JOHANNESBURG - As the newly appointed chief investment officer of AYO Technology Solutions, the largest black economic empowered ICT company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and one of the youngest directors of a listed multibillion-rand company, Siphiwe Nodwele has a lot riding on his shoulders.
Yet 31-year-old Nodwele brims with confidence - a combination of youthful chutzpah, entrepreneurial spirit and some impressive experience under the belt - and is charged with attracting key acquisition targets to complement the growth of AYO Technology, which listed on the JSE in December.
“Obviously it comes with a lot of pressure - you have to demonstrate the essence of why you’re there, rather than being a 50- or 60-year-old veteran. But that’s the dynamic thing about our country - we’re in an exciting time and place where anything can happen. For me, it’s about delivering. It’s humbling, exciting, scary,” says Nodwele.
A qualified lawyer, Nodwele says he has always been driven by entrepreneurship. “In my first year at university I was very naive. I was meeting all these people and thought: it’s not that hard. So I went to RMB and asked them for finance to acquire a bunch of listed companies. Needless to say, I didn’t get any money, but I was fortunate to meet really smart bankers, like Herman Bosman, who is now the group chief executive of RMB Holdings. He gave me the nickname ‘Fortune 500 kid’.
“It taught me valuable lessons: Get your ducks in a row, and education is everything. Already during my first year I knew what I was going to do in my master's.”
Previously head of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) at EOH Industrial Technologies, Nodwele says M&A is one of the hardest sales jobs in the world: you’re convincing people to let go of their “babies” - something they’d spent years nurturing - and your job is to convince them to let you take it off their hands.
His biggest acquisition to date was a R73billion transportation contract: a high-profile deal and one of the largest in the country.
Naturally entrepreneurial, Nodwele explains that he’s always up for a challenge. “For me, as an entrepreneur, it’s about finding the next solution - what can you do, what can you create?”
In his new position at AYO Technology, which he took up on December 1 - three weeks before the listing - Nodwele hopes to drive home the message “We’re big, we’re black and we’re open for business".
“For the first time in our history we have the largest black-owned JSE-listed ICT company in the country, and I get to be part of that.”
It’s a sector that’s ripe for change: “We’ve had no recent newcomers - the industry has grown stagnant.
"From an empowerment perspective, the new ICT codes are asking for 51percent black ownership and 30percent black women ownership. AYO Technology exceeds the codes requirements. The customers themselves - banks, mines, telcos - are under pressure because they need to procure from transformed companies to improve their own scorecards - and AYO Technology is fully compliant and ready to assist.”
Rather than simply ticking boxes, customers benefit from the industry “upstarts”, he explains.
“Instead of going around with a suitcase and having a list of what you have to sell, you’re listening to the customer, understanding the customer’s needs and building your business services around that.
"That’s the digital transformation agenda that we’re driving. Gone are the days when you’re simply a service provider - it’s all about how to take your business knowledge to improve the product or service requirements of the customers. The real worth is in added value: something new and fresh. Changing business models on a service platform.
"AYO Technology offers a full stack of ICT services based on infrastructure platforms consisting of applications, security, managed services, networks and data centres. These platforms will be enablers for their major focus in digital transformation services as well as vertical industry-specific offerings. We have no legacy, that’s the really exciting part," he notes.
"We have the ability to offer our customers what they really want, not inflexible legacy platforms that they often get stuck with which add not real value. We want to partner with our customers so that they understand what their tech requirements are long before it becomes a pain point for them.”
For Nodwele, technology’s the new mining and digital’s the currency.
"As a child I was fascinated that most of the big deals in the early phases were in mining. But with the use of technology this industry can now become far more sustainable.
“I believe quite strongly that AYO Technology is able to add incredible value to the various sectors within the economy and improve people’s lives.
“For me, success will be AYO Technology seamlessly making people’s lives better - whether it’s how they bank, insure, get medical provision, shop or travel. Those providers are our customers, and their success is our success.”