- Player: Tony Koutakis
- Position: Executive Head
- Company: Ignite
- Established: 2016
- Challenge: Instrumental in the merging of the IS SME Business Unit, MWEB Business and IS Ignite to create a company simply called Ignite.
- Visit: ignite.co.za
Can you briefly explain how the creation of Ignite came about? What was the thinking behind it?
When it comes to growth and capturing market share, merging existing companies is always a solid strategy. We believed that these three entities (the IS SME Business Unit, MWEB Business and IS Ignite) complemented each other in terms of structure and product offerings.
What was it about the IS SME Business Unit, MWEB Business and IS Ignite that made them compatible? How did you know that this was a merger that would actually work?
We felt that each business brought something significant to the table. With all of it put together, we could offer SMEs solutions that are expertly tailored to their needs. MWEB Business, for example, brought with it many existing SME clients.
IS Ignite, which had itself started life as an SME, brought with it an ethos of agility, as well as automation, simplicity and reliability.
That said, there were enough similarities in culture, systems and approach to business, to make us believe a merger would be feasible.
Bringing together three different entities under a new banner must have been daunting. What were some of your biggest concerns?
Change is personal and can be uncomfortable and scary. We did not want crew or existing clients to feel as if they would be left out in the cold. The important thing for us was to include all stakeholders in the process and make sure that everyone knew what was happening.
How did you manage to put all stakeholders’ minds at ease about the merger?
It’s all about communication. You have to communicate, communicate, communicate. You have to be accurate and clear when discussing change, and you have to ensure that people believe in the direction that the business is taking. You need buy-in from everyone.
Importantly, this sort of process should be highly consultative. You can’t just talk to people — you also need to listen to them. This means not only sitting down with different divisions, but even with individual employees. You need to take note of all concerns and answer all questions.
What was your single biggest challenge in bringing the three entities together?
We were merging three companies, which meant we were trying to bring together three groups of people who were all used to different company cultures.
We also had three different brands, operating models, business systems and product sets that we somehow needed to unify. We had no less than 300 different product offerings.
How did you successfully merge the companies and create a new business that felt like a single unit? In other words, how did you create a new enterprise with its own culture?
It’s an ongoing journey — I wouldn’t say that we are done. However, for us it started with bringing everyone together under one roof, which is why Ignite operates from its own offices in Sunninghill.
We believed that we needed to create a new space where all the different groups could become one.
It was also important to focus on the culture, which is why we created a ‘culture club’. We organised an open ‘opt-in’ session where the importance of creating a cohesive organisational culture was shared with those that attended.
Six initiatives (social club, wellness, new crew buddy programme, client experience, thought leadership & CSR) were agreed upon by the employees who opted in to the culture club (approximately 50 people) and as a result six ‘tribes’ were self-organised, with employees signing up to the tribe or initiative that they felt the most connected too.
Apart from the high-level issues that one would pay attention to when doing your due diligence, what are the smaller things that you don’t always pick up on, but which can be problematic?
It’s those small operational differences amongst divisions that you only notice once you’re up and running.
It’s those habits and systems, such as when suppliers are paid and how admin is managed, that will differ across organisations. These ‘teething’ problems will always exist — you just need to deal with them as they come up.
How do you deal with operational issues within a newly created entity? How do you make sure that the merger goes smoothly and everyone gets settled relatively quickly?
Well, you need a plan. You need to look at what is important in terms of getting the company up and running, and prioritise the crucial things. That said, you must be adaptable — be willing to accept it if something isn’t working out.
You also need people who care — surround yourself with people who actually care about what the company is doing. You need those ‘true believers’ to drive the success of the business.
IS Ignite, MWEB Business and the IS SME Business Unit joined forces in April 2016 to bring their combined experience to SME clients, united under the Ignite brand.
The Ignite ecosystem is made up of four parts essential for SME growth:
- Whether it’s emailing your clients, collaborating with teams across locations or promoting your company, effective communication is key to your success.
- A connection to the Internet needs to be strong, reliable and of good quality. That’s where Ignite comes in.
- Cloud services have simplified the management and control of IT environments, making it easy for you to have the right infrastructure for the applications you use to communicate, share content and do business.
- Business Applications. From recruitment, payroll, accounting and productivity and collaboration tools Ignite enables you to manage your business administration, so you can focus on achieving your purpose.
Mergers can be difficult. If you want disparate groups to become a new cohesive entity, you need to actively manage the process.