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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

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.

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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?

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I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.

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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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