On the Cover

It turns out sartorial excellence and golf aren`t all you need to become a BEE success story. We selected some of SA`s rising young ICT stars and asked them to share their views on success, BEE and the local ICT industry EASILY IDENTIFIED by their expensive tailoring and polished demeanor, the new breed of ICT `black diamonds` encompass what it is to be young, black and successful in South Africa today.

iWeek caught up with a handful of these new movers and shakers in the ICT sector, in a bid to extract some of the secrets of their success.


Why enter the ICT sector at all? According to our interview subjects, it`s as much about the challenge of playing in this space as it is about the money.

Investment banker turned IT entrepreneur, 34-year-old , says he`s excited by the industry because it is dynamic both in the players and in its constant innovation.

"When my brother and I started M-IT services, we only had seven employees. The company has grown to 300 employees to date and is now part of JSE-listed , with a market cap of R600 million." Clearly not too bashful to claim his place as one of the ICT sector`s BEE success stories, the EOH executive director explains that the current consolidation of companies has proved a very exciting time for the local climate, though it has been dampened by the "the sector`s indecisiveness when it comes to tenders".

Also high up in one of the country`s better performing services companies, 32-year-old regional chief executive doesn`t hesitate to highlight his company`s accomplishments over the years.

"I joined the IT Industry in 1997, from the then SA Breweries where I was a management trainee, joining the Mophatlane brothers in their start-up called Business Connexion. Ours was an energetic, young industry at the time and Business Connexion was one of the few BEE companies in those days and that excited me. I quickly grew fond of the industry as we kept winning against the established players of the day who were finding it difficult to deal with a young, vibrant never-say-die organisation. We grew from strength to strength, and from six people when I joined to about 40 at the end of 1998, the rest is history."

The youngest in our group of chosen `rising stars`, , is only 26 years old and already a public sector executive at Novell SA. He`s modest about his status, though. "I believe that I am doing very well for my age, one of the youngest executives in the country, but I would not call myself a black diamond just yet. I believe that I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn."

He attributes his successful start to his own persistence. "One has to have passion for what you do and for yourself. You have to be consistent, yet dynamic. For example, when I started out, I wanted so badly to be a networks administrator at . I knew the business well and their products and believed in what I could do over there. After sending my CV in 38 times I was finally asked to come in for an interview. But when I got there, they realised my ability to communicate and offered me a post in sales instead. And that changed the focus of my career completely, but I have never looked back."


Now in its second decade of democracy, South Africa`s business climate seems to be moving past the `compensation` stage and nearing an era where performance is the only thing that will guarantee results.

Though empowerment is still high on the business agenda, it is now becoming apparent where opportunities are wasted on compensation rather than building a viable economy, and struggle credentials are no longer a ticket to the top.

Ramutla says ability, willingness to learn, networking, creativity and reliability, among others, are far more important credentials to have in business rather than having a relative who was in exile. "Connections really only get you through the door, from there its about delivering a reliable service, a successful project and a value adding solution. My advice is to use your connections when you are sure you can deliver and compete fairly, otherwise save them for a day you will not embarrass them."

Thandisizwe Kopolo, 32-year-old business development executive (public sector) at AST, has worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a junior programmer at QQDC ten years ago. He says his current role is to provide thought leadership on industry trends to GijimaAst clients in the public sector.

"The industry, especially in the public sector, has its challenges but that is what keeps one going, the passion and desire to overcome all challenges and obstacles," he says. He points out that no-one is successful through only his or her own efforts. "A lot of work goes into being successful in the IT field nowadays. The sales have gotten more complex, clients want customised end-to-end solutions. No one person can close such deals, no matter how much golf he or she played. Most of the time, you needed a team of product and industry experts, and a lot of back-office support. Relationship building skills are still very crucial in order to be successful."

