On the lighter side of things, we ask the industry experts what makes them tick….
Steve Mallaby, Chief Operating Officer, The Argility Technology Group.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
A very significant achievement in my life was in 2013/14 – when I completed my MBA journey through GIBS and while it was not so much about the achievement itself, it was an extraordinary journey over a two-year period. It absolutely opened my eyes to a diversity of people, opinions and subjects and was an incredibly good learning experience.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I was very fortunate that one of my first jobs was with one of the banks in their IT division. The Banks invest heavily in providing very good quality training and exposure to multiple systems. While I am not particularly technical myself, I love what technology can do to solve business problems and I think it has always been in my nature to look for and solve business problems and challenges using technology as an enabler.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I am passionate about leadership and seeing others develop and grow into future leaders. In that respect, I firmly believe in empowering others, involving them in decision making and empowering them to use their own initiative. My management approach is very much a participative one which involves getting people involved in decisions, growing them and promoting them to take responsibility for good and bad decisions.
What do you think is the current hit technology talking point?
I would be completely out of touch with the world, if I didn’t mention some of the latest trends in the industry, particularly those which relate to Industry 4.0, also commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.
I guess the biggest hype in technology right now would be around cryptocurrencies and while they might be going through a massive evolution and a lot of hype, we are not sure which of them might be around to stay. What is really of interest is the underlying technology, Blockchain. I certainly see it as an enabler of many different technologies. Furthermore, one can’t ignore the concepts around Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, machine learning and IoT.
However, as with many of these trends, one can get caught up in a trap of just talking about the technology for the sake of technology itself and particularly in IT, where we love to throw around acronyms. Where I see the real excitement is how to take those technologies and take them back into our customer worlds. For example, in the world of Argility, we are so well positioned to take IoT or AI Solutions into warehousing, fleet and retail and solve real world problems.
Again, while the technology talking points are very topical, one must remember that it’s not the technology itself that is of value, rather seeing the technology simply as an enabler to what we can do, how we can solve problems and how we can transform businesses, is the crux of the issue.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
I firmly believe in striving to try and find a healthy balance. Although it’s not easy – I feel very strongly about the concept of healthy body equals healthy mind and the need to look after oneself. To that extent, I really enjoy my sporting activities, in particular endurance events and I find that exercise is an enormous stress reliever. I spend a lot of time getting involved in endurance mountain biking events. More recently over the past couple of years, I have participated in triathlons and half- Iron Man events, which is an enormous stress reliever. Having said that, given that most modern day executives work in a very pressurised world, with enormous amounts of stress around us, I firmly believe that it is important not to take life too seriously. When you are in the company of others and enjoying things, the best form of stress relief is always a good laugh.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
I certainly thank that, as a younger adult, I would have gone and studied earlier and would have read significantly more just to enhance my general knowledge. In terms of a specific career decision, I guess it would be to have less patience, and realize that living in such a fast-paced world, one needs to be moving between roles probably every year to 18 months, to make sure that you are continually getting exposed to new people, technology, ideas, businesses, processes and you never allow yourself to become stagnant.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Given that we target a variety of industries, and typically provide mission-critical business solutions and enterprise IT solutions, to the entire industry, I certainly see that the areas which should be major investment areas are those relating to AI and Prescriptive Analytics. More importantly, we need to understand what we can do with these technologies and how we can embed them into our businesses. I still see the challenge for many organisations is recognising how their industries are becoming disrupted through the use of technology and, while they are doing a lot of talking around it, they are not doing a lot to actually take the necessary steps to implement them. I see that both as a challenge and an opportunity for us to see how we can help companies take that step from their current status to where can go forward with technology.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?
We do not lag in technologies, on the contrary in many cases we are pretty much on a par with the rest of the world but the main challenge throughout the continent is one of adoption. For example, I recently attended a retail conference that focused on the changing consumer and the available technology in the market but highlighted the slow uptake and adoption rates in the region.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months
My role has been through quite a change in the last year, in particular where we formed the Argility Technology Group and I became COO of the group. That was achieved through the merging and consolidation of a number of entities, which was quite a process. Every time you go through a merger or deal, one needs to manage the integration of businesses to ensure that they are aligned with the extraction of maximum synergies, while at the same time allaying fears and concerns of people whenever you bring about change. In terms of what we expect to develop in the near future, we are on a very clear strategy to grow our company and group significantly over the next several years. In that respect, we are looking for the suitable level of BEE partners to come into our business, as well as examining investing in and acquiring companies involved in the mega-trends of Industry 4.0. I see my role being very involved with how we can identify those companies and partnerships and leverage them to grow our organisation and develop appropriate solutions for our customers.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
I think in any industry, moving to a C-level position, and when you go through a transition, particularly in certain cases from functional / specialist roles into general management or C-level roles, you need to always be flexible and open to change. Also, be true to oneself, particularly in the IT or Technology arena and be careful not to get caught up in the trap of talking about tech, always asking questions and making sure that you recognise that tech is simply an enabler of businesses and not the answer. Business and technology are nothing without the people behind it and the value in learning how to develop and nurture the people around you cannot be underestimated.
Lastly, no matter how senior you become in an organisation, it is important to remember that you are only as good as your next success and always ensure you are learning, reading, exposing yourself to what is happening in the industry. Only by doing these things can you remain relevant.
My last advice is to make friends with many young millennials, young kids. Interact with them as much as possible – because they are the ones that are going to drive change within an organisation.