Self-taught IT Entrepreneur Carel du Toit on Why Trust is Critical for...

Self-taught IT Entrepreneur Carel du Toit on Why Trust is Critical for Leading

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Vital Stats

  • Company: Mint Management Technologies
  • Player: Carel du Toit
  • Est: 2000
  • Turnover: R55 million
  • Visit: www.mint.co.za

Carel du Toit, a self-taught IT entrepreneur who has run his own businesses since high school, took over the leadership of IT services and consulting company Mint Management Technologies in 2012. Du Toit joined Mint as a software developer in 2000, when the company was just six months old.

He had completed a BCom degree in marketing at Stellenbosch, and had just sold his own software company. As Mint’s business grew, so did his responsibilities. He started to oversee relationships with big blue chip clients and became part of the executive team in 2006, taking on the role as head of sales at the same time. In 2012, he was appointed MD, heralding a new chapter in the company’s history.

Under his leadership, and with the support of fellow directors Yvonne Dias and Francois Pienaar, Mint has grown in leaps and bounds, with turnover in the last financial year reaching R55 million, up 30% from the previous year.

Related: How To Expand Your Business To 5 Times Its Size In 5 Years 

Was the change in leadership a big transition for the company?

No. I had been part of the Mint directorship team for the previous six years, and part of the team for more than 12 years. I also had a lot of experience in both the consulting and mobility sides of the business.

Beyond that, we had made our customers, partners and service providers aware that the change had been planned and that we had prepared for succession planning and smooth continuation of the business.

 

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Describe your business philosophy

We live by our company values, which include our drive to be first in an extremely competitive sector, and we can only achieve that though our relationships with employees, partners, and customers. Our core philosophy is about partnerships.

We partner with our customers to build a roadmap that helps them to differentiate themselves from their competitors, drive revenue and profit growth, and improve their service offering to their own customers.

We do this through a combination of technology, services, and consulting skills that add value to our customers. It’s an approach that has won awards for the company, with Microsoft recognising our ability to attract new customers, grow the business, innovate and enable people to succeed.

Why is people development important to you?

Mint-Management-Technologies

This business is built on the right mix of people. That said, to trust, you have to empower your team to enable them to deliver.

We want to be first in our industry, so the company ploughs a lot of time and money into training and education. In a country where IT skills are scarce, we do our bit to alleviate the shortage through our graduate internship programme, which we started in 2011.

We employ a handful of talented young graduates every year, give them much needed on-the-job training, work experience and mentoring, and we help them to grow into valued IT resources.

These are talented young people who gain exposure to the IT sector and to demanding and complex client environments. We prepare them for the world of work, and employ those who really shine.

How do you measure the success of your team?

In the solutions space, you have to position your company correctly for the next deal, and that is all about managing relationships. We have many competitors, and we are also one of the few independently owned players left in the market, following a period of consolidation.

We seek partnerships with like-minded customers, and we measure success by the amount of repeat and referral business we get.

Our strategy is to have ten key clients on board and we went from three to seven big clients in 12 months. This represents enormous growth for Mint and is proving to be a successful strategy.

What makes your team so successful?

Our objective is to always add value to our clients’ business. We are a services business, but we do not believe in body shopping — we don’t hire out IT workers to customers.

Instead, we insist on being involved in our clients’ strategy. That is the only way to create a win-win scenario in a commoditised market. The substantial time that our sales executives spend with our clients in a year, so as to understand their business, is how we create work for the next year.

Our work for a client does not come to an end when the project is concluded. Instead, our contracts are flexible, and targeted at meeting clients’ needs as they change.

It’s a high-risk model, but the repeat business that arises as a result makes it highly profitable. In our industry, you cannot sell and move on. Like a financial advisor, you have to continue to prove your value to the client.

What is your personal business mantra?

I trust my gut. If a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. Also, always be sure that you are selling something for the right reasons, and not just to achieve targets — have the right end in mind.

I don’t believe in spending time worrying about what could go wrong. I have fun at work. If you are optimistic, things fall into place. To get that right, you have to have the best people on board, which is where it all starts. We screen prospective employees. We test for IQ, EQ and culture fit.

We also have a business coach who is employed by the company. Coaching provides encouragement for people to work harder to achieve peak performance.

Our teams are also able to learn more effective methods or skills needed to do their jobs well, and they can more easily identify personal strengths and weaknesses and focus on what they do best. I believe that talented and empowered people are the basis of all success.

Milestones

  • 2000 – Carel du Toit joins Mint, gains extensive experience in consulting and mobility.
  • 2006 – Du Toit becomes a director of the company.
  • 2012 – Du Toit appointed MD of Mint, taking over the reins from David Woolnough.
    Mint wins two Microsoft Partner of the Year awards, one for Mobility Solutions, and another for CSI.
  • 2013 – Turnover reaches R55 million, up 30% from the previous year.

How trust enables leadership

Carel du Toit views himself as a trusting leader. “I believe trust is a key leadership skill. You can’t work with anyone without trust. The more senior you get, the more important it is to build trust, as people get less direct access to you. Mint’s employees are on the team because I believe in them.”

Leadership used to be about power and vertical relationships in a siloed business environment. Today, leadership theorists stress authenticity, EQ and horizontal relationships. Above all, they highlight the growing importance of trust.

That is because the business world has changed, according to Charles Green, author of Trust-Based Selling and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates: “The business world went from vertical to horizontal; flat, if you prefer.” Green says the boundaries separating businesses from their employees, their suppliers, and even their competitors have become porous.

“In such a world, vertical power-based leadership becomes less relevant. The key success factor becomes the ability to persuade someone over whom you have no power to collaborate with you in pursuit of a common mission.”

Trust is a relationship established between a trustor and a trustee. The role of the trustor is to take risks; the role of the trustee is to be trustworthy. When each is good enough at their roles, a state of trust results.

New leaders, says Green, rely on the power of trust. “They themselves will be skilled at trusting, because trusting and trustworthiness enhance each other. They will be good at collaboration and the tools of influence. They will operate from a clear set of values and principles, because opportunistic or selfish motives are clearly seen and rejected.”

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.