On the lighter side of things, we ask Frans Meyer, Co-Founder and CEO of Alphawave Group, about what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Being involved in creating from scratch, three successful niche antenna engineering businesses that all compete and lead on the international stage. This makes me incredibly proud. It took many years since it is difficult to get a business going – you need the right combination of people, timing and luck. And we managed to do that three times since we started.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I was into maths from a very early age, got a computer in 1981 when I was 15 and immediately jumped-in and enjoyed figuring out and implementing complex computer algorithms that could solve problems, particularly rudimentary problems at the time. Late in high school I became fascinated with physical science, so science or engineering was an obvious choice. I chose engineering.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I really like the different, often complex, personalities of the people I work with. I strongly believe one should try to use people in the positions that fit their skillsets and personalities. I’ve also learned that entrepreneurs are fully engaged and can get amazing things done if they are given authority and autonomy to execute. I run the Alphawave Group which is a technology investment firm, so I am not operationally involved with any business. I am a natural delegator – so this position works for me.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
At the moment it is all about Machine Learning and AI, of course. I get advice from other experts in the field, but it seems that some very interesting problems could be solved over the next decade, building on the latest advances in these fields. ML/AI could be on the hype-curve at present, but don’t be surprised if the hype actually delivers fascinating results in this case.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
I must admit that I’m not conventional in this way. I play golf and,have signed up for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and the Karoo-to-Coast cycle races. I read a lot of books, mostly non-fiction, and I unwind after every day (and over weekends) by drinking some whiskey or red wine, and I enjoy watching good movies, a series and too much sport, of course.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
I was very good in my field of expertise with electromagnetic engineering, but a few of my colleagues were better than me. I should have realised earlier on that the combination of my business sense and engineering skills is my strength and I should have moved out of detailed engineering work earlier in my career, leaving it for the real techies.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
The Internet of Everything. We’ve decided to invest in themes associated with the Internet of everything: Sensors, electronics, data science and software. Many new products will be created in this space of hardware-enabled-software over the next decade or two.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?
We don’t have much experience in implementing new technologies in the rest of Africa. In South Africa itself we find it quite easy to develop technology and enter markets. We do not have many more challenges than the normal problem of trying to find product-market fit.
Currently we can still find and attract excellent, world-class, talent and these employees are definitely still competitive on the international stage. Maybe there are challenges in working with some of the bureaucracies in government but, in our view, these are secondary issues and definitely at present not the main reason for any failing ventures or product.
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’ve become more involved in attracting capital for our current and new ventures. We’ve bootstrapped our way for many years and used self-generating funds to invest in, and grow, new businesses. We believe we can accelerate this and also take on larger and more bold new ventures with external capital. I suspect that I will have to learn, over the next 12 months, how to manage new and for the first time third-party partners.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
In technology it is valuable if you can obtain actual experience through at least five years or more, in R&D and/or implementation, not at middle manager level but at implementation level. This will allow you to understand the issues and non-issues better. Then, you have to learn to delegate, really empowering other people to run with things. You also need to know what you should delegate and what not. I don’t remember where the quote originated from, but this is one of the most important things to remember in business I would say: “Don’t confuse effort with results.”