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How Digicape Was Built From A Love Of Apple Computers And Just R5 000

Robin Olivier launched his first business with two partners and R5 000 between them. He had a wife, a bond and a baby on the way. He also knew that he and his partners had more guts than sense, but they were determined to build their own destinies. They weren’t going to let the fact that they didn’t have a degree between them hold them back. Within ten years they’d built a R140-million

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Player: Robin Olivier
  • Company: Digicape
  • Position: Co-founder and MD.
  • Launched: 1999
  • Turnover: R240 million
  • What they do: Apple Premium Reseller and customised business solutions provider
  • Visit: digicape.co.za

From a young age Robin Olivier knew he was going to be an entrepreneur. He’d grown up in a single-parent household, and although there was always food on the table, there wasn’t money for luxuries. Robin’s mother had managed to get him into a local semi-private school, and although she wasn’t always able to cover his school fees, he received a good education and a clear view of life on the other side of the fence. Then and there, he promised himself he would make something of his life. And that would be through business ownership.

The problem was that he knew nothing about business. His mother couldn’t share business advice with him, and he didn’t have a father to mentor him. He also didn’t have a business idea. Surfing was his passion and he competed for Western Province.

“I instinctively knew that I didn’t have enough life experience. Passion is critical, but without an idea and some understanding of business, I knew I needed to go out and learn from other people who were running their businesses,” he says.

This is exactly what he did, putting his hand up for any job that needed doing, or skill that needed to be figured out. Robin had one goal: To prepare himself for business ownership. Along the way he not only picked up those skills, but also a passion for Apple computers. By the time he was 29, he was ready to take the plunge with two partners he’d managed in their work servicing Apple products. He had the idea, he knew what he was passionate about and he’d acquired skills. What the three partners didn’t have was money, but they more than made up for that with bravado.

Robin’s only obstacle was convincing his wife, who was six-months pregnant, that it wasn’t a harebrained scheme, and that they would still be able to pay for their bond each month. “I promised her that we were investing in our future. It wasn’t completely honest; I had no idea what would happen. But I worked tirelessly until I made it true.”

And so, with R5 000 between them after their bills had been paid, Robin and his two partners, Ashley Legg and Roberto Ferreira,  launched Coza Digital in 1999. They bought a hard drive, which they needed to back up and service client machines, and a toolkit each. They needed to make enough to each pay their bills by month end. And so, they got to work.

For the love of Apple

apple-products

Today Robin Olivier is the MD of one of two Apple-certified resellers and repair centres in South Africa. Robin’s high school had a computer lab, which meant he was one of a small percentage of South Africans in the late 80s who had some computer skills — but he hated computers.

“Computers didn’t make sense to me. I found them brutal,” he recalls. His first exposure to Apple Macs would be a completely different experience. Coming out of 18 months of mandatory service in the Navy, Robin couldn’t afford university. A friend was studying graphic design; it was 1991, and the course was based on Apple Macs. “I was nervous, because my experience with computers wasn’t great, but I needed to do something, and I didn’t have any better options. Plus, this sounded like fun.”

Robin soon discovered that he loved Apple. “They were easy and intuitive. A whole new world opened up to me.” And even though his first job was in Port Elizabeth as a designer, it was the Apple Mac he worked on that got his attention.

“There were only two Apple Macs in PE at the time. If something went wrong, you were forced to figure things out, and so that’s what I did. I started understanding how the system worked — and it made sense to me.”

Soon, Robin became known as the ‘mac’ guy, an in-house guru who others called for advice. “I ended up being head-hunted by a company that sold and serviced macs. There was a serious shortage of Apple Mac technicians in South Africa, so they picked up anyone who understood the product.”

Robin hadn’t forgotten his earlier ambition to run his own business. He prepared himself for that goal by learning as much as he could about all facets of business. “I recognised that no-one was going to hand me my dream, or the skills I needed. I had to make it happen for myself, and so I put my hand up for everything. I was fearless in that way — I still am. I jump into everything with both feet and then figure it out — that’s how you learn. I spent a few years at the same company, and learnt about tech, sales processes, and how to sell products as solutions. It was never about moving boxes, but walking a path with our customers. The lessons and insights I gained are integral to our business model and sales strategy today.”

