock Austral Energy, is a born and determined entrepreneur who has always been strongly led by the desire to innovate in order to uplift other people.
Sandock Austral Energy is the latest offering of the Sandock Austral Group of companies. Speaking about the company, Shongwe explained, “Sandock Austral Energy seeks to provide bespoke energy solutions in line with global and local sustainability priorities. It places particular attention on the development of greener and renewable energy technologies and solutions, therefore contributing to the nation’s socially and environmentally conscious economic growth agenda.”
Among other projects, the company is amid manufacturing a lithium-ion battery energy storage in Durban for residential, industrial and utilities, using its intellectual property in battery energy storage systems (BESS). “These are the first indigenous batteries in South Africa. We own the intellectual property, and we will put Durban on the map because of this initiative,” Shongwe commented.
Shongwe previously occupied the position of Head of Portfolio Project Management Office for the Sandock Austral Group, where he was responsible for strategy and projects execution.
He grew up in Mpumalanga Province at a village called Mooiplaas where he attended Ebuhleni Primary School. Shongwe then attended high school at Highveld Comprehensive High School, located in a village close by - Aremberg. Of his motivation to succeed Shongwe says, “I have been blessed with a strong entrepreneurial spirt, which was modelled on the example of my mother.” As a child he sold sweets, snacks, ice cream and other items at school.
In his matric year in 2005, Shongwe made it to the top ten learners in the Mpumalanga Province with a total of five higher grade As and two Bs. Of note he received an A in both higher-grade Mathematics and Physical Science despite not having any higher grade teachers for these subjects and having to teach himself the subject matter.
Due to his own lack of teachers, he was motivated to help other learners at his school achieve. Consequently, he and some friends cofounded an evening school to assist fellow learners with their homework and subject matter.
Shongwe went to Wits University in 2006 to study for a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Of his study selection he commented, “In 2005 when I was in Matric, I found the most challenging course in the Wits brochure, and I went for it… I did electrical engineering because I wanted to come up with an innovative way to generate electricity, which was not coal fired.” Shongwe’s drive to succeed was apparent in that he made it to the Dean’s List in his first year of university.
His call to volunteering and giving back to the community resulted in him, among other programmes, working in the Kaosane NGO, a non-profit organisation in Secunda, to assist learners to achieve results that would allow them to participate in tertiary education.
Shongwe’s career journey has had a number of challenges, which included an ineffective training programme for engineers. He commented that he proudly became part of the solution by coaching and mentoring engineering interns when he himself was a junior engineer. Other frustrations he experienced, as a corporate professional, included the lack of growth opportunities within a corporate organisation. He also commented that there was a general lack of access to funding for young entrepreneurs.
However, Shongwe believes that his continued success is attributable to the strong support structure, with the greatest support from his wife, his family, and friends. In addition, he is an ambitious person who is driven to persevere and persist. “I believe in working smart rather than working hard and in taking calculated risks,” he explained.
However, his determination to succeed is also apparent in his willingness to learn and he is not afraid of asking questions when he does not understand something and is able to quickly adapt to change. “When I want something, I focus on achieving it,” he said. In 2021 Shongwe graduated from Wits Business School with an MBA – his research focus was on energy analytics.
Apart from Sandock Austral Energy, Shongwe is involved in a number of business enterprises with other people, which include an investment stokvel, property investment, pre-teens toiletries and IT consulting. His goal is to uplift other entrepreneurs so that they can participate in economic activity that will make a difference in their lives. “I have big dreams and ambitions. In the future I would like to build a bank that is built on a social entrepreneurship model that will focus on the unbanked,” he commented.
Shongwe’s leadership style is situational as he changes his method to address the circumstances with which he is faced. “I am a servant leader mostly, and I bring water to the team, this is only under steady conditions,” he explains. “I can be a coach, collaborative or if necessary – authoritarian especially if there are deadlines at stake.”
Speaking of who inspires him he says he inspired by his mom to always do better. He also commented, “I am inspired my two sons, they are three years old and ten months old. I want to build a legacy that they will always be in their memories about their father.” In addition, he says that he is motivated by Black Coffee (Music Producer, DJ and businessman); his business partners; Sandock Austral’s Executive Chairman Dr Mthobisi Clyde Zondi, Group CEO Prasheen Maharaj; and Jay Z.
In advising others he says that one must be true to oneself, be positive and embrace simplicity.
He commented, “It’s important to look up to someone who can guide you. You don’t have to get set on ideas. You need to collaborate with others to get things done. Dreams come true if you persist and work on them every day.” As Shongwe did not have a mentor himself during his internship, he is currently involved with The Mentorship Challenge involving three young professionals. He says, ‘I didn’t have a mentor for guidance along my junior journey and I want to help others on their journeys.”
In order to disconnect Shongwe is keen on jogging and likes to hike as he enjoys the outdoors. He is passionate about cooking and baking which he sees as a creative process.
In conclusion, Shongwe says that his motto to live by is: “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (Cynthia-Stewart Copier)