South Africa’s JSE-listed technology company Altron is invested in telecommunications and information technology, offering ICT services in the areas of cybersecurity, software security solutions, business process outsourcing, skills development, secure transactional solutions, systems integration, cloud computing, managed services, IT infrastructure, electronic component distribution, fleet management, telematics, data analytics, converged and broadband communication services and networks, and the resale of Microsoft software.
The group’s primary focus is in providing innovative solutions and services in the following technology segments i.e. smart IoT, managed services, digital transformation and, fintech and health-tech that have meaningful impact for society by addressing challenges facing communities in South Africa, the continent and beyond, while delivering shared value for all its stakeholders.
Founded in 1965, Altron has a direct presence in South Africa, the rest of Africa, the UK and Australia through its various businesses. In addition, the group’s strategic partnerships with leading international technology companies gives it access to leading technology capabilities and products from across the world, including Asia, Europe and North America. The majority of the groups revenue and headcount are derived from the local market in South Africa where the group is headquartered. The Altron group employs more than 8 500 employees globally.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Chief Executive at Altron Mteto Nyati about his personal, professional and entrepreneurial journey thus far.
What inspired you to join the ICT industry?
Grade 12 learners across the country wrote the International Science Olympiad exam and I made it to the Top 10 to represent South Africa in London, United Kingdom for two weeks. I remember my interview with the Daily Dispatch then when I left, I had said I wanted to be a doctor. Spending time there opened my eyes to different career options out there. When I came back, I knew I was going to do my four-year B.Sc. Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
A company called Afrox paid for my tertiary education at the University of Natal and will forever be grateful for that opportunity as the firm had a forward-looking eye to building leaders from different backgrounds in their team as changes in the country were inevitable. It was visionary of them.
After seven years at Afrox, I worked for Nampak Packaging in their division called World Class Manufacturing in the early 1990’s just after the international sanctions were lifted. The Japanese were leading in manufacturing techniques. They had the largest market share and they were doing their best to the point that their South African clients were importing from them at lower and competitive prices than their competition. Nampak believed I would be part of the team to go learn from the Japanese and bring those expertise home so that we could compete internationally.
I wrote for a publication called Productivity SA about the technologies we had learnt and this made me visible to IBM South Africa. IBM was experiencing difficult times globally. The leader of the company felt the firm was completely disconnected with its clients. I was recruited to IBM for my manufacturing experience at Nampak. My going to IBM was for me to learn more about the ICT space that was developing of which I had very little knowledge. With the work I was doing, and how the business was growing, I was asked to share my knowledge and implement some the techniques in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. As part of the recognition of my efforts, I was nominated to the Yale World Fellows Programme for six months. The programme identifies 15 mid-career leaders that they think can influence the future through social influence and address the biggest global issues affecting the World. That is how I got into the ICT space.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with your current position of CEO in the organisation?
When I was approached for the role, I was CEO at MTN South Africa. I felt honoured to have been offered this role. The role came with a significant amount of pressure. Here is an organisation that was losing relevance and was making losses. There was no way I was not going to take this job because taking this role sent a very strong message to me and all the young professionals that look like me that we do not have a monopoly for messing things up. It also said to me that we can fix things if we put our minds to it. There are 8,500 employees at Altron; I can never let all those people down.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?
I am a permanent employee and there is no term that is attached to my position. The value added by my role must be measured though. When we presented our five-year-plan to our Board with my leadership team in 2017, we said: we want to double the size of the business in terms of profits. We want to be the company to work for and a company that works for everybody and not a particular race group. People looking for work in the ICT sector should be looking at us for opportunities. We want to be the best in terms of customer service in the ICT sector. We want to deliver leading returns for our shareholders.
Two and a half years into the five-year-plan we are a year ahead in terms of business performance. We have grown by 51%. We are the leading company in the ICT sector at the JSE and we have improved our share price by 50%.
How would you describe your management and leadership style?