By 29 Robin thought he had learnt enough to blaze his own trail, and he found two partners with similar ambitions. “We were cocky, arrogant and ambitious — all we saw were dollar signs,” he says. “We would have taken on the world. We had no idea how tough it would actually be.”

And it was tough. Robin learnt first-hand what he’d always suspected — that without passion it’s difficult to push through the tough times. “We were earning enough to pay our bills and hire a receptionist and book-keeper, but there were months where things were touch and go, and we had to make trade-offs about which bills to pay.

“We had secured a good relationship with an Apple distributor while we were employed, and they were looking for more resellers and partners. If we were prepared to go for it, they would back us to a point. No one asked us for a business plan — thank goodness, because we didn’t have one — and they agreed to give us kit on consignment, which we could pay for when our clients paid us. Without this relationship, we wouldn’t have survived the first six months. We were servicing clients, but we couldn’t afford to provide products that required upfront payment.

“We worked hard to make enough money to pay the bills. We knew our customers would support us because we were skilled. It also helped that in those days everyone was a digital immigrant.”

Curveballs and growth curves

Curveballs and growth curves

Coza Digital’s first big growth curve happened in 2000. The business had been operational for over year, and an opportunity arose to merge with another firm.

“It was a very similar business to ours, focused on Apple support. The owner wanted to exit without abandoning his team. By merging with us, he ensured their job security. The merger doubled our turnover, but it also increased our costs. We now had 15 employees, and their livelihoods were linked to our own. It was a lot more responsibility.”

In 2001, Apple approached Coza Digital and suggested the business merge again. “Apple had launched the iPod — a complete game changer. They wanted the brand to be more mainstream, not only an underground brand for creatives. They launched their first retail store in San Francisco and were focusing on more exposure and presence in international markets.

“In South Africa, businesses that offered Apple support were small and fragmented. There were no big players, and Apple saw this as an issue. They wanted our businesses to grow and be more impactful, and one way to achieve this was through consolidation.

“We started a conversation with Syntech. We were mirrors of each other: Same service and product offerings, similar annual turnovers and staff complements.”

Both companies saw the benefits of merging, and in December 2001 Digicape was launched. “We saw the merger as like for like. Neither of our brands was strong enough to justify keeping the name, so we created a new brand.”

Within weeks they were questioning the move. “While our combined turnover was R8 million, in our first month together we made only R350 000. December is a quiet month, but this was a disaster. What had we done?” On paper, the deal looked good. Both Coza Digital and Syntech had separate and secure client bases.

“We needed to look forward. We had a bad month; it happens. It’s not the best foot to begin a merger on, but it doesn’t mean you throw in the towel.”

Coza had come into the merger with three shareholders, and Syntech had four. But you cannot have seven decision-makers — not if you want an agile, successful business. “We made the decision that there would be two managing partners, one from each business, myself and Graham Greathead Graham, a CA with an MBA — and the only shareholder with a business degree — was MD and I headed up marketing and sales.

“We agreed that being a shareholder didn’t guarantee employment, or a managerial role. Every decision would be for the good of the business, not based on previous positions or current shareholding. Graham and I managed the business and this allowed us to be nimble and swift in our decision-making.”

With these foundations in place, rapid growth started three months into the merger. “We had recognised that we couldn’t bring our old cultures into this new business and expect success. We needed a new culture, and although it took longer than three months to develop and entrench across the organisation, the foundations we were laying stimulated that early growth.

“By the close of 2002 our combined turnover had almost doubled to R14 million.” The growth and change of culture was not without consequences. One of Coza’s founding partners exited. “We had entered a period of hockey-stick growth, and he didn’t want to be in that type of growth-focused environment. We now had six shareholders instead of two blocks of shareholders from the businesses that had merged.”

