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THE OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE ALTECH GROUP
2008 • issue one
We talk to
Ndaba Ntsele, The CEO of Pamodzi
Altech takes control
of East Africa’s leading ICT firms
Come inside Altech’s Northern Lights Ball - pg 15
President Mbeki opens the new SAPS radio centre - pg 17
The Altech CEO talks:
A message from Craig Venter
The Telecommunications Update
The Strategic Update with
Wessie van der Westhuizen
Tech Talk with Steve Sidley
The Sameer Group deal - much
bigger than it looks
Letter from the Editor
Altech NamITech Makes an
African Footprint at GSM
Altech Secures Major Deal in
Altech Netstar is Voted Best
Vehicle Recovery Company
The Northern Lights Ball
Altech Autopage Cellular
Sponsors the Soweto Easter
Altech Alcom Matomo Tranfers
TETRA Network to the SAPS
Altech Siyabonga Awards
Altech Talk Trivia
Out & About
Altech Autopage Cellular’s talented
The Altech Academy
Altech Netstar soars above the competition - pg 22
Altech Shines at the TT100
Altech Netstar’s Long Service
Altech Autopage Cellular Helps
Educate SA’s Most Vulnerable
Altech Porsche Challenge
Altech Netstar Launches
In-House Interview with Altech
C.O.O. Andy Baker
Altech Talks to Pamodzi CEO,
Altech Autopage Cellular builds a school for the children of Lamontville
- pg 24
The Altech CEO Talks
A Message from Craig Venter
Our financial year-end has recently passed, with
a good overall effort from our Group’s operating
companies. Although I can’t divulge any details about
our results, due to us being in a closed period, I look
forward to discussing the numbers in the following
issue of Altech Talk. However, there are a number of
exciting exploits that our Group has made public in
the past few months, and I would like to take this
opportunity to make mention of these.
Altech has just announced the purchase of a controlling
interest in three ICT subsidiaries of Kenya’s Sameer
Group for roughly R650 million. This deal gives Altech a
51% stake in Kenya Data Networks Limited (KDN), Swift
Global Limited (Swift) and Infocom Limited (Infocom),
which effectively puts us in the position of becoming the
number one data operator in East and Central Africa.
By acquiring KDN we will take control of Kenya’s
leading digital communications and data operator, which
has almost 1500km of fibre throughout the country.
This could possibly then be linked to the TEAMS and
SEACOM undersea cables off Africa’s east coast when
their production is completed. Swift is the top internet
service provider in Kenya and Tanzania, whilst Infocom
is a broadband and IT firm in Uganda. Between these
three companies our presence on the African continent
has increased substantially.
The acquisition of ComTech by Altech Netstar
Fleet Management Services (ANFMS) has now been
unconditionally ratified by the Competition Commission.
This boosts the market share of ANFMS to 20% of the
total market from a previous 7%, and allows the company
to offer all levels of fleet management products at
various different pricing points. Altech Netstar has also
been acknowledged as an industry leader after recently
receiving two exceptional awards for their technological
Foremost amongst these was the 2007 Technology Top
100 (TT100) Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence,
which is recognised as one of the premier business
excellence awards in the country, and was presented
by Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena.
Altech Netsar received a second TT100 award in the
category of Excellence in the Management of Technology,
whilst the Altech Group clinched the TT100 award for
Excellence in the Management of Technology, Innovation
and People. These are significant achievements for our
Group that make me extremely proud, and reiterates
the fact that we are at the cutting edge of technology in
South Africa, as well as the world at large.
The Altech Academy has now had its first board meeting
and its curriculum has been finalised. The Academy
officially enrolled its first class of students this year, and
they are now involved in broadening their skills base and
enhancing their educational qualifications. A total of 101
applicants from across the Group are going to be doing
further studies ranging from diplomas to doctorates.
Of this initial group, 40% are previously disadvantaged
students, which will enable us to achieve the very
important skills development and employment equity
requirements within the Altech Group.
Overall our Group is operating extremely well, with our
order book exceeding R7,2 billion and our orders on
hand passing R1 billion for the first time.These are record
highs for us, and I believe they are just the beginning.
Altech UEC has continued to expand into the global
marketplace, in particular India, where they have secured
significant orders and are now a true global player in
decoder technology. Altech Netstar has just launched
a new product named Guardian, which is a personal
GPS tracking device that can pinpoint an individual’s
location to within 3m. This product is a first in the
South African market and should further increase Altech
Netstar’s subscriber base. I believe there is going to be a
convergence in the fields of voice, video and data, which
leaves us exceptionally well positioned through Altech
Autopage Cellular, Altech UEC and Altech Stream. The
above has now also been strengthened by our recently
announced acquisition of the Sameer ICT Group in
Before concluding this message, I would like to appeal to
the Altech senior management in assisting the Group to
achieve the BEE transformation targets that have been
set under our Transformation 2012 Initiative. These are
essential to the competitiveness and continued success
of Altech going forward.
I thank each and every one of you for your efforts over
the past year in contributing to our Group’s strong
performance, but I stress the fact that we cannot afford
to become complacent. Our competitors are hoping for
just this to happen, and it will take a significant effort
from all of us to keep this great track record that we
CEO, Altech Group
Looking back at a busy and challenging year for the
Altech Wireless Division in 2007, some highlights
stand out as being watershed steps towards a better
and more profitable business for the year ahead.
The team at Altech Autopage Cellular, under Steven
Blewett, worked their way through a difficult
downsizing early in the year and focused on sales
of quality subscribers through revitalized channels
throughout the year. The results came through in
October with the forecast PBT raised to just under
10% over budget. Despite challenges, they have
held to this forecast and are at set to deliver Altech
Autopage’s best ever results to date.
