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Get to Know Ziaad Suleman, Chief Operating Officer at IBM South Africa

Get to Know Ziaad Suleman, Chief Operating Officer at IBM South Africa

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On the lighter side of things, we ask the industry experts what makes them tick…

Get to Know: Ziaad Suleman, Chief Operating Officer at IBM South Africa


What would you describe as your most memorable achievement/s?

Representing IBM as the managing and lead lawyer for Sub-Saharan Africa looking after 24 countries. I was involved in establishing entities in these countries, a task which was both challenging and rewarding. My COO role scope spans a wide spectrum of responsibility over multiple business units covering strategy, transformation and operations, special investments and projects, real estate, procurement and BEE.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

After studying my law degree and having always had a flair for business, the natural route for me was to move into a corporate or commercial organisation where my academic knowledge could blend with my natural business acumen. My first technology related adventure was being involved in the establishment of the SNO (Second Network Operator) which has evolved into Neotel. My affinity for technology and innovation grew and I started working for IBM 11 years ago. IBM is now a leading technology innovator that has positively enhanced corporates and the lives of individuals for over 100 years. Today it remains current and continues to positively transform business and society for the better using emerging technologies such as Big Data and Analytics, IoT, Blockchain and Quantum computing.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I have a flexible management style which is circumstantially adaptable. Regardless of the situation, I always remain professional and respectable. I generally allow my team the space and freedom to get on with their work, but I do expect to see thought leadership and results. If these attributes are lacking then I move into a consultative style of co-creating the path, strategy and/or action plan. Should the results still not manifest, then as all good leaders, I roll up my sleeves and get involved to ensure that the best interests of the business are always served and that we get the job done well.

What do you think are the current hot technology talking points?

Big Data and Analytics – firstly managing the vast quantity of data and secondly utilising such data to provide meaningful insights using analytics. The effective usage of data is a powerful market differentiator because people and businesses who understand data and utilise the data insights meaningfully will have an improved understanding of the customer requirement in order to influence consumer and social behaviour. Blockchain is also a hot talking point. The underlying benefit of this platform enthuses shared value, allows for the creation of new innovative business models thereby boosting economic growth and provides for complete transparency and trust. At IBM, we believe that Blockchain will revolutionise the world just as the Internet did.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Spending time with my family and watching my daughters play competitive sport. I also play squash and golf and like to keep fit. I also collect sports memorabilia and expanding my vintage toy collection which includes a Marklin train layout, large scalextric track and a lego city.

If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?

I have no regrets. I am a firm believer that your path has been laid out for you and that you should make the best of every opportunity.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

On the technology front, I would say cloud, security, data science and analytics, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. On the people front, skills development is key for new collar jobs. All people, especially the youth, must be equipped with the correct skills set to solve real world problems in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the emergence of the Fourth Industrial revolution. The enablement and support of smaller business is critical to growing the economy and reducing unemployment.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?

Connectivity. While the world of work is changing, we need to do a lot more to give people (youth especially) access to these technologies. With access, they can realise the opportunities they present and apply them to new innovations the continent so needs. I believe entrepreneurship is a major catalyst for growth, development and innovation on the continent. This, however, requires that the private and public sectors support these young businesses as they set out to introduce innovations which could potentially change not just the livelihoods of communities, but entire countries and regions. Access to the market in the sense of larger business providing partnering opportunities with and procuring from SMMEs.

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?

Agility and innovative transformation have become more important now than ever before. I see this trend continuing as customers and the general market demand increased efficiency and optimisation using the emerging technologies. Additionally, the Net Promoter Score Index continues to gain momentum and is growing in significance as the yardstick balancing expectation against delivery.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?

Substance and technical knowledge is key and will allow one to positively influence and guide. Thought leadership and problem solving – all within a team environment – will drive your growth. The best leaders are accountable and deliver results. Tenacity, resilience, good work ethic, structure and discipline will get you where you want to go.

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