Wins and losses with the move into retail

digicape-logo

One year into the merger, Digicape entered the retail space. Apple had recently launched its first retail store in San Francisco, and the model was untested in South Africa. “We had a lot of bravado,” admits Robin. “But we understood it was a risk we needed to take if we wanted to continue on our growth curve.”

Robin and his partners recognised that they were selling time. Their value was based on expertise and customer service, but ultimately they were limited by the hours in a day. This is one reason why service-based businesses struggle to increase their margins when they scale — more work equals more hours equals a higher salary bill.

The solution is to also sell products. “We could make the same revenue as six or seven hours of tech service time in minutes with the right sale,” says Robin. In its first month of opening the store, Digicape’s turnover doubled. But, product sales can quickly become commoditised, and Apple product margins are low. This means you need high volumes, and superior support service as a foundation. Time might be limited, but the margins are better, and the barrier to entry is much higher. “Our foundations remain in consulting,” says Robin.

“We understand the importance of our relationships with our customers and the service we provide them. The investment in computers is high, particularly if you run Apples. Downtime is also expensive. As a one stop shop, with a skilled team and support service, we offer exceptional value.

“We also made the decision to invest in Apple accreditations. This is costly and the courses are tough. We send people overseas for training, and pay for them to write their accreditation exams. Apple has deliberately set the bar high. Sometimes it takes two or three attempts to pass an accreditation, and you pay for each attempt.”

The result is that Digicape is one of only two organisations in South Africa that can do warranty repairs on Apple products.

The move into retail also had its downside. In 2008, Digicape opened its first retail store in Johannesburg. The bottom had dropped out of the market, the store’s location was wrong, and it cost the business millions.

The result wasn’t just the loss of millions, but an organisation that was becoming rudderless. At the time, a decision was made to keep all employees on, despite the losses.

“We made the decision rather to work through the challenge. It was an emotional decision and not the best for the people in the business, even though at the time we thought it was.”

The cumulative result was an unhappy, toxic business. Employees were leaving, Graham retired and Robin was voted MD by his fellow directors. He realised Digicape urgently needed to address company culture.

“I wanted to feel energised and happy at work. If we could create a company we wanted to work for, our employees would want to be there too, making magic happen.”

Changing a company’s culture does not happen overnight, particularly when you are a R140-million organisation with 110 employees, and no HR manager.

Building a business to last

robin-digicape

“The old school way of thinking is that you get a salary in exchange for work,” says Robin. “That doesn’t work today. Talented people expect more.

“Customers benefit most when your employees are empowered and engaged. And happy customers are loyal customers, willing to pay more for the value they receive. That benefits the business.”

How do you get employees more engaged and empowered? That’s the question so many business owners struggle with.

“We had to make promises we could deliver. Our people are our biggest assets — it’s a cliché, but for a reason. We needed to make it a promise: You are the most important thing in this business, and we value you. We will show you how much by providing a culture that is healthy and allows you to make mistakes and learn from them.

“It was a big change for us. We needed to be transparent right down to financial performance. It took two years to see a real shift, as trust is built over time and has to be top down. We had to give first, so that our people saw us delivering what we promised.”

For Robin, the aha moment came when he read Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers. “The biggest lesson was that leadership is not about having the best answers. It’s about having the best questions and letting people answer those questions themselves.

“As MD, I had taken on the responsibility of being the person with all the answers. But once I understood the principles behind multipliers, I found that you can empower people to be better versions of themselves, and lessen your burden as well. When leadership coaches and mentors, people respond well and manage themselves. This realisation shifted our business.”

By 2015, Digicape experienced its most profitable year. This was tripled in 2016. The bottom line speaks for itself.

The Success Formula

Robin has a simple formula for success. He calls it the Temple of Success. The foundation is organisational culture. This is the organisational DNA, values and core purpose. Resting on this foundation are three pillars: Finance, strategy and data.

