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3 Become 1: The Story Of How IS SME Business, MWEB Business and IS Ignite Merged

Tony Koutakis knows about the complexities of bringing different entities under one roof. Entrepreneur spoke to him about the challenges of merging different companies and divisions into a new business.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • 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.

Related: 8 Things Learnt By (Very) Young App Founders of MiBRAND Mobile App

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.

ignite-quote

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.

Related: Why Head of Van Dyck Carpets Believes To Innovate You Must Question The Status Quo

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.

Related: Efficient R&D Puts Product Of The Year SA In The Pound Seats

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.

About Ignite

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.

Remember this

Mergers can be difficult. If you want disparate groups to become a new cohesive entity, you need to actively manage the process.

Lessons Learnt

(Podcast) ‘Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern: ‘I’m Addicted To The Hustle’

How this week’s ‘How Success Happens’ guest overcame personal struggles and built an empire.

Dan Bova

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I didn’t know what to expect when we scheduled an interview over breakfast with today’s guest Andrew Zimmern. As you may know, the chef, writer, restaurateur and TV personality made a name for himself traveling the world and eating some, well, bizarre foods on his hit travel/food show, Bizarre Foods.

Turns out our breakfast was pretty normal – we didn’t dig into a fresh plate of scrambled brains or anything – but the conversation was anything but typical.

Over the past couple of years, Zimmern has built a true empire around his name with books, TV shows, restaurants (including his new Twin Cities joint Lucky Cricket), and a production company, but as he very candidly told me, the road to success has not been easy. He has gone through a lot of personal pain on his journey, and he says it is a daily endeavour to keep himself moving on the right track.

As Zimmern explained, over the course of his life, he’s had problems with substance abuse, depression – even homelessness – and he was very open about sharing the lessons he’s learned along the way about coping and finding redemption. We also spoke about his dear friend, Anthony Bourdain, and about the struggles of feeling overwhelmed that most of us face.

Related: Gareth Cliff Shares His Tips For Starting Your Very Own Podcast

But don’t get me wrong, he’s really funny, too! There’s nothing “normal” about Andrew Zimmern. Hope you’ll enjoy our conversation, thanks for listening.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How BrightRock Is Disrupting The Insurance Industry With These 2 Pivotal Strategies

Developments in technology, and clear communication are positioning BrightRock to disrupt their industry and transform the consumer experience.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Sean Hanlon, Leopold Malan, Schalk Malan, Suzanne Stevens
  • Company: BrightRock
  • Est: 2011
  • Visit: www.brightrock.co.za

BrightRock was started around a dining room table in 2011 by four people with years of industry experience and — importantly — a diverse set of complementary skills.  They wanted to make changes to an industry with an age-old methodology by allowing customers to co-create a solution that precisely meets their individual needs, and adjusts as those needs change. Today, BrightRock is the fastest-growing insurer in the intermediated individual life risk market. It also provides underwriting management services to funeral parlour businesses and, more recently, has entered the group risk insurance market, offering its needs-matched approach to employees.

The founders of BrightRock, established in 2011, knew the life insurance industry all too well, and they found its methodology wanting. “Traditional life insurance lumps all the individual’s needs into one policy,” says CEO Schalk Malan.

“It’s a methodology that has been around for centuries. We started afresh and looked at how we could design life insurance based on individual requirements. Our cover is designed to exactly match each specific financial need. Because there is no waste, it’s more cost efficient and sustainable. And if circumstances change and our customer needs more cover, it’s easy to get it because needs-matched design enables the policy to change in line with changing needs.”

1. Embracing digital technology to provide needs-matched insurance

Suzanne Stevens, marketing executive director at BrightRock, points out that this type of innovation achieves efficiency (cost savings) and effectiveness (higher returns). “By harnessing digital technology, we have made our operations more efficient, and aggressively lowered costs by up to 30% for our customers. Every rand they spend with us works harder for them. That’s the benefit of a solution designed around the customer.”

BrightRock’s founders took a similar approach. ‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Related: How BrightRock Is Rocking The (Industry) Boat In Only 5 Years Since Launch

Unlike clunky legacy systems, BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

2. Effective communication is critical

These disruptors have set themselves above the rest through one surprisingly simple tactic —  effective communication. They agree that it simply doesn’t matter how world-changing your product or service is if you don’t communicate it to the right audience at the right time. New companies that fail to communicate their remarkable new development will quickly be pushed aside by other disruptors. Without a clear communication strategy that reaches the audience in the industry you’re trying to disrupt, you’ll set yourself up for failure. A key question to ask when you are developing your communication strategy is simply whether people understand what you do.

“Because the premise for our product was fundamentally different from anything on the market, communication and clear messaging were critical to convincing our clients to put their trust in us,” says Schalk.

“It was especially important to educate insurance advisors so they would understand what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it was better than the other options available. That was key to disrupting the individual life market.”

Currently, BrightRock employs 380 staff, has experienced 40% year-on-year growth, and has an annualised premium income of more than R1,3 billion. The company has recently entered the group risk environment with a similar offering that addresses many of the same shortcomings of traditional group risk products. “The inefficiencies of the structuring of group products has meant that, to remain competitive, insurers have cut the benefits offered to employees, undermining their sense of financial security. Change is needed, and we believe our needs-matched philosophy positions us to change the group risk market too.”

‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Unlike clunky legacy systems, the BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

Related: BrightRock’s 5 Entrepreneurial Tips For Start-ups

This iterative, modular approach typically begins with defining the strategy and programme plan upfront, delivering a core capability fast so it can provide benefits immediately, and then continuously improving with regular, incremental capability improvements to achieve the objectives of the strategy. It’s an approach that fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders, improved transparency, earlier delivery, greater allowance for change and more focus on the business outcomes.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

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Lessons Learnt

The 9 Obsessions You Need To Have To Become A Self-Made Millionaire

Here’s how to stay focused on your millionaire goals.

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elon-musk

The ones who succeed weren’t handed a golden ticket; it wasn’t chance that helped them cultivate their fortune. To reach millionaire status, you must be driven to reach your dreams. You must be obsessed in order to be successful.

These are the nine obsessions that give every self-made millionaire an edge in creating success and wealth.

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