Sage CEO's entrepreneur tips

Ivan Epstein, CEO of SAGE International. (Picture supplied).
Ivan Epstein, CEO of SAGE International. (Picture supplied).

Over the past two centuries, entrepreneurs have been responsible for innovations that have changed the way people live their lives and conduct their business.

Ivan Epstein, CEO of Sage International, firmly believes that entrepreneurship is vital to the economy: “From electricity and the telephone, to the internet and social media. Good ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship are what truly fuel the economy.”

Epstein co-founded Softline – the company that developed homegrown accounting software products such as Pastel and VIP Payroll – in 1988.

Softline was acquired by multinational enterprise software company The Sage Group plc (Sage) in 2003.

Sage is the world’s third-largest supplier of enterprise resource planning software (behind Oracle and SAP) and the largest supplier to small businesses.

It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index, with a current market capitalisation of about £5.4bn (R114.7bn).

Epstein’s entrepreneurial dream of enabling SMEs to grow took flight when Softline was acquired by Sage and became part of the group’s long and broad experience in the realm of SME development.

In addition to its range of software solutions, Sage provides user training to SMEs through its national training academy, and offers training in general business skills, such as tax year-end compliance, basic bookkeeping and financial literacy as well as HR management.

When Sage acquired Softline, Epstein was appointed CEO and today he heads up Sage’s businesses across Africa, Australia, the Middle East and Asia – all regions that include some of the world’s fastest-growing markets for business solutions.

Starting small

Before this massive success, Epstein experienced the trials and tribulations of running his own business with Softline.

Though most believe the combination of a contracting GDP, the volatile rand, rising inflation and rising interest rates make it incredibly tough to run a small business, Epstein believes these tough economic times should not deter entrepreneurs. Often great things are done in times of hardship. Recessionary times, for me, are often the best times to start a business, because of all the opportunities that open up. When things go well in an economy and profits rise, it can often be tougher to get started.

“I remember building my business [Softline] during the recession of the 1990s and the tough times did not stop us. We found ways to keep our business afloat. This sometimes meant that I had to work full-time to support my start-up, but when the economic tide turned we were established and reaped the benefits of our perseverance.”

Even today Epstein believes in running large multinational Sage as he did his small business.

“I always say, despite how big we get or how much money we make, we should always operate a large business with the heart of a small one; with the same drive, ambition, tenacity, urgency and hunger to achieve and innovate.”

Epstein also believes company culture is important: “If you can take employees with you on your journey, and you engage the right people, your business will take care of the customers’ needs.”

Epstein’s own experience as an entrepreneur has enabled him to hire people with the same passion that strive to make customers’ lives easier, allowing them to focus on growing their businesses.

Backing SMEs 

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research shows that small businesses are significant contributors to job creation, creating 50% of all employment opportunities in South Africa.

Currently, the SME sector accounts for more than 45% of the country’s gross GDP.

“So if we consider these numbers and increase the quantity of SMEs in any given country, the needle of economic growth will move in a positive direction,” insists Epstein.

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the 12 November 2015 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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