The Altech Netstar team continued to drive sales,
ignoring negatives in the market such as interest rate
hikes and the National Credit Act, which naturally
impacted new car sales, a significant driver of
subscribers for the company. Altech Netstar Fleet
Management Services continued to grow at better
than expected rates, to end up at some 27 000
subscribers, a growth of over 60% for the year. A
highlight for the Altech Netstar team, ably driven
by Andy Baker at the time, was the acquisition of
ComTech, which adds a further 16 000 subscribers
to the Fleet Management business and broadens the
Altech Netstar product and service offering.
Altech Alcom Matomo marked the substantial
completion of the SAPS Gauteng TETRA contract
with an opening presided over by President Mbeki.
Despite many challenges, the project has been well
managed, and now completed, by an exceptional team.
This was done with the simultaneous submission of
a bid for the SAPS Eastern Cape TETRA system – a
mammoth task, which was achieved on time on 18
Altech Alcom Radio Distributors achieved similarly
good results through focused efforts in servicing
a strong dealer base, together with a good export
performance. Between them, both companies have
achieved actual performance way ahead of budget.
It was a team effort but Managing Director, Johan
van Zyl, is well known for keeping his eye on the
Well done to everyone in the Wireless Division on
achieving solid results during 2007. I feel we can
certainly build on these momentous achievements in
the forthcoming year.
by Graham Passmoor
by Wessie van der Westhuizen
In this column I would like to discuss my thoughts
on ‘Systems Thinking’. Systems Thinking is an integral
part of most of the training modules in the newly
established Altech Academy. It is also compulsory for
any of the post graduate degrees offered through the
Da Vinci Institute in the management of innovation
and technology. Why?
Managers today have to cope with increasing
complexity, change and diversity. Complexity stems
from the nature of problems, which is typically
related to other problems in what sometimes seems
to be a chaotic manner. Change is a product of our
era. Organizations, if they are to remain viable, have
to respond adroitly to these constant shifts in their
In this world of complexity and change, managers
have to tackle a much greater diversity of problems.
They have to ensure that organizational processes
are efficient and that they are served by the latest
developments in technology. Staff need to be
motivated and the organizational learning shared
to ensure staying ahead of the competition. The
pressure for flexible structures and transformational
leadership is ever increasing, and so are changes in
the legal, regulatory and social environments.
Faced with this increasing complexity, change and
diversity managers can easily fall in the “quick fix”
trap of the latest management fads like benchmarking,
rightsizing, continuous improvement, value chain
analysis, etc. Sadly, these relatively simple solutions
rarely work because they are not holistic or creative
Systems Thinking is holistic. Its focus is on ensuring
that the parts of the organization function together
to serve the needs of the whole. It is creative too,
as the approaches used allow solving problems from
multiple viewpoints using multiple techniques, and
this in turn places a central emphasis on creative
Good luck to the first students on your creative
and academic journey through the Altech Academy!
Altech, as well as our country, needs your skills.
Altech’s Chief Technology Officer
You’ve all probably read of Altech’s acquisition
of the telecommunications assets of the Sameer
Group in East Africa, announced at the end of
So what’s really going on here? Just a good acquisition
opportunity that we successfully snagged? Or is
there more here than meets the eye?
You bet there is.
The Sameer ICT deal:
much bigger than it looks…
Let’s step back a bit and look at the overall global
telecommunications landscape.The worldwide trend
is, on the one hand, seeing declining prices on data
access and transport services. On the other hand, we
are also seeing an increase in bandwidth, mainly due
to fancy new technologies with confusing acronyms,
which deliver bits faster and cheaper.
What do you think happens when these two facts
collide? Lower data prices, but more bandwidth.
It turns out that consumers have an insatiable
demand for more bandwidth (think YouTube and
other bandwidth-heavy applications). So while it
may be true that data prices are falling, there are
also a slew of new higher bandwidth services being
offered though new data channels, so revenues for
the operators continue to climb.
Bottom line – new revenue from more services over
thicker pipes outweighs the inexorable downward
pressure on bit prices.
Yeah, you may argue, but we are in Africa, and our
new Kenyan acquisition is in even darker Africa.
So let’s zoom in – what do our new East African
There are 3 separate companies that came with this
deal. We purchased one network operator, KDN,
and two ISPs (Swift in Kenya and Infocom in Uganda).
The network operator provides the pipes, the ISPs
hook up the customer and provide services, like
email and internet access.
The only competitor to KDN is Kenya Telecom, the
incumbent, and we all know about the nimbleness
of incumbents. KDN’s network is not only deemed
by customers to be preferable to KT, but more
importantly, KDN is the only company in Kenya
(actually in the whole of East Africa) that has laid
large stretches of wide area optical fibre, stretching
from Mombasa on the coast, westwards to Nairobi,
and on to the Ugandan border. That’s 1200kms
worth, not to mention a complete network of fibre
rings within Nairobi itself.
Which brings us to the underlying strategy behind
Most of you will probably know that there is an
undersea cable being laid down the East Coast of
Africa (called SEACOM), funded by a consortium
of private investors. This will effectively end the
Telkom monopoly on undersea cable access (the
cable is called SAT3, which runs up the West Coast
of Africa). It will also cause a lovely plummet in
international internet access prices, given that
Telkom’s international undersea charges are amongst
the highest in the world.
And guess where one of the major landing points of
the new cable will be? Mombasa on the East coast
And guess who will own the only fibre joining the
SEACOM cable to Nairobi? Altech!
This means we will not only get to carry all the
sundry’s data in and around Kenya (like MTN and
Safaricom data), but now we will also be the only
fibre gateway to the rest of planet – meaning that
anyone from East Africa who wants to browse
Youtube or CNN or Google will likely choose to be
transported on our highspeed bandwidth.
Which brings us back to my original discussion. The
undersea cable will bring high speed inexpensive
international transport. Which will result in folks
wanting new services (like video). And who gets to
provide these services? Altech again, through Swift
and Infocom. A truly virtuous circle.
