What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
It is quite difficult for me to pinpoint my most memorable achievement as there are two key achievements that have led me to where I am today.
The first is having the opportunity to travel. It might not sound like an achievement in itself, but long term global travel was a new and exciting concept at the time. I spent three years travelling through Europe doing various low-entry jobs to make ends meet, occasionally sleeping on beaches and in phone booths. It was an incredible learning and growing experience for me, and I returned home to South Africa confident that I could achieve anything.
The second is climbing 6,500 metres to the bottom of North Cole on Mount Everest. It is without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done. Quitting is simply not an option and you are forced to carry on regardless. It changed the way I look at business and life – pushing through to the end despite all odds – and it changed me into the person who went on the establish redPanda Software.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
IT was a very new and exciting field 25 years ago – this was before the glamour of the Internet era. There was a lot of opportunity because the market had not yet matured, and I knew that IT would eventually touch every facet of business. After all, every business needs to have an umbrella view of how the different departments fit together, and I knew that this is where I could truly make a difference.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
At a high-level view, it is redPanda Software’s Way to Grow philosophy, which gives us the distinguishing advantage to grow curiosity, creativity and confidence and in turn benefit our customers, operations and people. I also believe in objective measurement of our employees, and I like to provide ongoing feedback. It’s about making clear what every individual’s goal is and then helping them achieve the goal. As a company, we all have a unifying destination and it’s about supporting the different ways that people achieve that goal (putting the employee in power of their own career).
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
The internet of things (IoT) is the current hot topic. Consumers are again becoming the focal point, rather than just business – this trend is set to change the entire world. IoT feeds into the all-important customer experience within the retail industry.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
The easiest way for me to truly unwind is through travel. On a daily and weekly basis, I enjoy listening to music and playing touch rugby to take my mind of life’s pressures.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
I believe there are two main areas of investment in the IT industry in South Africa – skills development and offshoring. South Africa has a severe shortage of software developer skills. As a result, businesses are wrestling to employ the best in the industry. This has resulted in an unrealistic spike in salaries, which is unsustainable and will ultimately drive investment elsewhere.
South African companies have noticed this trend and have started to help develop skills locally. This is the sort of investment that is not seen as a definitive return on investment, but rather as a contribution to the betterment of society.
There is a strong financial incentive linked to offshoring for European based companies into countries like South Africa. Our time zones, work ethic, weak rand, and availability of English speaking skilled individuals makes South Africa a premier destination for offshoring.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?
We have found two major challenges specific to the African market; the thin commercial market and the way in which retailers manage credit. African countries have a niche retail market as they are more focused on growing their infrastructure, telecommunications and mining industries. As a result, retailers tend not to prioritise custom software development and instead look to build new technologies on top of their current systems.
The credit system in South Africa also works differently from other markets. Shoppers look to receive credit from the retailer, as opposed to going to the banks. This is a very different offering in the product space, from a retail perspective. This is a huge component that needs to be considered for retailers moving into 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?
In the last year, I have focused quite strongly on the redPanda Software culture. Building good ICT solutions requires dedicated, hard-working people and to do this our leadership team have worked on creating an environment for employees who share the same values and company ethos. Our staff need to be inspired and challenged to become the best versions of themselves and our role is to enable that through our Way to Grow initiative.
Our international expansion into the United Kingdom, which became a reality earlier this year with the official opening of our new office in Coventry, was a significant priority for me and I’ve spent a large portion of my year developing the best model customised for the UK market.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry? I believe that it is not a process that can or should be rushed. You need to give yourself enough time and space to think. It’s about continuous growth and discipline, paired with time and experience. Through time, you can become an expert in your respective field. Being known as the ‘go-to’ guy helps to build confidence and it is with this knowledge that you can form a strong opinion that could improve or change the industry. From here you are best prepared to lead the company that personifies this improvement or change.