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8th Man Consulting: Adrian Van Der Merwe

How a new business succeeded by bringing experts on board.

Monique Verduyn

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Adrian van der Merwe of 8th Man Consulting

In rugby, the eighth man plays a roving role, linking the forwards and the backs. When financial specialist Adrian van der Merwe launched his business, he named it 8th Man Consulting because of the role he plays in connecting the often conflicting needs of business and IT. On completing a BCom at Wits University, he spent two years auditing for a small accounting firm and then went overseas. “I planned to go for a year, but I stayed for nine,” he says. “Within my first year in the UK I was working in the field I’m now in.” An accountant by training, Van der Merwe’s natural affinity for IT was spotted by Safeway, the fourth largest retailer in the UK at the time. He was put in charge of the company’s management information systems as the retailer could find no-one else with the know-how.

Two years later, love took him to Copenhagen where he spent a further two years at a dotcom company, gaining experience in Internet technology. He then returned to London, where he joined KPMG and then Paragon, growing the company from nine to 25 employees. Family needs brought him back to South Africa almost a decade later, with the determination to start his own company.“Before I landed I had already registered the business, created a website and prepared the marketing collateral,” Van der Merwe says. “I had also made many local contacts and established relationships in the country.” On his return, he subcontracted to a consulting firm for the first eight months and employed his first consultant within four months. Ask Van der Merwe what his company does, and it’s difficult for him to answer in terms that a layperson understands: “We implement systems for accountants,” he says eventually, not mentioning business performance even once. “Our team combines accounting and application expertise,which is key to success in this industry. We understand business requirements better than any of our competitors.”

The specialised consultancy is in the mushrooming business performance management market, where it provides services to companies that have standardised on Hyperion solutions.Van der Merwe’s view of the business from the start was that aggressive growth would not happen without proper financial backing. The gap in the market exists, and the skills shortage in this sector has worked in his favour, but the real driver behind 8th Man’s success, is thathe sold 49% of the business to Knowledge Integration Dynamics (KID) in 2007. With a customer base spanning the entire corporate arena, and representation in the public sector, KID came with a good reputation and some of the market’s leading distribution agencies and partnerships. “Because this was my first business, I did not want to go it alone,” says Van der Merwe. “The deal with KID gave us accessto capital, a solid business infrastructure, BEE compliance and accreditation,and a way in to an established client base. This has enabled us to develop the company at a rate we could never have achieved on our own.”

And it shows: in 18 months, the business has grown to 16 people and has a projected turnover of R8 million.Van der Merwe has also distinguished the company by focusing on consulting services. “As a consultancy, our relationships with clients are built entirely on trust, and word of mouth has worked exceptionally well for us.”Another move that has differentiated 8th Man is the public relations strategy. “One of the first things I did was to establish a presence in the market.” Looking ahead, Van der Merwe says 8th Man is focused on becoming the top business process management consultancy in the country.

Contact: +27 11 462 9805; www.8thman.co.za

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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