Finally – just think where we are going to take this.
We are already rolling out WiFi in Rwanda. The
cable is already on the border of Uganda. Think
DRC. Look at a map. That would take us from the
east coast all the way to the west coast. That would
complete the SAT3/SeacOm ring. That would give
us a strategic position that makes the mouth water.
There’s more than meets the eye here, as I said.
We are going to perform some serious magic that
will metamorphose Altech into one of the most
important telecommunications assets on the
Letter from the
Warm greetings to all our readers and fellow colleagues
throughout the Altech Group! I would like to take
this opportunity to comment on this new issue of our
Group’s magazine, Altech Talk.
I’m sure many of you have been wondering if there was
to be another issue at all, since it’s been quite a stretch
since our last edition. The reason for this should be
evident from the revamped magazine you’re holding in
your hands. Our CEO, Craig Venter, wanted our previous
newsletter to be transformed into a proper glossy
magazine, and so a complete overhaul of the old Altech
Talk was undertaken. We have effectively doubled the
pagination, which provides more space for the articles
and images and will also allow us to include more regular
Foremost amongst these is the introduction of Altech’s
‘Siyabonga Awards’. These awards will highlight an
individual within the Altech Group who has gone that
extra mile through hard work and dedication to their
job. A R1000 cheque and certificate will be given to the
recipients of this award at Head Office by Craig Venter
himself. The process of how people are nominated and
the winners chosen, is discussed on page 18.
There will also be a trivia page that will feature Q & A’s
about some sort of technology related to the Group’s
businesses. Included on this page will be a competition
question that will have a prize as an incentive. This
issue’s reward for the chosen correct answer will be
Altech Netstar’s brand new personal tracking product
dubbed ‘Guardian’. This incredible device allows you to
pinpoint a loved one to within 3 metres, and if assistance
is required Altech Netstar’s ground and helicopter crews
will be dispatched.
A new column named ‘Tech Talk’ written by Altech’s
Chief Technology Officer, Steve Sidley, will highlight his
views on a technological topic. The ‘Out & About’ page
will feature news on an employee who’s involved in
an activity, or achieved something noteworthy, outside
their scope of daily work. We also hope to have an
entire page dedicated to your comments, feedback
and letters. So PLEASE feel free to send any praise,
criticisms, ideas, comments etc. to our email address,
which is [email protected] We will try our
best to reprint, in the following issue, all the messages
As with our previous format, Altech’s Chief Strategic
Officer, will share with us “ideas” of strategic importance.
Graham Passmoor, who is the Group’s Executive for
Wireless Communications, will provide us with ‘The
Telecommunications Update’, and Craig Venter will
provide us with his CEO’s message. Each edition will
also contain two interviews, with one being an internal
interview with an Altech employee, and the other with a
leading business personality outside of the Altech Group.
On top of all this there will be the usual array of articles
highlighting the news of our subsidiary companies.
I hope you all enjoy the brand new look and feel of our
magazine, and I thank you for taking the time to read
The Sales & Marketing ladies: Fortune Gowera (from Altech NamITech South Africa), Sola Bajomo, Michele Kabangu and Adesola Ogundipe (all from NamITech
Makes an African Footprint at GSM conference
During the course of 2007, Altech NamITech
participated in some of the biggest telecoms
exhibitions in Africa. Foremost amongst these was
the AfricaCom GSM Conference, which is the most
prestigious networking GSM telecommunication
conference on the continent.
It is attended by high-profile mobile operator and
telecommunications executives presenting their
strategies and market trends analysis. This event is
so important due to the fact that you have more
than 4000 senior decision makers under one roof, all
providing business opportunities for the companies
Altech NamITech participated in the conferences
held in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa,
making their successful mark on the African
Altech Secures Major Deal
in East Africa
Altech recently announced that it has acquired a
controlling interest in 3 subsidiaries of Kenya’s Sameer
ICT group for US$85.2 million (approximately R650
million). The transaction, which became effective 1 March
2008, sees Altech acquire a 51% controlling interest
in Kenya Data Networks Limited (KDN), Swift Global
Limited (Swift) and Infocom Limited (Infocom).
KDN is the leading full service digital communications
data operator in Kenya. Its network infrastructure
includes a 1,000km fibre line from Mombasa to Nairobi,
an additional 450km of fibre in Nairobi, a fibre link to the
Uganda border, over 450 WiFi hotspots and a satellite
based international gateway. KDN offers access to its
network at wholesale rates to internet service providers
and large corporate customers. It has an international
gateway licence for Kenya and advanced plans to expand
to other African countries, including the DRC, Rwanda,
Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia and Malawi. It also
intends to participate in a future African east coast
undersea cable system.
Infocom offers broadband, internet and IT services in
Uganda. Having commenced business in 1995 and later
becoming a division of Celtel, it has comprehensive
agreements with Celtel with respect to the co-location of
equipment in the cellphone operator’s facilities and other
services provided by Celtel. Infocom is the only wireless
broadband provider in Uganda. It is licensed to offer full
communications services, including international traffic,
as well as voice, data and video over any medium and
technology. The company operates a WiMax network
and a satellite based international gateway.
“These acquisitions support our strategy of moving
up the telecoms value chain, expanding our geographic
presence in Africa and operating at technology’s cutting
edge,” commented Altech’s CEO Craig Venter. “We are
now the leading broadband network operator in East
and Central Africa.”
Swift is a leading internet service provider in Kenya and
Tanzania. Utilising KDN’s infrastructure and network
capacity, it provides corporate virtual private networks
and wireless solutions, as well as VoIP (voice over
internet protocol) services. Its products are aimed mainly
at business users as contract customers. Swift consumes
a large portion of the installed capacity of KDN, resulting
in a close relationship between these two companies.
