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How Jacqui van der Riet Keeps A Finger On The Pulse Of A R200 Million Business

Jacqui van der Riet believes in not letting go. As UDM International has grown, she has endeavoured to stay as involved with employees as ever. For her, it’s not about micromanaging, but staying involved and engaged.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Jacqui van der Riet
  • Company: UDM International
  • Turnover: R200 million
  • What they do: UDM International is an up-market direct marketing company. Established in 1995 it currently employs 400 staff members. Its focus is on direct sales campaigns in the insurance, cosmetics and educational fields.
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The first job Jacqui van der Riet ever had was as an assistant at a law firm. The experience left a very bad taste in her mouth.

“As an assistant, you didn’t matter much. You were treated very, very differently from the attorneys and partners,” recalls Van Der Riet.

It was a very hierarchical environment, dominated by impressive designations and plush corner offices. Even today, as managing director of UDM International, she remembers the place well, and she has made it her mission to create a very different working environment.

UDM International operates in a tough sector. It’s a direct-marketing company, which means that it operates call centres. And call centres are not always the easiest to manage. There are tough targets, young and inexperienced employees, rude and irate voices at the other end of the line.

UDM, however, has managed to do something quite impressive: It has created a call centre environment that is simultaneously successful and fun. Unlike the visions of brutal boiler rooms that the term ‘call centre’ tends to conjure up, UDM is a place where employees are not only effective, but also happy and self-motivated.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top

How has the company accomplished this? It all comes down to hiring well and managing intelligently.

1. Hire slowly

UDM International is always on the lookout for new talent. In fact, a fresh intake of trainees arrives every Monday morning. Importantly, though, becoming a trainee in no way guarantees that you’ll be offered a permanent position. A mere 5% of trainees are eventually offered jobs.

Many companies might balk at this kind of approach — spending so much time and money on trainees who won’t even end up becoming employees. For Van Der Riet, however, it’s the only way that the professionalism and culture of the company can be maintained.

Indeed, it’s all too easy to underestimate the long-term effect of a bad hire. It will cost you time and money — more time and more money than a trainee programme ever will. Moreover, it’s notoriously hard to judge the potential of an employee based on a CV and an interview. A great interviewee is not necessarily a great employee. For these reasons, a trainee programme makes a lot of sense.

“You can get a great sense of who will work out, and who won’t,” says Van Der Riet. “Also, by the time a trainee finishes the programme, he or she is ready to really tackle the job.”

UDM has an entire training floor where trainees receive a lot of coaching and assistance. There is regular training, and experienced agents often sit in on calls to help trainees through calls and improve
their performance.

Even after trainees become full-time employees, they spend a few more months on the training floor. “We like to ease them into things,” says Van Der Riet. “Staying on the training floor provides a bit of a safety net, and ensures that we can keep an eye on trainees until they become truly competent and confident.”

Van Der Riet also spends time with each trainee. “Every Friday, I meet with each trainee individually. It’s a way for me to keep my trainers performing well and to find out about the trainees. One of the best things I ever started doing was setting up regular one-on-one meetings with trainees. Firstly, it allows me to see the potential in a person. UDM is very data driven, but the data doesn’t always tell you everything. By actually spending time with someone, you often see potential that the data doesn’t reveal. You discover that, with a little bit of targeted coaching, someone’s potential can be unlocked.

“Meeting with trainees also shows them that you care about them. When trainees discover that the MD or CEO is taking time to get to know them and review their performance personally, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

Related: Kay Vittee’s 3 Steps To Winning The Talent War

2. Use talent smartly


The problem with many sales environments is that the best sales people end up closing the easiest deals, leaving the newbies to try and crack the hard sales. It’s easy to understand why this happens: Experienced sales people develop solid client lists, which means they spend more time selling to existing customers than new prospects. They often also receive the most promising leads.

By letting this happen, though, you waste resources. All the training and experience represented by a salty sales person isn’t tapped into when trying to turn weak new leads into long-term clients.

Van Der Riet together with her clients realised this, and came up with an innovative solution to the problem.

“I asked my best people if they would be willing to join a new ‘elite’ team that would focus on closing the hard deals. In exchange, they would be given a great working environment. They were moved to a private area, allowed to choose their own high-end chairs and served coffee and snacks all day long.

“I was surprised how keen people were to sign up. And it wasn’t just about the perks. These driven sales people were responding to the challenge of closing the harder deals.”

But perks are still important, especially when you’re trying to attract top talent. “I realised early on that we were competing for the best people with large corporates that offered great perks and great salaries. So, if we wanted to be able to attract the best talent, we needed to compete.

“Also, we ask a lot of our people. Our standards are high. So we believe that we should reward them accordingly. We pay for Gautrain travel, provide good medical aid, give women higher than normal maternity leave benefits, etc. We also pay salaries that we are told are well above the industry standard.”

Related: Out-The-Box Thinkers Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu Share Their Partnership Secrets

3. Manage with data

As alluded to earlier, UDM International is a very data-driven organisation.

“We manage and measure just about everything,” says Van Der Riet. “And we don’t just look at performance, but at all over productivity. We can see how often someone goes to the bathroom, how long their lunch breaks typically are and how much time elapses between every call made.

“But the aim is not to treat employees like children — to micromanage them and criticise their behaviour. We use it to help them. We don’t hire the sort of people you need to keep tabs on anyway. We hire people who are driven and want to do well. So we use the information to help them see how they can improve performance. Employees often come to us because they feel like they’re not reaching their full potential. Thanks to the data, we can help them see how they can improve performance. Often, a small tweak — a slightly shorter lunch break or less downtime between calls — can result in a significant improvement.”

Key to this approach is the fact that UDM encourages each employee to view his or her desk as a personal business.

“We view our employees as entrepreneurs, really, and it’s in the best interests of everyone to have them performing well. It’s our job to enable them to do their job to the best of their abilities.”

That’s where data comes in. “I really don’t believe in letting go as a company grows and getting less involved with the day-to-day running of things. It might work for some companies, but it doesn’t work here. As with the one-on-one meetings with trainees, I find things go better when I’m more involved and keep my finger on the pulse.

“The best way to do this is through data. It helps you to cut through the rubbish and get at the heart of a situation. I get a performance update every single afternoon, so I always know what’s happening. I never get a shock at the end of the month. Data is there to help you, provided you know what you’re measuring, and you use that information appropriately.” 

Take note

Data can be a great tool to empower employees and improve performance, provided it’s used correctly.

Lessons Learnt

7 Pieces Of Wise Advice For Start-Up Entrepreneurs From Successful Business Owners

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

Nadine Todd




“What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.” 

So you want to start a business? Seven successful entrepreneurs share their words of wisdom for start-up entrepreneurs

1. Offer advice and share your expertise freely

The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn’t make my service redundant — it built trust between us. — Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. Stop planning and start doing

We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on. — Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

3. Play your heart out and the money will follow

I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don’t stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It’s the same in business. You can’t look at the bottom line first; it’s the other way around. — Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

4. Love learning lessons

What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you. I wasn’t paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn’t realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me. — Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. Landing an investor starts with your story

A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level. — Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Offer solutions

If you’re not solving a problem and creating value, don’t ship it — throw it away. That’s cheaper than selling a bad product. — Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. Small, clever decisions lead to big profits

One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It’s that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it’s about. — Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, Watermark

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.





In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton



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Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

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