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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+.

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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andrew-zimmern

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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brightrock

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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