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Get to Know: James Hickman, Chief Customer Officer at Altron Karabina

Get to Know: James Hickman, Chief Customer Officer at Altron Karabina

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What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

Being recognised by a mentor and a man I respect hugely with the MDs award. This followed a year of hard work, rebuilding a team and a region. The business results were in line with expectations but what was recognised was the work that went into achieving the results and the way the team executed.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

My passion for creating an amazing customer experience started when I worked as a waiter after leaving school. I must have been doing something right as one of my regulars invited me for an interview at their computer business, setting in motion the events that have led me to this point. And with the nature of customer experience evolving faster than ever, I could not be happier with what I am doing now.

In a traditional business, I would be considered as Head of Sales but at Altron Karabina we are fixated about providing the best customer experience that results in long term customer partnerships and as such a positive revenue stream. Having revenue as an outcome of customer fixation is what it is all about, not the other way around.

I feel a deep responsibility to help ensure the success of the business. Ultimately, if I fail at my job, I impact everyone’s lives and that is something I take personally. While many view sales as a high-risk environment, I believe that if you focus on your customers’ success, build a passionate team of people and use the data at your disposal, you remove that uncertainty and create longevity which does not come just by focusing on the numbers.

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

For me, a leader’s role is all about creating clarity and building energy. If a person is not seen as someone who has a clear plan, knows where they are taking the business and believes in what they do or are apathetic, then nobody will be keen to follow them.

I’m truly passionate about developing people. There are few things more rewarding than when you see someone you have been growing with become successful at what they do. I love working with people. 

This couldn’t be more important than in the role of Chief Customer Officer as my people are the main interface to our customers. They are at the centre of the feedback loop. Without this feedback we cannot truly understand if we are meeting our customers’ expectations and ultimately delivering the value we aim to. At Altron Karabina we put the customer at the centre of everything we do and all the decisions we make, and I am immensely proud to be part of this journey.

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

There are many buzzwords, however I think the one that we forget is the people. Tech is an outcome of someone’s idea. The technology that is built will often have incredible capability to impact people, businesses and governments in many exciting ways. However, unless people are fully empowered to use the technology, understand the outcomes and apply these we are truly limiting the opportunity that technology provides. 

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

I love paddle boarding, but my biggest passion is food and cooking. On weekends, I wake up and cook. I go and buy ingredients at the market for lunch, and so on. I always aim to live life to its fullest and time spent with family and friends are precious in this regard. 

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

I would have read more in my early career. The world is full of amazing books filled with knowledge and experiences. Learning about these and applying them in your own environment can accelerate one’s growth path and trajectory.

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

Our customers continue to invest heavily in preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution by optimising and modernising their operations through the implementation of a modern ERP platform such as Microsoft Dynamics 365. 

In addition, the investment into tools that assist companies in extracting knowledge and information from data is a high priority. 

Finally, we are seeing significant interest in systems focused on the customer and how companies can better understand and serve their customer base.

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

The skills conundrum, we have a serious unemployment challenge, however in certain areas of the tech industry we are desperately short of skilled and experienced people.

This gap is something that the industry needs to take accountability for and ensure that we build the knowledge, and experience that the industry needs. The tech industry is a key pillar of the economy, one that will position us well to compete globally, we cannot afford to fall behind in the tech space and our people are the key to keeping us ahead of the game.

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 believe a company should understand its customers by coming to grips with how best to partner with them. This will see the relationship extend multiple years and enable the parties to enjoy the good times together and more easily survive the challenging ones.

My role is about enabling our business units to orchestrate internal change on behalf of our customers to deliver value in the way they see it. 

We must deliver innovation that matters to our customers. By putting them first in everything we do, we will achieve our own business growth. Altron Karabina’s utilisation of the Microsoft platform is strongly aligned with the company’s strategy. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution our solutions are enabling our customers to embrace a digital business environment.

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

Work hard, invest in building your relationships, read everything and get the balance right between understanding technology, how it is applied to business and the business itself.

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