Being a product of the so-called `struggle trust-fund`, , chief operations officer for ITEC Tiyende Telecoms, is a little bit more ambiguous, saying that in any given situation every bit helps. "But with every pro there is a con and with every asset one has, there will be someone with more assets or able to use their assets more effectively. In this competitive space everyone has contacts, but that does not necessarily get you the contracts."

On the other hand, an issue he is more than willing to tackle directly is the way in which empowerment is not seen to be benefiting the better part of South African citizenry.

"Ironically people who decry BEE in all its facets are usually those extracting the most value from it. BEE is in its infancy and we have collectively learnt much through its practice to date. There is much still to be done, however... I suppose the key ingredient remaining in its application is simply integrity."

Sisulu ponders that it`s a sad fact that South Africa today benchmarks success solely on financial achievement. The country, he says, is too complex, has too many disparities for this to be the only measurement. A lack of integrity in implementing BEE does not do much to contribute to the greater socio-economic imperatives of the country, nor does it positively affect and influence the conditions in SA and the rest of the continent.

Ramutla concurs, highlighting that although there have been some BBBEE transactions that have been successful, the greater concept could be better utilised. "What frightens me is that we might create a spoon-fed dependant society if people do not share in the risk associated with a BBBEE transaction."

One problem that has arisen is a tendency for companies to poach and overpay already skilled black executives, rather than train juniors. Khumalo says it`s nothing more than supply vs. demand.

"No one is to blame and with time this will correct itself. To the black diamonds: learn as much as possible and enjoy it while it lasts - remember, it won`t last for long."

Sisulu says both companies and employees need to take more responsibility for empowerment. "For as long as the gaping shortage of young, black and skilled workers exists, the `game` of musical chairs will persist. Now we point fingers at people driven by mobility and financial success - the same drivers that exist for all industry employees. Organisations, and individuals have to become less myopic in their outlook and harvest skilled personnel as well as develop their individual skill sets respectively."


Based on their personal journeys in climbing the corporate ladder, the three were asked to give advice to others who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

The most original advice came from Ramutla, who says ambitious youngsters should model themselves after the VW Citi Golf. "Always make sure you are reliable, well-researched, well-presented and continuously improve yourself, while remaining a good product that is value for money."

Khumalo says aligning oneself with a mentor or coach, building a profitable business while adding value to your career is key. "Above all, always remember that cash is king, always know when it`s time to move on."

Sisulu on the other hand says its important to remember that every day is a learning experience. "Stick with it through thick and thin and forget about making your mark on the industry before it has made a mark on you."

And Kopolo has bad news for youngsters hoping to make a fast buck in the ICT sector. "There is this misconception of endless fortunes once you get into the IT industry. I`m still to come across such a fortune. IT is a great profession to be in and like anything in life, hard work always prevails."


We asked our interview subjects what they drive, whether they see themselves as the proverbial BEE success story and where they see themselves in ten years` time.

BMW 330ci-driving Sisulu hopes to "exploit his learning and resources and apply his creativity" in an effort to make the lives of his fellow Africans that much easier.

Khumalo who zooms around in a BMW 645i (while working towards an Aston Martin) sees himself being part of a billion-rand company employing no less than 2 000 people. He wishes to see the private sector being a catalyst for the reduction of unemployment.

Ramutla, who would only say that he drives a diesel SUV "because he likes to take in the scenery while enjoying the additional mileage per tank", expects to be a good father and husband, with the ability to spend more quality time with his loved ones while being philanthropic and self-sufficient in the next decade.

Kopolo denies that he`s a typical black diamond. "Nope! No striped suits, no checked shirts, no 9110 and no drinks at Sandton Square.." However, he drives a BMW, because "I`ve written off too many Audis. With the help of negligent drivers on our roads, of course!" His plan for the next ten years is to "keep up with those changing times and still remain relevant. One would have achieved something should that happen."

Ndhlela drives an Audi A3. "Ten years from now I will be able to measure my success by the number of people I have helped to get as far as I have now. I aim to assist as many young black professionals to climb the corporate ladder in our industry, as I have a very passionate belief in their abilities."

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