Finance is critical. “We’ve been through cash flow situations. We operate on thin margins. 90% of our product is Apple, and there’s very little room for error. We need to be extremely good at forecasting and targets because cashflow is the lifeblood of our organisation and requires attention and investment in resources.”

Strategy is essential. “Understand the difference between your strategy and your goals. One is the roadmap, the other is how you’re going to get there.” Data pulls it all together.

“One of the things that put us back on the growth path in 2010 was transparency — but in order to achieve this we needed measurement tools to check performance. We were managing accounts after the month ended — you need to do this first. You need to focus on lead indicators, instead of lag indicators. Look forward — not only backwards and where you went wrong or right. What is measured improves, and so you need to ensure that you monitor your business and key metrics. We do this hourly, across the organisation. This means we can react fast and deal with things as they arise — not three months down the line.”


Key insights

In business, learn by looking backwards, but grow by looking forwards

Not everything will work out as planned. After their first merger, Robin, his partners and their new co-owners found themselves with a much lower turnover and higher costs than anticipated. If they’d allowed this to derail them, the business wouldn’t have survived. Instead, they looked forward, focused on integrating the businesses and managed to achieve hockey-stick growth three months later.

Sometimes, bravado beats experience

Throughout Digicape’s launch and growth, Robin and his partners have made bold decisions to move into new spaces without necessarily having the right back-up or experience. They’ve taken the chance, and worked hard to achieve their goals.

Leadership is about letting others be the best versions of themselves

Leadership is not about having the best answers. It’s about having the best questions and letting people answer those questions themselves.


Lessons learnt

  • The Navy taught me to be attentive to detail. I wasn’t a neat freak when I went in, but I was when I came out. That attention to detail has been invaluable in everything I’ve done, particularly with Apple and retail.
  • The Navy also forced us to recognise our faults, which helped me to internalise my strengths and weaknesses. You don’t need to go to the Navy to learn this, but it is a valuable skill. As a business leader or manager you will never be good at everything. If you recognise that, you can focus on your strengths, and delegate the things you aren’t good at to others.
  • If you’re serious about personal growth, put your hand up for anything and everything. I’ve always been fearless in that way. I jump into everything with both feet and then figure it out — that’s how you learn.
  • You have to be passionate about what you do. Passion gets you through the dark times, and there will be dark times. Why are you doing this? Without passion you can’t answer that question when you need it most. Profit is the ideal outcome, but should never be the goal.
  • Make decisions for the majority, not the minority, and don’t allow pride to cloud your judgement. We’ve needed to make difficult calls, but not making them has hurt the business more. We needed to consolidate. It took us too long to realise that, but once we had, the business and our employees were far better off. Putting off the tough choice just made things tougher for everyone.

Listen to the podcast

matt-brown-podcast

Matt Brown interviews Robin Olivier and discusses how DigiCape was launched, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, how entrepreneurs can become better leaders and the steps to building a large-scale organisation. To listen to the podcast, go to mattbrownmedia.co.za/matt-brown-show or find the Matt Brown Show on iTunes or Stitcher.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Afritorch Digital An Overnight Success That Was Years In The Making

By any standard, local start-up AfriTorch Digital has seen phenomenal growth and traction. But, while the company’s success might seem quick and effortless, there is a lot of hard work behind it.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Players: Michel M. Katuta and Thabo Mphate
  • Company: Afritorch Digital
  • Established: 2017
  • Visit: afritorchdigital.com
  • About: Afritorch Digital assists research agencies in conducting market research through its in-depth knowledge of the African continent and its use of the latest digital technologies.

There is a saying that goes: It takes years to become an overnight success. While a company or individual might seem to enjoy sudden (and seemingly effortless) success, there is often more to the story. The results are usually public and well-publicised, but the years of hard work that came before go unnoticed.

Local start-up AfriTorch Digital is a great example of this. Since launching in May 2017, the business has seen excellent growth. “To be honest, we were very surprised by the level of success. Things progressed a lot quicker than we anticipated,” says co-founder Thabo Mphate.

