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02 MARCH 2020
Mteto Nyati: Betting on a Darkie

Mteto Nyati, Chief Executive of Altron, has always been driven by values, something he has tried to bring to every senior executive role he has held in the South African IT industry.

“My leadership style is rooted in values. It is the key to simplifying my life, as I base all my decisions on family, fairness, integrity and excellence.”

“I value excellence and demand it from the people who work for me and believe that leadership is about embedding the behaviours that are linked to these values,” he explained.

At a recent Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) Forum, Nyati spoke of how his formative years in the Eastern Cape, where he had his first exposure to commerce through his mother’s shop keeping enterprise, developed his commercial acumen.

He explained his mother’s influence taught him respect for people and customers, and how to operate a commercial enterprise.

These roots have guided Nyati’s career, during which he has held the positions of Chief Executive Officer of MTN South Africa and MD of Microsoft South Africa.

Discussing his recently published autobiography Betting on a Darkie, Nyati said he is where he is today because of people who sponsored or backed him during the course of his career: “None of us are ‘self-made.’ We are where we are because of others. I am here largely because of the people who made bets on me at various stages of my life.” He added that it is important to cultivate deep networks: “Cultivate relationships with a few people in certain key positions who are able to speak positively about you when you aren’t there.”

“Life is not fair, but make sure you always choose empowering thoughts and rise above: some things are designed to kill your spirit,” Nyati said.

The future of IT

Since joining Altron as Chief Executive in April 2017, Nyati has attempted to improve the firm’s openness, honesty and integrity, while embracing diversity and inclusion, which he said is “a value that we have to live.”

The first 90 days in a leadership position should be used to connect with all stakeholders and employees, he advised, as this would ensure the formulation of a relevant strategy.

As an ICT company which offers network services, technology solutions and platforms across Africa, Europe, Australia and the Middle East, approximately 47% of Altron’s current earnings come from operations outside of South Africa.

Nyati envisages that this will increase to 60 or 70% of earnings in the coming years as the firm’s external operations grow.

“While the economic climate and outlook in South Africa isn’t great, we must become the most attractive proposition to those customers who are buying, as this will enable us to grow in a declining market. However, it would be irresponsible to operate only in one market,” he explained.

Nyati believes strongly in the concept of conscious capitalism and the idea of doing well by doing good. “Conscious capitalism is the intersection of our opportunity to do good business, while having a positive impact on society. You are addressing a real business problem, and also making money, while doing good.”

He gave the example of investing in skills training, through which companies can help alleviate unemployment and also address the very thing that would stop them from growing – a lack of qualified staff. From Altron, he gave the example of vehicle tracking subsidiary Netstar, whose Internet of Things capability has also been employed for asset protection of educational equipment in schools such as SMART Boards.

“Doing well by doing good means solving real problems, and at the same time generating returns,” he added.

Priorities for South Africa

With his reputation as a vocal commentator and sometimes critic of government policies, he argued the most pressing priority for South Africa to escape its current economic malaise is a unifying, inclusive vision that unites all South Africans

“We need all the resources available to us as a country if we are to solve our problems.

South Africa must take the necessary short-term sacrifices, because we all care so deeply about this country.”

Setting priorities for the country was an urgent task, he argued: “If we focus on everything, it means we are focusing on nothing. Priorities focus the mind.”

Nyati said ensuring that state owned enterprises remain as going concerns was crucial, as was appointing the correct, most competent people to management positions at SOEs. “If these fail, the entire economy fails,” he said.

A longer-term view was needed around education, with a renewed focus on the early learning phase rather than Matric. “This is where the opportunity lies to inculcate values, and we have to take a 15 to 20-year view. But if we don’t do this we are finished.”

Nyati expressed his concern around the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill and argued that government had a track record of service delivery mismanagement. “While the private healthcare sector is not perfect, is it not necessary to destroy it first in order to build.”

Finally, he argued that small businesses and SMMEs need investment and visible support. “These are needed to address unemployment and our lack of intellectual property, which we could export to other emerging markets. We should encourage self-reliance through intellectual property development and must invest in entrepreneurs, as they are the ones who will solve the real problems of our country.”

Gordon Institute of Business Science
Making an impact to significantly improve the competitive performance of individuals and organisation through business education to build our national competitiveness. GIBS is a leading business school in the heart of Sandton’s business hub, offering a wide range of executive and academic programmes. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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