N.N. Merali, founder and Executive Chairman of the Sameer Group, shakes
hands with Altech’s CEO, Craig Venter, on completion of the deal
N. N. Merali looks on as Craig Venter signs the final documents.
Mohammed Jeneby (MD of Swift), Akif Butt (FD of Sameer Investments Ltd.), Sam
Nkusi (Altech Stream’s Rwanda partner), N. N. Merali ( Founder and Chairman
of Sameer Investments Ltd.), Kai Wulff (MD of Kenya Data Networks) & Sameer
Merali (Director of Sameer Investments Ltd.)
is Voted best
Toward the end of 2007 the national fleet management
publication, Focus, officially declared Altech Netstar
to be the country’s best vehicle recovery service
provider. This was done at a glittering prize giving
fuction at the Sound Stage in Midrand on 31 October
last year. Ed Curthoys, Altech Netstar’s Commercial
Customer Manager, was on hand to accept the
The Focus awards, prior to 2007, didn’t include this
category in their roster of prizes. So it’s fitting that
Altech Netstar, having been the first commercial
entrant into the South African market, was the first
to win this award. The process that determined this
outcome was intense to say the least, with Focus
polling over 6000 subscribers and posing them
almost 3500 questions relating to the industry.
Furthermore, it’s entirely a service-based award with
the questions relating to the service you receive after
the product was purchased, the company’s recovery
capabilities and how technical issues are resolved for
Various criteria gave Altech Netstar the edge over
their competition.The fact that all of Altech Netstar’s
call centres have been restructured was a big factor.
The caller now receives a much faster response time
than ever before, with the statistics speaking for
themselves. 95% of calls are now answered within
20 seconds, with the abandoned call rate at a mere
2%. This is a dramatic improvement from the figures
a year ago where only 30% of calls were answered
in 20 seconds and 26% of calls abandoned. This puts
Altech Netstar beyond anyone in South Africa and
includes the company amongst the best in the world
with regard to response times. The average speed
of answer is now at a rapid 5 seconds (down from
a minute and a half a year ago), and puts the firm
beyond even the emergency services like Netcare
Altech Netstar is operational 24 hours a day, 365 days
a year, and at any given time there are 2 choppers and
between 10-15 ground crews on standby.This allows
Altech Netstar’s actual vehicle recovery to hover
between 85-87%, with the recovery rate increasing
to almost 100% if they are alerted within 40 minutes
of the vehicle being stolen. This has given Altech
Netstar the largest national market share in this
industry, which is now at 41%, and equals 440 000
subscribers with 114 fitment centres nationwide.
It’s not surprising after all these impressive numbers
that their customer recommendation rate is now the
highest in the world, with the exception of HarleyDavidson. This is nothing short of exceptional
for a local firm and is concrete evidence of their
superiority in every facet of their highly competitive
business. Because after all, the customer is always
Charleen Clarke, editor of FOCUS onTransport and Logistics magazine
presents the award to Ed Curthoys, Commercial Customer Manager,
who represented Altech Netstar at the presentation dinner
On Friday, 14 March, Altech hosted a glittering
function to commemorate another successful
financial year. The location was Summerplace in
Hyde Park, with over 200 guests attending.
Although the theme and décor reflected the cold
Nordic theme of the Northern Lights, the atmosphere
was warm and inviting. There were beautiful ice
sculptures on display, and icy blue colours throughout
the venue. Guests were brought refreshments and
delectable food from a team of costumed waiters,
as well as being able to help themselves from the
fully stocked bar. There was also an Oyster Bar and
Sushi Station alongside the pool where a variety of
seafood delights were to be found.
Altech prides itself on securing quality entertainment
for its functions and this one was no exception. Naomi
Tag, an electric violinist, was in the foyer to fill it with
modern orchestral music upon the guests’ arrival.
Later on the evening, Louise Carver, one of South
Africa’s premier new vocal talents took to the stage
to perform her repertoire of stunning ballads. She
has had numerous hits played on South African radio
stations and her stage presence was phenomenal
from beginning to end as she simultaneously played
the piano whilst performing her vocals.
The MC for the evening was Hlubi Mboya of Isidingo
fame, with the laughs provided by comedian Joey
Rasdien, who is also a TV personality on the M-Net
show called ‘Laugh Out Loud’.
During the event there was a lucky draw on stage that
included everyone’s name in attendance, and offered
some fantastic prizes to those that fortune favoured.
The first prize was incredible, 2 return tickets to Kenya
with a 3 night stay at the magnificent Serena Resort
Hotel on Kenya’s coastline in Mombasa. This prize
was kindly sponsored by Kenya Airways and Serena
Hotels and made possible by Travkor. Other prizes
included a 4 night stay at Strathwold Farm, which is
a private fly-fishing resort in Mpumalanga, Guardian
tracking devices from Altech Netstar, cellular phones
from Altech Autopage and 2 passenger drives around
the infamous Kyalami racetrack at lightening speed in
One of the expertly crafted ice sculptures of Altech’s logo on display
Louise Carver performing on stage
Naomi Tag plays the violin upon
the guests’ arrival
Karin Sieberhagen from Serena Hotels, Glenn Lweington from Kenya
Airways, Reana Wolmarans from Altech Head Office (who won the
fantastic first prize), & Nicolas Leonsins from Travkor
Kate Sidley, Steve Sidley (Altech’s Chief Technology Officer), Justine
Baker, Andy Baker (Altech’s Chief Operating Officer), Chrissie Tromp
and Craig Venter (Altech’s Chief Executive Officer)
Prizes kindly sponsered by:
The Northern Lights Ball was a tremendous success,
with guests relishing the experience of being Nordic
royalty for a night. It was a brilliant sequel to Altech’s
previous ‘Royal Flush’ year-end event, and who knows
what grandeur awaits those attending next year.
