In conversation with Luxy Moodley, SICK Automation

March 28th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EngineerIT, Uncategorised articles

Luxy Moodley, SICK Automation

While the company name might be SICK Automation, a name no one will forget, its new head office in Lanseria, Gauteng, is running in full health under the guidance of their MD, Luxy Moodley. I first met Moodley at the launch of the new premises earlier this year where she spoke positively about South Africa, and the engineering industry (and also informed the guests that SICK is the name of the company founder, pronounced “Zick” in German).

I decided to arrange a time to pick her brain about the challenges she has faced on the road to becoming MD, and operating a business in South Africa – whilst also being a mom. I arrived on interview day to find that I was not the only person who wanted her opinion. Before the conversation started, I could see this was a woman who wears many hats.

The first thing I wanted to know was how she came to be MD. “I started in March 2011, when we were still a ‘start-up’ – the South African subsidiary had only started in December the previous year. I joined as the financial manager, and had come from a commercial background.” Moodley said that it was sometimes challenging operating in a male-dominated and technical industry. “It helped that I had come from small to medium sized companies, where I gained good business experience. We only had ten people when I joined the company, and everyone had to wear multiple hats help and support each other. Being involved with every facet of the business gave me a really good chance to learn the business from several perspectives. What you learn on the job, you can never learn from a text book in university.” Moodley gave her career a break in 2014 to have her second child, but was asked back and within a year of returning she was offered the position of managing director.

Nothing comes easily, so I asked her what the biggest challenge had been on her path to MD. “Balancing a demanding career – being in finance and commerce involves extremely long hours and getting that work-life balance is a huge challenge.” While making waves in the workplace, Moodley had two children and was also studying much of the time. Her hard work has paid off though. When I asked her biggest achievement, she coyly mentioned that she is the first and only female managing director in the global SICK group.

What is her secret to success? “I did a lot of things that were not my job. I would always put my hand up, go the extra mile, because I am the kind of person who always wants to learn more and do what is the best for the company. If I can see there is something I can do to improve things, I will do it and lead by example. I will never say ‘It’s not my job’. When you have a positive attitude, doors open for you because your employer will want to make sure they keep you.” Moodley said she takes a similar approach to her staff, not confining them to one role. “We really want our staff to grow and progress in the company. You cannot work in your own little bubble. You have to be a team player.”

Moving on to a wider picture, I asked her what major challenge she thinks SICK Automation addresses in South Africa. “I have been asked this question before and it made me think: We have such industrial solutions, but where do we actually add benefit?” She said that one of the key things that comes to mind is the company’s safety solutions. “There are safety regulations in South Africa, but they are often not implemented and I see a lot of news about industrial accidents where limbs – or lives – are lost. When I see articles like these it is quite devastating as we can prevent those kinds of accidents. We have two certified safety specialists who can perform and sign off safety audits. When people think of SICK they always think of sensors but our safety systems are really fantastic.”

Finally, we spoke about new developments in the company which, unsurprising given the rise of digitisation, revolved around Industry 4.0. “SICK has opened a global business centre to create apps for our sensors, called SICK AppSpace. Another business unit was also created for cloud-based wireless automation for our sensors.” Additionally, the company has helped develop IO-Link for sensors – a communication protocol that transfers data from sensors to central controllers. These are some ways in which SICK Automation plans to keep up with the fourth industrial revolution.

Conclusion

My subject for last month’s In Conversation With cited a lack of strong female mentors in the engineering industry as a barrier to transformation. I can’t help thinking that Luxy Moodley would be an excellent mentor. She clearly operates well in the industry and has much to share about balancing a demanding job with a growing family, and navigating a highly technical and male-dominated industry. Impressive.