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Taurus & Associates: Athol Williams

Local boy makes good as top strategic consultant in an aggressive market

Juliet Pitman

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Athol Williams of Taurus & Associates

British journalist Russell H Ewing once said: “A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.”

All these qualities and more are expected of business leaders. Today’s CEOs face pressure perhaps unlike any who came before them, particularly in South Africa. “Prior to the early nineties, most local companies operated in isolation from international competition.

Many of them were monopolies. So to be a successful CEO in South Africa 30 years ago, you needed to be a great maintainer, a great manager – but not necessarily a great leader. All that changed when our market opened up,” says Athol Williams, founder and CEO of Taurus & Associates, one of the country’s top strategy consulting firms.

Williams consults with CEOs and executives from blue-chip corporations, offering advice and recommendations on mission-critical strategic decisions. It’s a role for which he is imminently qualified, having worked as group strategy executive for Old Mutual, case team leader for Bain & Company Inc. in Boston, New York and London and as business evaluation executive for Rio Tinto in London. He holds an MSc (Finance) from the London Business School, an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management in Boston,and a BSc (Engineering) from Wits.

And while these credentials give Williams the credibility and reputation so important to his line of work, it’s the respect he has earned from clients such as Alexander Forbes, BP, Old Mutual, Eskom and SAA that really tell the story of his success. Taurus is operating in a highly specialised market, one where most of its competitors are big international firms and yet it has been successful in spite of the fact that Williams arrived back in South Africa with only a very small network of contacts.

Perhaps this is because his approach is a blend of international experience and local insight, something the international guys can’t offer.“They often have a clear idea of what works in Western countries and apply it to the South African context but it’s not the same here.

And I’m not saying that we should throw it all out because there is a lot to learn from international practices, but I believe you need to be open-minded about what South Africa needs and apply that insight to our particular context,” says Williams.

It’s a formula that is clearly working. Taurus is a self-funded business that, in the short space of three years, has firmly established itself as an important strategic consultancy player.Williams’ team is made of 15 (soon to be 20) very bright, highly educated professionals.

“I employ people who have a rare combination of strong analytical ability and strong interpersonal skills,” he explains. Building relationships of trust with clients is critical – not only do they need to trust Taurus’s integrity, but they also need to trust its advice.

Advice is something CEOs aren’t used to being on the receiving end of and Williams welcomes the sometimes vigorous debate that arises from the recommendations he and his team make. “Many CEOs believe that asking for help on strategy means they have to ask for help to do their job but they are slowly getting used to the idea of getting input.

Internationally, CEOs are far more open to taking advice on strategy. Jack Welch uses consultants all the time, for example,” he says. Of course, CEOs don’t have to take the advice they are offered and Williams is very clear about what his role is – and what it is not. “We are purely advisors.

We can give clients advice but we’ll never make them take it, however strongly we may argue the merits of our point. Consultants often go wrong in believing they have the only answer. We formulate an answer but ultimately the client needs to believe in it in order to act on it.”

As a leader and CEO himself, Williams is ever mindful of the possibility of making similar mistakes to the ones he regularly witnesses; he tries hard to remain self-reflective. He discusses two of the most common mistakes he hopes to avoid: “People often have a gung-ho,macho approach to doing things on ‘gut-feel’, and while I see merit in being proactive, I also think there’s enormous value in understanding the market you are going into, understanding your customers and your competitors.

Many  businesses make the mistake of taking decisions without a proper understanding of these things.”“The second thing is about bringing people along with you. So many CEOs don’t manage to have a working relationship with their executive team, let alone their staff. Things are too hierarchical so the guys don’t pull together when they come together.”

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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