Tesla's Elon Musk. The writer says South Africans are prone to mention him as a leading entrepreneur. Photo: AP
Tesla's Elon Musk. The writer says South Africans are prone to mention him as a leading entrepreneur. Photo: AP

Five lessons I learned from a client

By Howard Feldman Time of article published Jun 5, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – Ask South Africans to list home grown companies and they will most likely rattle off the likes of SAB, Discovery and Sasol. 

They might speak of Elon Musk of Tesla and Mark Shuttleworth as leading entrepreneurs, as well as people like Christian Barnard, Gary Player and Charlize Theron who have made us proud on the international stage.

Although the above is a formidable group, we sometimes neglect some of the incredible companies and people who are doing amazing things in the country.

Over the last year I have had the privilege of working closely one such group: Synthesis Software Technologies. My interaction began when I was asked to run a workshop on the Super-Power of Honesty. In my experience, any company that asks employees to take a pause from the business of generating income, in order to focus on ethics, is already a step ahead. 

This session was followed by one on The Fear of Change, and from there to the Power of Positivity. Whereas many of my clients ask for follow up sessions, it is rare for me to encounter an environment with a thirst for growth and development of each member of the team, as does Synthesis.

Some background to the company : Synthesis was founded in 1997. Today, there are four directors; Michael Shapiro, Jake Shepherd, Tom Wells and Steyn Basson, who have each been with the company for over 16 years.

The word Synthesis described a vision where complex systems could be pulled together in a harmonious way to solve real problems. From early on Synthesis focused on the Financial Services sector and over the years has done work for all six major banking institutions in South Africa. Synthesis is viewed by its clients as the go to guys for software related problems that others find too difficult to solve.  

Today Synthesis services blue-chip companies in the financial, agricultural, telecoms and retail sectors and provides employment to over 100 professionals. It is a preferred Amazon Web Services (AWS) partner in South Africa, and has been recognised for its innovation, implementation and professionalism.

The wonderful privilege of working in the space that I do, is that I get to learn from clients as much as I am teach them.

Here are five things that I have learned from Synthesis:

  1. Passionately invest in your staff. Courses, workshops, internal and external mentoring programs as well as financial skills programs are good for your staff and in turn good for your company. Do it because you value it and not because you think you have to do so.
  2. Keep reminding employees who “We are” as a company. Keep questioning what our written and unwritten ground rules are, and how do we best live by them?
  3. Place value on the individual as well as on being a member of the team – so that each person feels that they matter and are important to the whole.
  4. Honest and open dialogue. Keep communication going so that the more difficult issues can be addressed. Don’t just say that you have an open-door policy. Live it.
  5. Make sure that through all of this, there is a clear focus on what we as a company want to achieve and have fun while passionately accomplishing these goals. This is vital to balance all of the above. Set goals and then provide the assistance to achieve them.

As South Africans we are often guilty of noting all the things we lack, rather than listing the things we have. My observation is that the business environment is no different. Which is why it is so important, when we do come across a company that we can be proud of, to learn as much as we can from them.

Howard Feldman is one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs. His experience is global and extensive, spanning more than 20 years of working as a business strategist, keynote speaker, published author, both locally and globally, social and political commentator, morning drive show host and philanthropist.


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