Putting quality into quantity

2011-10-08 15:21

The phrase “think ­local, act global” has been the rage since the early 20th century when Scotsman Patrick Geddes introduced it to his fellow town planners.

It became the buzz term in business literature with the rise of the Japanese technology companies in the 1980s and 1990s. It is therefore no longer exactly a eureka moment when yet another business person uses the line when talking about their organisation and their vision.

Sifiso Falala, the chief executive of +94 Research, the largest of the South African-owned research businesses and also the largest black-owned research firm in the country, used the phrase too – “think glocal” – in our interview.

Unlike many who mouth the phrase as a business school ­mantra, there is good reason to ­believe that Falala is not just trying to show that he is with the in-crowd among the business literati.

Last year, Falala spent his money sponsoring the collaboration ­between mbaqanga supergroup Soul Brothers and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO), resulting in the latter playing some of the greatest hits “Ogandanganda”REVISE: Pls note that this is the nickname of Soul Brothersever recorded.

The Soul Brothers’ encounter with the JPO was a meeting of black urban streets and the courts of imperial Europe. It is the musical interpretation of acting locally and thinking globally.

It appears that this is in keeping with a streak in the Zimbabwe-born businessman. Falala is ­comfortable being rooted in the urban or rural black experience and seeing the world as one’s oyster.

It also coincides with his vision for his company and an expectation that South Africa, and Joburg in particular, will continue being a cosmopolitan country that attracts skills from across the world.

Falala says: “I see Johannesburg being more and more like London, New York or Los Angeles. Our brilliant infrastructure, Constitution and banking institutions mean that we will have no choice but to compete with people from other countries.”

When that happens, Falala ­believes that his company – whose name is a play on the post-1994 ­political trajectory and the opportunities it presented – would be found ready to compete.

“We have never compromised on quality. We have never sold ­ourselves on the black-sympathy ticket. Our benchmark has always been performance and expertise, hence our line ‘test our brains’,” he says.

With his company 100% black owned, Falala is not a great fan of the element within the BEE structure which he thinks narrows black entrepreneurs’ ambitions. He says: “BEE confines us to mediocrity by making some of us satisfied with owning a 20% or 25% stake [in a company].”

Some could say that it is easy for him to say this now that his ­company is 100% black owned and managed.

But it did not come easy. He says: “There was a perception that black people could not deliver. We would approach a company and before we had said anything they’d tell us that they did not have jobs for qualitative research companies.

“We would then tell them that we were actually offering quantitative research and then they would be surprised but still say they did not have any small projects.

“The market lacked confidence in black researchers, especially those purporting to have ­conquered calculus and therefore offering technical, quantitative studies,” he says.

Qualitative research is the type of investigation into subjective sentiments and relies more on ­verbal or written responses by those interviewed.

Quantitative research, on the other hand, focuses on the measurable and is more objective in its findings. It is ­regarded as more difficult to put together than qualitative research.

Falala adds that the initial cold reception took on a non-racial character, with the doors being slammed in their faces by both black and white companies and managers.

“I wish black people in positions of authority could do more to show they believe in the transformation of the economy,” he says.

The sheer chutzpah that made Falala leave his then research ­company employer, where he was a director, to begin a journey on a road less travelled with business partner Tirhani Mabunda was ­evident from the very early days.

They rented the plushest office they could find and bought the most expensive furniture available. This without even a single ­client having agreed to give them any business.

“We succeeded because we had confidence and faith. Nobody can succeed in business or in life without these two things,” he says.

As a chief executive he sees his role as leading the organisation and creating wealth for those who work with and for him.

“Leaders must lead. We must create a certain desire in those who work for us to want to work for us. You must be able to make the big decisions. You must be able to ­define the future for your company.

“Leaders can never afford to be complacent and they must always be impartial [in arbitration of clashing views among those they lead],” says Falala, who laments that a busy schedule has caused him to play at a nine handicap when in his day he teed off as a four.

Falala does not support the ­clamour in some sectors for wealth redistribution.

He prefers wealth creation that benefits all instead.

His rationale is that unless the ethos is of finding ways of growing the wealth cake, whatever is there will eventually run out.

Falala and his team are not basking in the glory of being the biggest of local players in their industry.
He says: “Every month we pay more than 200 people but we want to pay 500 or 1 000. The only way to do this is to grow.

For him hard work, excellence and drive sets the tone of what is possible for the company.

“We have proved that point ­already. You do not just become the biggest company of your kind in your country,” he says.

» Do you think you’re a leader? Visit the “Chivas Regal South Africa” Facebook page, take the “Time to Lead” Challenge, and you could win the incredible grand prize of a R25 000 Fabiani voucher, a Tag Heuer Chronograph S watch, a gold carpet dinner for 12 and the full Chivas range

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