 “All the goals we had hoped to reach in four or sixth months, we managed to hit in the first month. It was just amazing.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Preparing to launch

While AfriTorch Digital has certainly seen quick growth and success, it would be a mistake to assume that the same is true of the two founders. For them, the creation of AfriTorch was years in the making.

“The goal was always to start our own business,” says Thabo. “I think we’re both entrepreneurs at heart, and we saw an opportunity to create a unique kind of business that offered an innovative solution to clients, but we also realised the value of getting some experience first. Without the knowledge, experience, network and intimate understanding of the industry landscape, getting AfriTorch off the ground would have been incredibly difficult.”

Entrepreneurs tend to dislike working for other people. They want to forge their own path. However, as AfriTorch Digital’s case illustrates, spending time in the industry that you’d like to launch your business in is tremendously useful.

“Finding clients when we launched AfriTorch was relatively easy,” says company co-founder and CEO Michel Katuta. “One reason for this, I think, was that we were offering potential clients a great solution, but the other was that we had established a name for ourselves in the industry. People knew us. We had worked for respected companies, and we had done work for large clients. So, when we launched, we were able to provide a new start-up with credibility in the industry.”

The Lesson: Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t always start with the launch of a company. Spending time in an established business, gaining experience and making contacts, can be invaluable. Very often, it’s the relationships you build during this time and the knowledge you accumulate that will help make your company a success.

Solving a problem

Everyone knows that launching a successful business means solving a burning problem, but what does that mean in practice? Aren’t all the burning problems already being addressed? And how do you attempt this without any money?

Thabo and Michel identified a small group of potential clients with a burning problem. Crucially, it was a problem that no one outside of the research field could have identified. Having spent years in the trenches, they saw a massive gap waiting to be filled.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

“A decade ago, researchers were still debating whether the future of the field was in the digital space. That debate is now over. Everyone agrees that online is the way to go. What once took months now takes days or hours, and the cost of research can be reduced by a factor of five,” says Michel.

“But researchers are not technology specialists. If made available, they are eager to adopt digital tools, but they aren’t eager to develop these tools themselves. That’s not their area of expertise.”

AfriTorch Digital stepped up to provide these tools. Katuta has a background in software engineering, so he could approach research problems with the eye of a tech specialist. Very soon, research agencies were lining up to make use of AfriTorch Digital’s services.

“We work with research agencies that conduct research on behalf of their clients. We provide the digital tools needed to conduct research online, and we provide the online communities. A big reason for our success is that we understand Africa. A lot of companies want to conduct research in Africa, but traditionally, this has been very hard. There was a lack of access and a lack of infrastructure that made research very hit-and-miss. Thanks to the continent’s adoption of mobile technology, it’s now much easier. If you have the technological know-how and an understanding of the environment, you can do amazing things,” says Michel.

The Lesson: Find a niche and own it. Research agencies might not have seemed like an obvious and lucrative market, but having spent time in the industry, the AfriTorch founders were able to identify clients who would be desperate for their offering. Spending time in an industry will help you see where the opportunities lie.


Take note

Before launching a business, get to know an industry from the inside out. This will give you an unparalleled view into gaps you can service.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’

Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Player: Jason English
  • Position: CEO
  • Company: Prommac
  • Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
  • Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
  • Visit: prommac.com
  • About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.

Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.

Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.

Jason English

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.

“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.

“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.

“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.

“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.

“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.

“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.

Related: Establishing The Wheels Of Change In Business

“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.

prommac

“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.

“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.

“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.

“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.

“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”

Exponential growth

When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.

key-insights-from-jason-english

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?

You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.

Nadine Todd

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  • Player: Billy Selekane
  • Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
  • About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
  • Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com

We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.

In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.

“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.

The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.

“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.

Related: Billy Selekane

The monkey on your back

“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”

Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.

“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.

“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.

“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.

“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”

Getting out of the monkey business

To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.

According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.

First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”

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Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.

“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”

Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.

“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”

If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.


Do this

Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.

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