In line with our commitment to invest in our
communities, Altech Autopage Cellular sponsored
the Soweto Easter Games again this year. Our
partnership with this initiative started three years ago
and seems to be growing each year, with participating
teams attending from as far away as Limpopo and
The games started on Friday, 21 March 2008, with the
finals played on Monday, 24 March 2008. With the
Games receiving so much enthusiastic support from
local fans, Altech Autopage Cellular couldn’t afford
to miss this great opportunity to show our support
for soccer development at grass roots level. We
donated 20 soccer kits to previously disadvantaged
Black Poison FC playing Zondi FC in the semi finals of the Soweto Easter Games
Altech Autopage cellular
PSL clubs representatives were there (as always)
scouting for new talent for their professional clubs.
We are very grateful for these events that give us,
at Altech, the opportunity to reach our community
and invest in our country’s talent. And for the youth
it’s a dream come true to participate in a properly
organised tournament that may help them start a
professional career playing soccer.
the Soweto Easter Games
Dobsonville FC wearing their new uniforms that were proudly sponsored by Altech Autopage Cellular
ALTECH ALCOM MATOMO
TRANSFERS TETRA NETWORK
TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICES
Altech’s empowered subsidiary, Altech Alcom
Matomo, recently handed over Gauteng’s new 10111
emergency call centre with its state-of-the-art
digital radio technology to the South African Police
Services (SAPS). The R600 million contract was
commissioned in 2004 and officially completed on
29 November 2007. It was handed over to the SAPS
at a prestigious launch in Midrand that was attended
by leading political figures from across the nation,
and officially opened by the president, Thabo Mbeki.
The TETRA (TErrestrial TRunked Radio Network)
deployment is across the entire Gauteng province,
providing officers with seamless communication
throughout the region. The 10111 call centre has 64
call operators answering emergency calls throughout
the province that show up on a screen giving the exact
location of the call. These registered calls are then
fed through to 48 additional operators who dispatch
the calls to the nearest available police officer. The
location of the police officers is also monitored at
the call centre through their radio handsets, whether
portable or vehicle mounted, which transmit GPS
based information to the dispatch operator’s screen.
Thus, the system allows personnel at the call centre
to know exactly where the emergency is and where
the nearest police officers are.
support of police operations and will be a major
contributor in fighting crime in our country. We
feel privileged to have played an instrumental role
in South Africa’s safety and security and are pleased
to have been involved in the first ever South African
TETRA network supplied for the South African
Police Services in Gauteng.”
Commissioner Pillay gives the President a tour of the new facility
Furthermore, TETRA allows the radio handset to
function both as a cellphone complete with SMS
capabilities, a two-way radio, a GPS locator and an
emergency device that sends out a distress signal
at the press of a single button. Digital encryption of
the entire system allows only for authorised access
to the network, with it being impossible for any
outside party (such as towtrucks) to listen in on
Commissioner Pillay congratulates Thabo Mbeki on officially opening
the new 10111 call centre
President Thabo Mbeki highlighted the advantage of
this during his speech at the opening ceremony by
saying “A facility of this nature is key to improved
efficacy of the SAPS and bringing criminals to justice.
“I am confident that with this new system we will
be able to respond faster to the scene of a crime.”
Altech’s CEO, Craig Venter, echoed this sentiment by
adding “The new SAPS system is a giant step in
South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki, shakes hands with Altech’s
CEO, Craig Venter, at the new TETRA facility in Midrand. Eugene
Delaney, Motorola’s Executive Vice-President, is on his right
Altech Alcom Matomo used Motorola’s leading
radio communication technology to complete this
enormous project.This partnership has now allowed
Gauteng’s emergency and police communication
facilities to rival the best in the world.
Due to this being a new feature of our quarterly
magazine, an introduction to the nature and scope of
these awards is needed…
Altech would like to congratulate Bryan Savides
from Altech Isis for winning the Altech Siyabonga
Award for May 2008.
The word ‘siyabonga’ is from the Zulu language
and translates into ‘we thank you’ i.e. many people
thanking one person.
Bryan was diagnosed as having a tumour in his
colon in February 2008. In March he underwent the
operation to remove the tumour. Three days after
his operation and while still recovering in hospital,
Bryan was asking for a laptop so that he could work.
He then spent a brief period at home to recover,
where he continued to work with the aid of his
laptop, before returning to the office. He has now
started chemotherapy and currently attends work
with his chemotherapy drip, bravely performing his
duties whilst receiving treatment. He then goes back
to the hospital at night for the drip to be removed.
The Altech ‘Siyabonga Awards’ are a recognition of
the highest order presented to an individual within
the Altech Group. This award is given to an employee
for their dedication to their respective work
responsibilities by going beyond the call of duty, and
setting a professional example of the highest standard,
that others can aspire to.
Each month the name of an employee from each
subsidiary company, along with a brief motivation,
will be sent to Altech Head Office by the respective
Managing Directors. From this list, one person will be
chosen that the CEO and HR department feel is most
deserving of this accolade. The winner will receive a
cheque of R1000 and a certificate that will be handed
over by Altech’s CEO, Craig Venter. Because the
interval between issues is three months, this page
will feature three individual winners in subsequent
magazines. However, because this is the inaugural
award, only one winner will feature for the month of
May in this issue.
In all the time he has suffered with this terrible
illness, Bryan has only taken three weeks off work.
Bryan’s department has recently been experiencing
a major staff shortage, and without his dedication
and commitment, his department wouldn’t have
been able to deliver the services required by Altech
We wish Bryan a speedy recovery, and thank him
for his loyal service and dedication to the Altech
Q1. What dot-com success story did Jerry Yang and
David Filo launch in 1995?