There are elements of being visionary and participatory. Visionary in that people come to work for more than a salary. They want meaning. They want to make an impact and a difference in people’s lives in our communities. Our purpose is to deliver innovation that matters. For instance, we are the backbone of the private healthcare in this country due to the systems they use. To deliver that meaning, we must be participatory and come up with new fresh ideas and tap into everybody’s strengths. Innovation is necessary to help the public health care sector improve and help our people live healthy and fulfilling lives.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
I am passionate about human potential. A lot of people are operating way below their potential. I have discovered that leadership matters. A bad leader managing great people can produce unsatisfactory results. A great leader managing mediocre individuals can inspire them to greatness. I am passionate about unleashing that potential in everybody I interact with. We have expanded to the United Kingdom, Australia, India and now Malaysia. My concern is whether we have the right leaders to manage these operations effectively, efficiently and successfully. Do we have a uniform culture in all our Altron outlets? I am continuously putting my leaders to work with executive coaches so that they are ready for the future we are building.
How have you taken part in mentoring others?
I take part in mentorship within the company through my interactions with my leadership team and that must flow through to the junior ranks. I learn a lot from these interactions.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
Lows: Four years ago, when I was with MTN, we were approached by a group of entrepreneurs wanting to partner with us and leverage on our technology expertise. I was excited about the prospects and handed the deal to one of my colleagues. I find out later that the entrepreneurs felt we treated them arrogantly and that we didn’t see any value in their offering. They went to our competitors Vodacom. Those entrepreneurs formed what today is Rain. That was a lost opportunity which could have helped us lower our customers’ costs and improved our offering.
Highs: The role I played in turning around Microsoft in a short space of time. Our work in re-positioning the firm from a company that was viewed differently and perceived not to listen to a re-energised entity was great. I have released a book titled: “Betting on a Darkie” to be launched in September, I am very proud of this body of work.
What notable accolades have you and your organisation achieved?
In early 2019, Altron received the Da Vinci TT100 Award for innovation. We have also received an ICT Award for being the leading company in terms of our share performance.
Attending the Yale World Fellows Programme was a big deal globally as only 15 leaders were chosen out of 3000 leaders.
I recently received the ICT Personality of the Year Award. It was heart-warming to be acknowledged by my peers and colleagues,
I received an award for Manager of the Year in 2010 by the Black Management Forum when I wasn’t even a member of the forum.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth?
Every year we must grow by double digits. Our growth is not from acquisitions but it is happening organically, through the kind of people we have and the offerings we put out to the market.
Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high levels of ethics and integrity?
We had a to look at our ethics policies to ensure we have them in place and have structures that promote ethical culture. We appointed ethics officers to be our eyes and ears and make this visible. We have an anonymous line where people can report unethical behavior. The line is handled by an external auditor and we are training our people to know the do’s and don’ts annually for which they sign confirmation. All our people must declare any conflicts of interests in terms of business interests outside of Altron. We know we are not perfect because we reflect of our society but we must be seen to deal decisively with unethical conduct. We do not have untouchables. Our leadership teams are rated on their openness, integrity, and ethical behavior.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?
Our approach to transformation is that of diversity and inclusion. People must hire people that are different from them so we have balanced and powerful teams. It could be a woman professional or professionals from a different race. Our key performance indicators are linked to our approach. We leave it to the individual to act the right way but hold them accountable.
Highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant profession your professionals are part of.
We have the biggest skills shortage in ICT. We take unemployed graduates, prepare them for great work and partner with OEM’s like Microsoft. We look for innovative ways as ICT training is not the cheapest. Although we get paid for the work we do, the social impact is phenomenal. An example is the smart boards that MEC for Education in Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi is rolling out. We make sure that technology is protected from criminal elements and that is our role and the reason we exist.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
We consistently train our people for the customer interface. The people need to articulate our service offering. We have an external firm that calls our clients twice a year to track how we are doing. Those are net promoter scores in line with our goal of providing exceptional customer service. In March 2019 we were above the global benchmark and got a clean bill of health. For the remainder of the year we look at how to fix those issues that were highlighted in March 2019 and what solutions have been put in place. Our customer experience is our source of income and that is our competitive advantage. We value the talent we attract so they will deliver memorable experiences.
What values do you hold dear and why?
I value Fairness, I need to balance the way I treat people around me. I do not have favourites. I help everyone around me to grow and be successful. I avoid the inner circle.
I value Integrity.
I value Excellence, hard work, and FAMILY! We live in a world that doesn’t expect excellence in black individuals and communities. I am constantly working hard to prove those stereotypes wrong.
When you not at work, what do you get up to including family life?
I value family time.
Where can people follow you online?
Follow the Altron website and all our social media platforms for the work we do.