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How Lizwe Nkala Found GroupThinQ To Take On Large Corporates

When Lizwe Nkala started GroupThinQ, he had to find ways to compete on an equal footing with large corporate organisations.

Tracy Lee Nicol

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GroupThinQ

Vital Stats

  • Player: Lizwe Nkala
  • Company: GroupThinQ Advisory Holdings
  • EST: 2010
  • Turnover: R25 million
  • Visit: groupthinq.co.za

Lizwe Nkala is a corporate veteran turned entrepreneur. He founded his strategic consultancy firm, Flamingo Moon in 2010, and was competing head-on with the country’s Big Five consulting firms.

As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, fast forward five years, he’s now the CEO of holding company GroupThinQ Advisory Holdings with four subsidiaries (all in the intellectual consulting space) and enjoying consistent year-on-year growth of between 30% and 40%.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Flamingo Moon: Lizwe Nkala

What precipitated the launch and growth of a R25 million consultancy firm? First, Lizwe Nkala’s voracious appetite for understanding strategy saw him outgrow his corporate role by leagues.

The desire to break out of the knowledge-and-responsibility silo that comes with working for a large, established organisation led him down the entrepreneurial path. But what’s really made his consultancy firms stand out from the crowd is that he’s been able to recruit top talent without paying the earth; shift the model to create scalability (no small feat in a knowledge-based consultancy firm) and generate higher profits.

This is how he’s shaken up the model and broken through the time- and resource-limited box many consultancy businesses are trapped in.

How were you able to compete with big agencies and be recognised as a major player?

To scale quickly and become a niche expert requires careful planning and execution of strategy, because every move will count.

In the early days, I realised big players had years to build their brand and to invest in a variety of skills equity with incredible depth and breadth.

I didn’t have those advantages, so in order to compete, I strategically chose to focus on building up one skill at a time.

The core skill would be strategy because it doesn’t matter if you’re doing work for a telco, a bank or a mining house; if you’re working at the executive level, strategy is always the access point. From there we branched out with subsidiary companies focusing on different areas of strategic planning and implementation.

Through this plan of action, we were able to gain access to big companies and foster a relationship with them, so that as we grew our capabilities, we were able to offer them to our clients. In my experience, executive teams are often highly skilled and have valuable technical knowledge, but decision-making and the ability to have consistent dialogue is a challenge. This became our focus.

What strategies did you execute internally to give you a competitive advantage within such a short timeframe?

The business originally started out as Flamingo Moon, which is strategic consulting. It happens to most entrepreneurs that as you grow your business, it’s quite easy to outgrow your own resourcing methods too.

We got to a point where my ambitions for the company were starting to suffer because of the lack of skills we had in the business. The answer lay in a complete shift in strategy.

That’s when we chose to create the holding company, GroupThinQ Solutions, and the four stand-alone subsidiary businesses under the umbrella of GroupThinQ. Each business is driven not by me, but by someone who is at the right level.

That in itself was another major shift in strategy. Previously, and like the larger agencies, we’d taken on bright young university graduates at a lower level and trained them up in the company – but again, the larger agencies have the luxury of time to mould their new recruits.

To create the impact in the market that we needed, to develop our capabilities and to be effective in delivering what we promised to clients, we needed bench strength from the get go.

This resulted in a strategic shift to hiring the best we possibly could at the necessary level to slot them straight in at executive, leadership level.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: To Get There, Lose What Got You Here

How could you afford to take on seasoned executives as a young, growing business with less gravitas than a big firm?

Lizwe-NkalaWe used Clem Sunter’s philosophy of thinking like a fox and leveraged weak spots within large companies to our advantage.

Rather than focus on the things we couldn’t offer, we looked to what we could do in order to get the top players and bring in the talent that would keep us ahead of the knowledge curve.

The Achillies heel of large, established firms is that they can’t provide every bright spark with an opportunity to grow and move up the ranks. Similarly, the corporate ladder can be a very long and arduous climb. Compared to the 50 steps an associate would need to climb to reach their career goals at a large firm, our ladder is only ten steps high and you can see the top at all times. It’s a very appealing prospect for high achievers.

Secondly, we offered them the opportunity to create their own wealth and essentially grow their own company. Each of the subsidiaries of GroupThinQ is its own Pty (Ltd) with its own constitutional structure.

GroupThinQ has an interest in all of them, but a certain portion of the ownership goes to the executive teams of those companies. I want to be surrounded by people who feel that they’ve got ownership, that they all have a stake in each of the entities, so that every morning they’re waking up to go run their own companies.

Thirdly, we have the advantage of being a young, flexible firm. When recruiting talent, we offer them an opportunity to break out of their corporate silo and really put their talents and knowledge to work in helping create and define how things work.

It’s been so enticing that some of our recruits have accepted earning less in exchange for the opportunity to create wealth and build something of their own.

