Vivien Natasan marches to the beat of his own drum. He takes opportunities where he sees them and has become an expert not only at identifying and filling market gaps, but at being a leader in whatever sector he turns his hand to. At a time when “best practice” dictates that companies focus on core business and unbundle, he appears to have gone in the opposite direction.
Originally started as a platform for people with a flair for innovative business solutions, today Neo Africa includes a consulting and IT division, and a lifestyle segment complete with aviation, concierge and events divisions. But while consulting might sound like a world away from aviation pilots, acting as a concierge or taking care of VIPs, all these developments have taken place naturally and organically.
“When we started to service national projects and needed to be in four different cities on one day, we bought a jet. Then we saw there was a gap in the aviation market so we carved out a niche for ourselves with a pilot training school and aviation charter business. Similarly, we were running projects with government and they’d outsource the launch to an external company. We realised we could do it better so we launched an events management operation. That’s how the business grew – we saw gaps where we could improve and we took them,” says Natasan.
Proof of success
What’s most surprising is not that a business can expand so rapidly in so many sectors in five short years, but that it has been so successful in each one of its growth areas. It has managed to develop the specialist expertise of niche players and is recognised as a thought leader and transformer of the sectors in which it operates.
Well known and respected for its consulting work and ability to put together powerful public-private partnerships, Neo Africa’s successes include designing a corruption-proof learners’ and drivers’ license testing system, rolling out mobile offices for the Department of Home Affairs and heading up a consortium to handle the scrapping of taxis as part of the Taxi Recapita-lisation Plan. On the strength of its lifestyle division’s track record, Neo Africa was recently chosen as one of five official National Supporters of the FIFA World Cup – one of the youngest companies ever to be awarded this position in the history of the tournament.
All eyes on Africa
“Neo Africa will be providing VIP logistics and lifestyle services for the World Cup. In return, we’ll be getting our logo on every ticket, ad campaigns, the FIFA website, posters and LED displays. Our logo will be seen by 22 billion people worldwide for three minutes during each game,” says Natasan proudly. Apart from lending the company powerful credentials (many large listed companies didn’t come through the FIFA audit successfully), it’s an enormous branding opportunity for a company that’s only five years old, and one that Natasan plans to leverage in order to roll out his plan of revolutionising Africa. “Our Africa expansion is underway and this platform, being chosen as a young up-and-coming African company for the World Cup, will help us tremendously in achieving our vision for growth,” he says.
And although the company’s diverse service offering may appear haphazard and disconnected from the outside, Natasan says all acquisitions and growth have been part of the broader plan for the Neo Africa brand. “There is a common thread that underpins all our divisions and ties together everything that we do,” he adds. And where others might lose focus leading such a diverse and rapidly growing company, Natasan remains cool-headed. Softly-spoken and composed, he’s able to clearly articulate the reasons behind his decisions, and outline an unambiguous vision for the way forward. Just like Neo from the movie The Matrix (who provided partial inspiration for the company name), Natasan has a knack for seeing things not only for what they are, but for what they could be. “We try to epitomise the change we are striving to achieve, not just for the continent, but globally,” he says.
Player: Vivien Natasan
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