After completing a BCom in accounting and commercial law, Kumaran Padayachee wanted to become a chartered accountant. But, he says, he was always far more comfortable being an entrepreneur. Today his business interests include Uthajiri Investment Holdings, which bought part of Deutsche Bank SA, and Jala Capital. He is also a member of the Entrepreneur Organisation SA and of Endeavor SA. Padayachee acquired Spartan Technology Rentals late in 2003. At the time, the company was partly owned by arivia.kom and by Fintech. He was based in KwaZulu-Natal where he ran KPA Asset Based Finance, today the holding company of Spartan, and was looking to expand into Gauteng when he came across the technology financing business.
With his significant experience in asset-based financing and a commitment to black economic empowerment, he has been credited with driving Spartan in a bold new direction. Padayachee maintains that setting and meeting new objectives for the company has been his – and the business’s – greatest challenge. The company was co-owned by a parastatal and a JSE-listed entity; the disconnect between the two cultures had permeated the organisation and his task was to change the entire identity of the company.
“At the most fundamental level, we created a new corporate identity for Spartan, one that was aligned with where we wanted to take the company. Then we articulated an ambitious, yet credible vision that was communicated to and understood by everyone involved with the business.” Where Spartan had previously catered almost exclusively to the SMB market, Padayachee expanded the company’s offering to appeal to the corporate and public sectors too. On the HR front, the traditionally admin-focused division has evolved into a strategic business unit that drives home the need for human capital management.
“People are the most valuable and variable assets of a business,” says Padayachee. “Two individuals with the same background and the same education will consistently interpret their roles differently and produce very different results. Our drive is to get the most value out of our people, while ensuring they too derive the most benefit from their work environment.” Padayachee’s changes led to a significant staff turnover in the early stages of his tenure, a result which he views as normal when there is change of ownership, senior management and vision. He says some mistakes were made along the way, but that he has learnt much from engaging with various stakeholders. In addition to an employee committee that represents and is elected by the staff, Padayachee meets separately with every employee – from drivers to managers – once a year for an off-site breakfast.
“My aim is to create a culture where there is equal respect for all people in the company. I also believe it’s vital to be receptive to all ideas – there are diamonds to be found in among the rocks. These breakfasts have given me an ear on the ground and the ability to identify trends and themes within the business. Also, people were initially reticent to say too much, but they have become more confident over time. We are seeing great business results as a consequence. It’s gratifying for employees to see the results of these discussions being implemented. We are using their input to shape the strategy of the business.” Spartan’s business is based on the premise that it makes no sense to buy an asset that is guaranteed to depreciate. There are far greater benefits to be had from applying cash reserves in areas that deliver returns. “Because IT is an enabler in a business you should always have access to the latest technology. We enable companies to structure their IT needs in the best way for their business – but instead of having to hand over a cheque for R20 million, they pay a monthly rental fee,” says Padayachee. He attributes his success to perseverance and seeking counsel from others. He maintains a strong focus on self-development and engages consultants and coaches to show him how things can be done more effectively. Padayachee takes a long-term view of things. “Great companies are formed over time, not overnight.”