- Describe your job: What do you do? Which level do you occupy within the business? How did you end up at Hitachi? Tell us about your journey to where you are today?
I joined Hitachi Vantara three years ago after being approached by an ex-colleague to take on the position of Professional Services Director for sub-Saharan Africa. I spent roughly a year in that role before moving to Dubai, still with Hitachi Vantara, to head Professional Services EMEA Emerging Markets. This involved growing Hitachi’s products, solutions and services portfolio within Russia, Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan and Africa. I spent a year there before returning to South Africa to take on the role of General Manager and Sales Director for Hitachi Vantara South Africa.
Describing my job and what I do, I have oversight of the profit and loss (P$L) and all functional areas of the business, but predominantly my role is as a Sales Director. This involves driving and managing the sales team’s daily activities. My role is mostly customer-facing and predominantly working with the sales team and account managers to ensure customers receive the service they need while constructing solutions for their requirements.
- What are the soft and hard skills you require to be effective in your role?
From a hard skills perspective, sales management 101. Understanding our customers in South Africa, understanding the market, understanding our competitors and identifying key areas of growth and business development. At the end of the day, I need to be able to align our marketing and business development activities, working with customers to meet their budgets and delivering the solutions that we promise during our sales cycle.
The ability to manage key account quotas and targets is another key skill, as I need to ensure we have sufficient coverage in our business across the pipeline to be able to meet those targets. A background in commerce is equally important, understanding, for example, elements such as capex and opex demands. In this role, I also need to be able to build deals and construct solutions that make commercial sense for both our customers and ourselves.
From a soft skills perspective, strong communication and the ability to engage with people in different levels of the organisation is a must. This role requires building and managing cadence across all the different parts of the business to ensure that there is governance in the way we manage and measure our success. A big part of what I do involves helping the leaders and management team in South Africa to achieve those objectives, but also getting granular in terms of assisting them manage their teams and building a business for success. Apart from strong communication and leadership skills, one needs to be effective in plans and engagements with employees and customers to ensure a sustainable business.
- Tell us what constitutes a typical working day for you, pre- and post-COVID-19? What are the best/ least favourite parts of the job?
Pre-COVID-19, my day would start at 7am in the office. I usually spent the first hour reflecting on the previous day’s meetings, commitments, notes and executing all the previous day’s actions. I also used the time in the morning to telephonically engage our colleagues and peers who are ahead of us in time zones. Throughout the day I generally attended a combination of internal and external meetings that are mostly customer focussed and sales orientated. I would then round up the day by distilling all the actions into lists that I could action the next morning.
Post COVID-19, very similar but of course it is all remote. I manage various engagements during the day, ranging from customer engagements to partner and supplier engagements as well as different functional parts of our business such as HR, marketing, legal, support services, pre sales and sales. Sometime during the day, I report upstream on various operational matters and sales matters that either my boss or stakeholders in our business require.
It is important to take breaks so that you are not in front of your computer screen the whole day, but quite often those breaks are interrupted with telephone calls, so it is a tough one to juggle.
The best part of my job is the opportunity to engage with people across all spectrums of life. From the team in the office, to our customers, to different levels within the organisation from technical people and support staff all the way up to the C-Suite. Engaging with many different people from all walks of life on a daily basis is a really great part of the job.
- How do you define and measure success? What KPIs do you use to do so?
True success is about building a sustainable business. By sustainable I mean ensuring our customers are happy and continue to engage with us. We also need a happy team that is inspired, challenged and engaged with our business and customers.
When measuring success, we can look at the growth of revenues and pipeline, which is easy to measure from a sustainability perspective. Measurements of team and customer happiness are less clear sometimes and there we look at the Net Promoter Score from a customer satisfaction perspective and we also look at the level of engagement we have from our customers and the types of conversations we are having. On the internal side regarding team happiness, we use employee surveys, and through continuous engagement with the team across the organisation we can address any concerns they may have.
Regarding future success we can look at year-on-year growth and employee retention. Across the business we also have a balance scorecard looking at objectives we have set ourselves. This way we can correct our course very quickly and in an agile way to meet all our KPIs.
- What are your favourite technologies and platforms that you use to make yourself more productive and get more done, especially during this time where employees are working from home?
Undoubtably Microsoft Teams and our own HCP Anywhere platform. Teams allows teleconferencing, video conferencing, collaboration, notes, calendars and a lot more. It is easy to use and a powerful tool for anyone. Our HCP Anywhere platform allows for secure document storage and collaboration and an easy to use interface. Secondly the phone is our friend. Whenever you need to talk to somebody you can pick it up.
Between Microsoft Teams, HCP Anywhere and my mobile phone, I have no need for anything else as they cover all my requirements.
- What can you tell us about your future plans for Hitachi?
Future plans are to retain our key clients. We want to continue to grow our relationships with these customers by adding value. Another big space for us in terms of our future is to grow our market and acquire new mid-market customers as our products do bring value to that market.
Part of our future plan is a steady and concerted effort to improve our transformation agenda from a triple BEE level and beyond. Our goal is to make sure that our company is representative of the broader population of South Africa and that there is true empowerment taking place in our organisation for the likes of interns and previously disadvantaged individuals.
Another area of focus is to coalesce our channel partners and distribution network to ensure they are also successful. Key will be ensuring we have a broad and large enough ecosystem of partners in the market that are both excited about our product and enthusiastic about taking it to their customers. In return, we need to make sure their businesses are also successful.
Finally, a big part of our strategy is of course growth. We want to grow our business to the point where we can sustain the momentum that we have already achieved in the market over the next 10 to 15 years and move into other areas of expertise. These include data, cloud computing and content platforms.