Jan Matli: A Man Forged in the Fire

 This past month we conducted a virtual interview with Jan Matli, Managing Director and the entrepreneur behind Passiffire-SA, a fire proofing firm based at Riversands Incubation Hub. This is a man who has devoted himself to self-improvement from technical studies, business skills and even the Bible. He had a twenty year career in electronics and telecommunications before switching into a very niche construction speciality.

  1. Tell us about yourself?

I spent twenty years in the electronics and telecommunications industry before moving into construction in 2013. I studied electronics and specialised in radio frequency technology and I have a diploma in industrial and digital electronics. I also studied health and safety and certified fire proofing achieving accreditation with Hilti, Micron, Mandoval Vermiculite and Fitcher. I also took a business management course from Birnam Business College and I have a diploma in advanced Bible studies. I initially started my business in Polokwane.

  1. Why did you start Pasiffire-SA?

In my twenty years of working with electronics and telecoms, as a both an employee and employer, I have experienced a great deal. I decided to move to a different sector after missing out on a new contract with one of my clients. I wanted to raise funds to expand my IT business but fell in love with construction industry instead!

I saw an opportunity in fireproofing within the construction sector.  I realised that most of my African brothers and sisters all go for building, especially general building and construction. My electronics experience taught me that a specialisation is important. Yes, even business coaches will tell you about diversification, but they also warn about not becoming a jack of all trades.  

I decided to take an ‘uncharted journey’. I studied fire proofing in a time when no other African person tried this route. This meant a great deal of self-study! I conducted my own research and established relationships with manufactures of products and materials for fire proofing. It was not easy but certainly not impossible.

  1. Who are you in business with?

I started in 2012 but officially registered in 2013. I first worked for somebody for four months as a foreman, and quickly found that clients were comfortable working with me. I wanted to buy shares in that company, but when I was turned down we parted ways.

Today I am a sole owner of Passiffire-SA. I do not have investors or shareholders. I could not acquire a bank loan to start the business because of a poor credit record so I relied on my own pocket. Even though I had no outside investment, my vision carried me through.  I knew where I was going and decided to go step-by-step. Everything big starts small.  I used my own funds and my family had to sacrifice and support me. They did not understand why I did not look for a new job with all my qualifications!

  1. What do you do?

We are the people who help contain fire in all type of buildings including schools, shopping malls, offices, hospitals, mines and power stations. Our materials and processes help create that important time needed to allow people to vacate before the fire expands. My suppliers are all local but same of their raw material are from Europe and Asia.

We provide our clients with in non-combustible materials, we supply and install fire detectors, and we prevent fire from spreading in buildings and construction. We seal all holes, gaps that allow for the passage of fire or smoke from one office to another and from different levels of offices.

Our material does not burn when exposed to flames, our paint generates nitrogen and stops the flames, in most cases as mention above our paint, called Rockwool, stops the fire.

In hospitals or clinics we are able to contain fire for four hours until everyone vacates the premises.  Our ‘four hour rated’ materials allow people in ICU and disabled people enough time to vacate. It also allows that vital time for fire fighters to rescue people and goods.

We currently are largely a subcontractor to main construction companies like WBHO, Tiber, Iguana, GVK, GD Irons, Probest and many more.

  1. Tell us the vision for your business?

I want to move Pasiffire-SA from being a subcontractor to being really proactive in the fire industry.  We seek a partnership with the Department of Infrastructure Development to ensure that all properties comply with the fire department.

I also want reach out to the Department of Housing and Human Settlement to assess and evaluate old buildings in our cities. Compliance is vital as it saves lives, as we saw on the 5th of September 2018 when a fire engulfed a building in the Joburg City Centre.

We are not only in the business of making a profit, but we also save lives, properties and assets. Insurance and property development companies know very well that if a building is not fire proofed, it is also not ready for occupation.  

  1. Why should people call you to do the job?

We need to be proactive with fire because it kills and destroys assets.  If your property is not fireproofed even if you pay insurance premiums, your property will not be covered today.  People who value to their property, assets and lives need to call us, it is very important to be proactive and comply, rather than trying to react when there is a problem.

We work with professional teams of fire engineers, fix consultants and architects.  They assist in rational fire designs and advise in the flow of fire in buildings and shopping centres. They guide on fire routes or fire escapes and materials to be used, they approve materials and also work with manufacturers.

All our material go first to the fire lab to be tested before they can be used.  We always provide clients with signed fire test reports from a certified fire laboratory in Pretoria.

  1. Tell us a fun fact or unexpected thing about yourself?

I always combine politics and Christianity and draw my strength from both areas. I also realise that as much as I know, that there is something new to learn. I enjoy learning about new territories that are seldom travelled or visited. When people say it cannot happen, then I am inspired to go see why it so difficult. Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

For any fire proofing enquiries please contact jan@passivefire.co.za