When you look at the success of Microsoft, you often only think of Bill Gates as being the real winner, but look beyond him and you’ll see he’s not the only Microsoft billionaire – there was a whole team who started with him and latched on to the opportunity to create something that is ground breaking and to grow their own legacies, and that’s where our real talent hunting clout comes from.

In any industry, you’ve got to be prepared for disruption. How are you doing this with your own group of firms?

A business that isn’t looking out for disruptors is a company at risk. Just look at the disruption caused to the metered taxi industry by the arrival of Uber. They’ve been shaken to their core because they were too comfortable and unprepared for disruption.

In the case of our group of companies, our model isn’t too far off the industry standard, but we’re cognisant that disruption can come at any time, so we’ve allowed ourselves some wiggle room to adapt when needed.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How to Prepare for Business Volatility

In certain aspects we’re also the source of some industry disruption: We’re finding ways for clients to access our tools and models without necessarily needing to engage with them face to face; to charge on a drip-charge basis or on a project basis, rather than an hourly rate; and we don’t set up shop in a client’s offices for the duration of our contract.

These are all innovations because we believe the consultancy model as it exists presently will be extinct in the coming years.

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Work-life balance naively suggests working and non-working hours should be evenly apportioned.

John Boitnott

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jeff bezos

Amazon is known for building a culture that values hard work. So much so that the organisation has received criticism from current and former employees for having to work on Thanksgiving, or even when ill.

When asked about Amazon’s work-life balance, Jeff Bezos remarked that he ascribed to the phrase “work-life harmony” instead.

Here’s how hard-charging businesspeople can maintain energy at home and at work without burning out by finding work-life harmony in place of work-life balance.

Measure work and home focus as a matter of energy instead of time

It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the energy you bring to both parts of your life. If you enjoy working long hours, and that helps you to feel present while at home, then by all means continue.

This is a fundamental principle in Bezos’s theory of dividing one’s time between work and life. Because Bezos loves what he does, he finds energy from accomplishing his work in a manner that works well with his notoriously high standards.

As many can attest, our emotions bleed into all areas of our life. When you can gain energy from doing good work, it can help to propel you to be more successful in your life outside of work. Conversely, when things aren’t right at home, it can be difficult to find the energy to do your best work in the office. A central precept of work-life harmony is living such that both the professional and personal aspects of our life energise us to be our best at home and in the office.

This does not necessarily mean that we should spend our time in a balanced way, as the phrase “work-life balance” implies. Rather, we should spend our time in such a way that we are our best selves. In so doing, we will be better people on the whole.

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Build a flexible work-life schedule

Just as different people will amass different levels of energy from work and life outside of work, different people will find they are most productive at different times of the day. The 9-5 work culture that has existed for decades is really shifting now. Most modern offices allow some form of flexible work, which means you have the ability to set your own hours to some degree.

Experiment with working at different times of the day to find the schedule the helps you to be most productive. In so doing, you’ll have more time to do your best work, and more energy to spend with loved ones as a result of increased productivity.

Know when to say “no”

We tend to think that taking on as many projects as possible is a sign of a good professional. But being busy is not the same as making an impact. To do your best work, you’ll need to prioritise projects that you know you can add value to.

Spinning your wheels is demoralising. Look for projects in which you can easily enter a “flow state” where hours melt away. This is the environment in which you are doing your best work, and are happy to be doing the work itself. It is in moments of flow that we often feel most productive, and even fulfilled. Therefore, it is after moments of flow that we tend to feel guilt-free about enjoying quality time with loved ones while unplugging from work.

Related: Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success

Communicate commitments

If you’re approaching a time-consuming work project, communicate that to the important people in your life. Otherwise, they may think you are avoiding them due to a more insidious reason.

Providing those you love with a glimpse into your professional commitments can also help them to help you. If a good friend knows it will be difficult for you to communicate for a few weeks, they will know to pause conversations so as not to burden you with having to reply to texts or emails.

Similarly, a partner who knows that you are responsible for delivering an important project may be able to rearrange their schedule in order to better support you in the short term.

Conversely, if family commitments will prevent you from working at full capacity for a certain period of time, set the right expectations with colleagues. A good workplace is one that is flexible to the realities of employees’ personal lives. Managers who care about the well-being of their people are usually willing to help employees take care of personal commitments.

Adapting to a changing work life

Work no longer happens between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday to Friday. Work happens Saturday mornings, and late Friday nights. It happens on vacation, and during graduations. The idea of work-life balance suggests that there should be an even split between working and non-working hours.

Related: Why It Pays To Be A Jerk Like Jeff Bezos

In reality, those who have undertaken ambitious careers should aim for work-life harmony, a lifestyle in which both aspects of life give you the energy to be your best self as frequently as possible.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling

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successful-business

In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin

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The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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