Co-founder of the Softline Group Steve Cohen Believes You Need To Be...

Co-founder of the Softline Group Steve Cohen Believes You Need To Be One of The Guys


I believe the fact that I’ve ‘walked the walk’ means my team respects me

I’m not a leader who preaches Harvard principles. When we launched this business we were support, we created production manuals, we tested products. I’ve done everything I ask my team to do, and this gives me credibility.

As a MD, there’s a danger of my team pandering to me, telling me what I want to hear because of my title. I don’t believe that type of behaviour is good for anyone, employees, leaders and businesses alike.

Related: What It Takes to Be an Outstanding Leader

It’s important to remember that as a leader, you work for your team. If they have a question, answer it. Let them know they can always come to you. Know who they are as people, and what makes them tick.

They’re your biggest and best resource, and they know what’s happening on the ground – never lose sight of that.

I don’t have an office

I move my desk around between departments, from sales, to R&D, to support. It’s generally time to move when the department is running out of space.

Being on the floor lets me stay in touch with all aspects of the business, and it maintains my open door policy because I don’t have a door. I’m always available.

Customer support is the MD’s job. I get cc’d in on every single complaint. It makes a big difference to our customers that top level management cares about their issues, and it allows me to see where we’re going wrong and get involved in finding a solution.

You can never stop learning

I’m a ferocious reader of social, political and economic magazines and journals. I think it’s so important to have an understanding of the world we live and do business in.

Once a month I host a lecture in the auditorium. It’s not compulsory, but anyone can attend. We discuss key topics affecting South Africa and the global socio-economic situation. Work isn’t just where you earn a pay cheque. It should stimulate you as much as it can.

We’re transparent about our profits with the whole company

Our monthly meetings include the entire company, and used to show turnover figures. Today, we break this down to our profit level.

Everyone understands that we need to meet targets set by Sage, but it’s also very empowering for them to know how they’re contributing to our profits. It gets everyone engaged, and they can see if their department or team is meeting or exceeding budget targets. If something dips, everyone wants to interrogate why. The more transparent you are, the more engaged your employees will be.

I’m honest, I’m one of the guys and I often have after-work drinks with my teams, but if you let me down you’ll know it. Ethics and attitude are the only career limiting attributes in the company.

Related: How to Keep Your Team Focused on the Same Goal

People with great attitudes will learn the job, so we hire based on attitude, particularly our managers, because culture flows down. If you consistently let me down, I’ll take you out for coffee and have an honest chat.

“You know you’ve let us down and it’s affecting the team.” 30% clean up their act, and 70% leave.

Ivan and I are chalk and cheese, but that’s why we’ve made the partnership work

This business is the success it is today because those differences make us great partners, able to bring the best of all worlds to our business and our clients.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.