Altech Netstar has just launched a revolutionary new
personal tracking device called Guardian. Guardian is
a hand-held GPS location device that gives off a silent
distress signal at the push of a button. Fully trained and
armed personnel are then immediately dispatched to
the device’s location to assist the Guardian’s carrier.
Q2. Google is now the world’s largest internet
search engine. What does this word mean?
Q3. What internet company earned co-founder Jim
Clark $663 million in its first public trading day?
Q4. Who founded Amazon and became the firstdot-com executive to be named Time’s Person of
Q5. Which website did the founder of the Echo
Bay Technology Group register, when he found that
echobay.com was already taken?
Q6. What does HTML stand for?
Q7. Which internet search engine now has a
market capitalization of almost $150 billion, but was
developed by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in
their Stanford University dorm room?
Altech Talk and Altech Netstar are giving away a
Guardian with 3 months free airtime, at a retail value
of R1,416, to the person who can answer this simple
‘yes’ or ‘no’ question correctly:
“Can you track your loved ones via the
internet if they have a Guardian?”
Email your answer to [email protected]
All correct answers will be placed in a hat and one
drawn at random. Please remember to include your
contact details in the email.
Prize kindly sponsored by:
Q8. What medium remained advertising-free until
1992, when the U.S. Congress amended the National
Science Foundation Act?
Q9. What online retailer got a flood of sales once it
changed its name from Cadabra.com?
Q10. Which American government department was
the internet originally created for in 1969?
Q1. Yahoo.com Q2. A mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100
zeros Q3. Netscape Q4. Jeff Bezos Q5. eBay.com Q6. Hyper Text
Markup Language Q7. Google Q8. The internet Q9. Amazon.com
Q10. The Department of Defence
out & about
Altech Autopage Cellular’s
From the 4th to 15th of September 2007 a
determined and disciplined Hendrietta Schoeman,
who is the IT Developer at Altech Autopage Cellular
(AAC), represented South Africa in Riccione, east of
Italy. She competed in the 5000m, 10km and 20km
speed walking events at the World Masters Athletics
Championship where almost 9000 athletes from 83
different countries took part.
This sport requires great technique and the judges
are extremely strict. Hendrietta explained that
technical fouls and not following the rules of the
game, can easily lead to athletes receiving three
penalties, which means that you are out of the race.
This however did not slow Hendrietta down as she
achieved a phenomenal 2nd place for the 5000m, 3rd
place in the 20km and 4th place in the 10km!
Hendrietta is thrilled to be back on South African
soil and is extremely grateful for the support she
received from AAC in attending this event. We will
follow her every step on the way to the World
Masters Championships in Lahti, Finland in 2009,
where she’ll again compete with the world’s finest
athletes. We wish her all the best for the many
challenges and the hard work that lies ahead.
Hendrietta proudly displays the silver medal she won in the 5000m speed
walking event at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Italy
Hendrietta Schoeman on the podium with her bronze medal after
coming 3rd in the 20km speed walking event at the World Masters
The Altech Academy had its official launch in November of last year, with its inaugral students beginning their studies
throughout the course of 2008. A total of 101 students will be involved in a range of courses, including Certificates, Diplomas,
Masters and Doctorates. The curriculums are administered through the Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management, and
will provide each successful student with a fully accredited degree.
The courses and students enrolled for 2008 are
• Certificate: Project Management
From Altech UEC – Mark Strachan, Mark Manson, Jan Theron,
Johan van Rensberg, Tim Venter, Sanjay Sooklal, Mbusi Sibisi and
From Altech Autopage – Precious Thamage, Joshua Pule,
Wandi Masilela, Alex Gush, Julian de Combes, Clinton Ford and
From Altech Netstar – Soheil Shams
• Certificate: Management of Technology and
From Altech Autopage – Philip Grobler, Madeleine Viljoen and
From Altech Netstar – Rudy du Plooy and CJ van Niekerk.
From Altech Card Solutions – Nafeesah Latiff
From Altech Isis – Raynold Mokwena
From Altech Namitech – Stephanie Grimes
• Certificate: Systems Engineering
At the Altech Academy’s opening are Dr John Carstens (Altech’s Chief
Financial Officer),Wessie van der Westhuizen (Altech’s Chief Strategic
Officer), Dr Phil Mjwara (Director General of the Department
of Science and Technology), Craig Venter (Altech’s CEO), Prof. Roy
Marcus (Chairman of the Da Vinci Institute) and Johan Klein (Altech’s
Executive for HR and the Altech Academy’s Director of Studies)
From Altech UEC – Ashley Driver, Kamal Maken, Wayne Smith,
Kavish Parbhoo, Rajesh Madhanlala and Anton du Toit.
From Altech Autopage – Leon Nortje and Etienne Botma.
From Altech Isis – Danie van Graan, Stephan Burwitz and
Braam van Heerden.
• Diploma: Management of Technology and
From Altech Autopage – Rhoda Damane, Michael Kelly,
Dewald Steyn, Darron van Roy, Stanley Ernest, Juanita Kleynhans,
Mfundo Dyasi, Shawn Pretorius, Navesh Naidoo, Marc Thompson
and Gustav Steynberg.
From Altech Netstar – Eddie Marcellino and Danny de
• Masters Degree: Management of Technology
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and
Technology, delivers the keynote address at the Altech Academy’s
From Altech Autopage – Ferdie Coertze, Pieter Welgemoed,
Shayne Mitchell, Bradley Pillay, Anita Correia de Araujo, Hajra
Osman, Linda Bruwer, Bancroft Metcalfe, Earl Chalklen, Jacinto
Frazao and Peter Wattrus.
From Altech Netstar – Peter Nthiti, Lee McFayden, Shaun
Brashaw, Russel van der Walt and Hugues Mziga.
