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

Local IT business Mint Management Technologies achieves impressive growth in a slow market thanks to a mix of partnerships, people development and its leader, Carel du Toit, who trusts and is trusted in return.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 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+.

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Leading

How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Dirk Coetsee

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“Trusting one another, however can never mean trusting with the lip and mistrusting in the heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“Self-trust is the first secret of success” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Rapid decision-making

Harvard research has identified amongst other key traits of the most successful CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies the ability to make decisions quickly and act on them at a rapid speed albeit with the inherent acknowledgement that they might get it wrong forty percent of the time.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Why is speedy decision making and a rapid pace of execution so critical? Top leaders know that making quick decisions combined with swift execution creates a much better chance of success as opposed to very slow and bureaucratic verdicts underpinned by little or no action.

When there is a high level of distrust amongst the stakeholders in any entrepreneurial venture literally everything slows down as negative arguments ensue and takes up an enormous amount of precious time. Forced action underpinned by distrust loses quality and speed and can potentially bring a business to its knees.

“The speed of trust” is therefore an extremely valuable principle that all Leaders should live by, that is if they wish to serve a higher purpose than themselves and others. Those Leaders whom have developed a high level of self-trust and have earned the trust of their team members have put themselves in the very advantageous position of being empowered to move towards their vision at a rapid pace through quickfire decisions positively multiplied by confident and competent execution.

“The speed of trust” does not mean that decisions are made without careful consideration and stakeholder input putting the level of quality of execution at imminent risk. It simply means that the decision-making process is quicker than most as mistrust does not cast unnecessary shadows of doubt over the intentions and ambitions of all the stakeholders.

A Leader or Leaders whom has fostered self-trust within themselves will not go through lengthy spells of procrastination that those whom lack self -awareness and suffer from severe self- doubt has to go through.

How do I execute at the speed of trust?

How do I practically bring the principle of the “speed of trust” to fruition within my business? Firstly, ensure that this critical principal is applied throughout all business processes which starts with hiring trustworthy people and by working those out of the business whom cannot be trusted.  Secondly, as  a Leader your actions and words echo throughout every aspect of the business therefore do what you say you are going to do. Admit to your mistakes and fix them.

Thirdly be authentic in your pursuit of the vision of your business. One of the possible ways to achieve that is by being a visible and living example of the business values that you advocate as a leader.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Lastly in order for you to be trusted as a leader you must first show trust in others. Trust others by giving them more responsibility and verbalise your high level of trust in your team members. Passionately speak about this principle and its positive fruits at every opportunity. Make the practical display of this principle by employees or any other stakeholders known to all stakeholders and be lavish with your praise when anyone is willing to earn the trust of other team members.

A very good example of this principle in action was embodied by the Supreme Russian commander, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov whom never lost a battle and was respected by both his men and his enemies. He earned the trust of his men by being amongst them as often as he could, by sharing their hardships and by offering them the most authentic and quality military training known to man within that period of history.

Suvorov was a humble student of warfare and documented every detail of his learning experiences which included setbacks that he faced. He observed the morale of his men first hand and ensured that he inspired them not only through his inspiring speeches but by being a living example of discipline and bravery.

I will leave the reader with an important question to ponder, one that has echoed throughout history: Do you trust enough to be trusted?

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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Your effectiveness in scaling your business starts with the kind of leader you are. Here’s how you can build yourself up into a leader others will follow.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you are in start-up mode it’s tough to take a step back and think about the kind of leader you are or want to be. Most of the time you’re fighting to keep your business alive, never mind think about how you lead.

This is especially challenging when it’s faster and more efficient to just step up and do things yourself. It’s easier for you to make the decisions, do the work, check the work, follow up on the work, etc. However, it’s this situation that prevents young companies from scaling to the next level.

Ask More Questions

I work really hard every day to be quieter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail so dismally that I actually do more damage than good. You see, I like to talk. I like to hear other people talk and I like to bash around ideas until they become something bigger, something better and something that can move from idea into action.

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

Coupled with liking to talk, I also like being right. Who doesn’t? Add onto these two things the fact that I like to read and research and then throw in a teeny bit of ego or pride and it’s a recipe for leadership disaster.

If I am the most well-read, loudest and most opinionated person in a meeting then all that happens is that I end up pitching an idea, getting everyone to agree with this idea and then assigning the work on the idea to become a reality. Basically, I am working with, for and amongst myself. It’s an echo chamber that leads to bad ideas surviving and an unhappy team leaving.

The Collective Is More Intelligent Than the Individual

As a leader and founder, you probably feel like you are the person with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and the best person to solve the problem. This can lead to a dictatorial approach to leadership, team inclusion and problem solving. You have an idea, you tell your team and they do what you tell them.

If this is how you do it then I have to ask you a simple question: Why did you hire smart people? Just so you could tell them what to do? If that’s the case rather hire capable but cheap people, not the best.

Your best people are there to help you scale your business beyond your own thinking and time. There are a set amount of hours in the day. There are only so many emails you can answer in your day.

A good example in my business is customer support. We pride ourselves in our impeccable customer service online and offline. I can’t physically answer every question posed by customers but I can hire incredible colleagues, entrust them with my vision and views on our customers and then trust them to go out and use their good judgement.

Work With The Best

Here’s the kicker to being a good leader: You need to work with the best people.

This is not something I say as a passing statement. I want you to stop reading right now and think about the ten people you interact with at your company every day. Are they the best people you could be working with? If not, why not? How do you find the best people and bring them into your business? Go and do that.

Related: You’re The Boss, So Be The Boss

It’s important to work with the best for two very simple reasons.

Working with the best people pushes you to be better. If you are literally the smartest person in the room in every aspect of your business it means that you are surrounded by subpar players and you are not learning anything. The people around you are meant to educate you and push your business into places you didn’t even know were there.

Second, working with the best people attracts other incredible people. If you have a business full of average team members, can you guess what kind of people they pull towards your business? More average or less than average people. Why? Because average people don’t want to be surrounded by incredible people. If they are, they look worse and not better.

It’s incredibly difficult to be a good leader all of the time. In fact, it’s close to impossible. What you can do is try to be a leader who communicates, learns and grows with your team in an open manner.

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All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Combine the knowledge of the greatest entrepreneurs with your own hard earned lessons.

Brian Hamilton

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There’s a lot of deification of entrepreneur “personalities.” The truth is that a few entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are probably luckier than good. But, some of the praise and deification is warranted. There have been some fantastic business leaders in this country, and one can learn a ton from studying them. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the four entrepreneurs who have taught me the most over the years.

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