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Get to Know: Neil Buckley, Managing Director at Apex BI

Get to Know: Neil Buckley, Managing Director at Apex BI

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What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

I have had many memorable achievements, some big and many small. There are, however, also a few great moments that stand out for me. The first was being awarded Employee of the Year and then quickly following that up by becoming the youngest manager at arguably South Africa’s largest independent Mobile Service Provider at the time when I was 21 years of age.

The second was when my team and I achieved breakeven status in our current business after funding it from a loan and starting it from a zero-customer base.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

In all honesty, I never chose technology as a career path. I ended up here by default. After completing a generic IT diploma, I was not convinced that the ‘IT’ sector was the place I wanted to call ‘home’ and as such I decided to do what any other wondering teen does. I took a gap year overseas. On my return I realised that I needed a steady job and fast.  I was lucky enough to be successful on my first job application where I was offered a position as a call centre agent in a Mobile Service Provider. That was my first taste as part of a technology company.  Twenty years later, here we are.

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

I have a very hands-off style of management – I don’t believe in micro-managing people or teams. In our business by not forcing conformity on staff, as they join us, allows for boundaries to be positively pushed and more importantly, for innovation and creativity to thrive.

At Apex BI, we provide a green fields platform for people to grow, learn and partake. It’s really up to each staff member how far they want to go in our business, and we encourage them all, irrespective of their designation, or position in the company to own their role and make it work.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

There are a few. Digital ‘everything’; Blockchain; IoT; AI; ‘as-a-service’ technologies such as software (Saas), platforms (Paas) and infrastructure (IaaS); and Technology Expense Management – if you can’t manage the cost of the foregoing, you won’t be able to control the expense spread that is the inevitable outcome of harnessing these innovations to the full.

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

My daily weekday stress release ritual involves at least one hour of high intensity exercise. On weekends, I try to throw in a run or a cycle.

Getting to the bush as often as possible with my family is a really important ingredient in managing my stress levels. I find that removing modern luxuries and roughing it in the bush has a way of putting life and priorities back into perspective. More practical stress relievers I enjoy include reading, listening to music and socialising with family and friends.

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

While there are some decisions that I probably would have changed in the moments immediately afterwards, looking back now I would not change many decisions that I’ve made. Where I am today is a direct result of the path I have travelled thus far. Some of my most important life lessons and growth have come from those decisions that were really tough to make and possibly even those which at the time were mistakes.

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

In our industry pretty much everything comes back to data. The investment areas we see both internally and externally include data management, security, privacy, storage, automation, analytics [including the use of AI] and data representation.

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

Many of the challenges in Africa are the fundamental reasons that so much opportunity exists here. That said, there are some important issues which make it challenging. The brain drain is real – finding and retaining the right skills is an ongoing challenge; consistent supply of basic services such as electricity negatively impacts and has far reaching consequences for business;  access to voice and data services make it difficult for consumers and business to connect; political and economic uncertainty has an inherent impact on confidence levels; and poor confidence levels affect decision making and ultimately prolong sales cycles.

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?

I have had to invest more and more time in compliance related initiatives. This detracts focus from more important functions such as business growth, job creation and innovation.

For the next 12 months, I really don’t see compliance related tasks easing up. In fact, there will probably be additional compliance requirements in the future, possibly even requiring the investment of additional time, money and staff.

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

Become a subject matter expert in your field; always listen and learn; become a dependable resource to all stakeholders in your ecosystem; own your current role; and maintain a high level of credibility around your character and integrity.

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