From Altech Namitech – Francois Smidt
From Altech Head Office – Tebalo Langa
• Doctorate: Management of Technology and
Craig Venter (Altech’s CEO), Dr Bill Venter (Chairman of Altron) and
Dr Phil Mjwara who officially opened the Altech Academy last year
From Altech Head Office – Wessie van der Westhuizen and
From Altech Netstar – Barry Groenewald
From Altech Autopage – Paul Smith
ALTECH SHINES AT
TECHNOLOGY TOP 100 AWARDS
Altech dominated the Technology Top 100 Awards
that were held on Thursday, 21st February 2008,
at the University of Johannesburg. The event was
hosted by the Da Vinci Institute for the Management
of Technology and Innovation under the auspices of
the Department of Science and Technology, with
Altech winning three Excellence awards.
Roy Marcus (the TT100 Chairman), Bernie Bowers (Technology Development
Manager of Altech Netstar), and Mosibudi Mangena (SA’s Science and Technology
The Technology Top 100 Awards, which are
recognised as the premier business excellence
awards in South Africa and were awarded by the
Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi
Mangena, who regards the event as a celebration
of excellence in truly South African innovation.
More than 200 entrants participated in this year’s
stringent submission and adjudication process, that
saw Altech Netstar walking away with the highest
accolade of the evening, namely the “2007 Minister’s
Award for Overall Excellence”.
In addition to Altech Netstar’s premier honour, two
other categories were won by the group, with Altech
Limited winning the “Award for Excellence in the
Management of Technology, Innovation and People”.
Altech Netstar was again honoured by receiving
the “Award for Excellence in the Management of
Innovation”, making them the only dual winner of
the night. Altech Namitech, Altech UEC and Altech
Netstar were also named as finalists in other award
Altech CEO, Craig Venter, who is no stranger to
the TT100 accolades, having previously received
the “2006 Minister’s Award for Overall Excellence”
on behalf of the listed company. Craig commented,
“We are extremely proud of Altech Netstar’s
incredible achievement as well as the rest of the
Altech group companies who were finalists at
South Africa’s premier platform for the country’s
most talented and significant contributors to the
country’s economy through technology.”
Ed Curthoys, who is Altech Netstar’s Commercial Customer Manager, with Joel
Stransky, Altech Netstar’s Managing Director)
Steve Sidley, Altech’s Chief Technology Officer,
added “the wide recognition given by the TT100
adjudication panel across a number of our group
companies is testament to not only Altech’s
technological prowess, but extends further into our
management of systems, people and processes. We
are extremely proud of the people who make this
At a lunch held in October 2007, seven Altech Netstar employees received awards for 12 years of loyal service.
Pictured from left to right are:
Garth Turner (Technology), Graham Passmoor (Group Executive: Wireless), Rebecca Motilene (Credit Control), Irma Hugo (HR), Amelia
Mamkeli (Credit Control), Retha Stoger (Projects), Harry Louw (International & Business Development Director), Kenneth Masemola (Stores),
Leoni Le Roux (Operations).
ALTECH AUTOPAGE Cellular
SA’S MOST VULNERABLE
Altech Autopage Cellular (AAC), South Africa’s
largest independent provider of cellular telephony,
is playing its role in helping to reduce the disparity
between this country’s have and have not’s. AAC
has joined forces with the Community Outreach
Programme Trust aimed at providing disadvantaged
communities with opportunities for development and
self-improvement. The overriding aim is to establish
and manage projects which promise maximum
The company’s most recent project is the
construction of the Lamontville Pre-Primary School
that forms part of the Lamontville Community
Support Centre in KwaZulu-Natal. The province of
KwaZulu-Natal is one of the regions worst affected
by the scourge of HIV-AIDS and, more often than
not, it’s the youngest children who are neglected,
both emotionally and physically. Aimed at providing
formative education and life skills training for 30
young children from the Lamontville community who
would otherwise only receive formal education from
age seven, construction of the pre-primary school is
While the school’s primary role will be to provide
care and formative education for children aged
three to five, it will also act as the crux of a multifunctional centre which will provide key support
services to parents, grandparents and other
caregivers responsible for the day-to-day care of the
children. It will house a tourism centre offering a
South African township experience and provide the
Stephen Blewett (Managing Director of AAC) with Isabel Mokgadi
(the Local Councillor for the Lamontville District), at the opening of
the new pre-school along with 3 children enjoying the festivities
base for a specialised football program for 12-15
year olds aimed at teaching youth life skills and HIV
Altech Autopage Cellular, community
development will always be part of our business
focus,” explains AAC’s Managing Director, Stephen
Blewett. “Our approach to corporate social
investment is not about merely funding projects for
the sake of it, but more about creating a concrete,
sustainable and measureable impact. Illiteracy
levels in this country are shocking, and if we don’t
change our attitude towards our educational
needs and partner with government to bring about
fundamental changes, then our future and that of
our children is bleak. Education initiatives like this
one at Lamontville emphasise our commitment
towards community development and we would
like to challenge other Corporates to do the
To date Altech Autopage Cellular has invested
more than R3 million in community outreach
programmes. In an effort to bridge the digital
divide, AAC donated and installed more than 50
computers at various schools and communitybased organisations in Alexander and Richards Bay.
In 2005, the company built a preschool in Umtata
in the Eastern Cape, which caters for children aged
one to six from the Candu area. Looking to the
future, AAC remains committed to development
projects and will continue researching and
supporting initiatives such as this.
Jacinto Frazao (Sales Director of AAC), Bradley Pillay (AAC General
Manager for KwaZulu/Natal), Stephen Blewett (Managing Director
of AAC) and Alberts Breedt (Vodacom Executive Head for KwaZulu
“ The Altech Group is firmly committed
to the HIV/AIDS initiatives of South Africa ”
The Altech Porsche awards dinner at the end
of last year was the inaugural awards dinner for
Altech and the Porsche Challenge Series. The décor,
entertainment and stage set the standard of a
memorable event and was of a calibre that Altech
can truly be proud of.
Joel Stransky and Izak Coetzee, with one of the Altech Porsches on
display at the function
Piet Nortje receives the Altech Porsche 924 Series trophy from Joel
Stransky for coming 1st overall
The venue was the impressive Sandton Sun Hotel,
filled with live music and Porsche paraphernalia. The
evening was attended not only by the 2007 Altech
Porsche Challenge competitors but also by some
very well respected South African sporting greats,
with Joel Starnsky delivering the keynote address.
The MC was Gugu Zulu, a well known TV presenter
for Car Torque and other motoring shows, who
ran the evening with racing precision. There was
also live music and a comedian to keep the guests
entertained all night.
The event was a brilliant finale to an exciting year of
racing, and all those in attendance had a great night
to reflect on the highlights of some spectacular races.
The success of the 2007 season has prompted Altech
to renew its sponsorship of the series which will
provide motoring enthusiasts with another full year
of Porsche speeding thrills. The 2008 Altech Porsche
Challenge Series promises to be even more exciting
and will build on the success achieved throughout
the previous year.
The Marula Room venue at the Sandton Sun Hotel, ready for Altech’s guests to arrive
The awards given out on the evening were:
Altech Porsche 924 Series
• Altech Porsche 924 Series 1st Overall – Piet Nortje
• Altech Porsche 924 Series 2nd Overall – Andrew Culbert
• Altech Porsche 924 Series 3rd Overall – Marius Wait
Altech Porsche Unlimited – Overall Championship
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Overall – Dave Fourie
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 2nd Overall – Kevin Greig
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 3rd Overall – Izak Coetzee
Altech Porsche Unlimited – Class Winners
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class A – Thomas Reib
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class B – Andrea Taurino
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class C – Izak Coetzee
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class D – Rolf Schlub
• Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class E – Dave Fourie
•Altech Porsche Unlimited 1st Class F – Kevin Greig
With a proven track record of protecting vehicles
from crime, a natural extension of Altech Netstar’s
service would be to provide personal protection to
subscribers in danger. This led to the development
of Guardian™, which consists of a hand-held locator,
backed up by a nationwide tracking and recovery
infrastructure. Guardian™ is a personal protection
service that at the press of a panic button can activate
an immediate response to wherever the user may be
in South Africa.
The Guardian™ locator operates on GSM, and
activation of the panic button transmits the user’s
details and the GPS position of the locator through
to the Altech Netstar emergency control centre. At
this point the operator will make telephonic contact
with the Guardian™ locator, whilst simultaneously
placing a ground and air recovery team on standby
The new Guardian device easily fits into the palm of your hand
GM of Operations at Altech Netstar, David
Shipton, says “To provide an even faster recovery,
we have added rapid response motorcycle teams
to complement our vehicle-based recovery teams.
These motorcycles will prove invaluable in heavy
traffic, and are able to negotiate off-road terrain
with ease. They are specially equipped with state of
the art GPS location and communication equipment
sponsored by Garmin”.
Guardian™ can also be located by the user through
the internet. If for example one of the family
members is late, their position can be located and
if there is any concern about his or her safety,
the family can contact Altech Netstar who will
respond immediately. Altech Netstar was the first
to introduce a stolen vehicle recovery service into
South Africa, and is proud to be the first to introduce
a personal safety and response service.
The Altech Netstar recovery units are ready to respond to your
the former Managing Director of Altech Netstar, who led the company to record profits
before his recent promotion to Chief Operating Officer for the entire Altech Group.
Am I correct in assuming that you were born
Yes that’s right, I was born in the south of England in a
city called Portsmouth.
What was it like growing up there?
It was a good experience; it’s a Naval city situated on the
coast and I had a decent upbringing there. I was born in
1965 and stayed there for 6 years until 1971 when my
father moved us over to South Africa for a short while.
So I did a brief stint of schooling in Fish Hoek in the
Cape from 1971 to 1976. My father was in the Navy you
see, and he was on a Naval exchange program, so we
came over to South Africa for those 5 years and then we
returned to Portsmouth.
And once you had finished your schooling, did you
launch directly into your professional career?
I finished my schooling in 1981, and started work
immediately at the age of 16. I had several jobs during
those initial post-school years, but the first real job that
I could say started my career off was in the beginning
of 1984 when I joined a very large conglomerate and
transport logistics operation called Exel Logistics. I
started work there as a management trainee and luckily
I was able to achieve a few rather quick promotions in a
short period of time. Then in 1987 I took over an ailing
branch in Luton, which is just north of London, at the
ripe old age of 22! So I definitely hit the ground running
there and that particular position was my first real foray
into general management.
So when did you return to this country?
I moved back to South Africa in 1989. I joined a listed
transport group over here called Laser Transport,
which was also a logistics business. I took on the role of
looking after 3 of their companies which were Frasers,
Pickfords and another company called Wellstead, on a
regional management basis. I was general manager for
these firms in the old Transvaal, as well as in a few other
smaller African countries. This lasted until 1993 when I
was approached by DHL and was asked to join them in
the same capacity as a regional general manager. I then
had a couple of promotions and was appointed to DHL’s
board of directors in 1996, and eventually became the
CEO of DHL’s Southern African businesses in early 2000.
I held this position for 4 years; a period which I enjoyed
Tell me a bit more about your time spent working at
DHL in such an important position?
On the whole things went really well for me at DHL, and
as I said, I enjoyed my time there enormously. It was an
interesting company to work for as well because it is in
actual fact the most global company in the world, existing
in more countries than Coca-Cola. In total, there were
208 different nations that the company was conducting
business in. I then left South Africa again in 2004 because
I had won an award that was given out by the global
CEO of DHL to do a sponsored M.B.A. in the UK. So
I did a 1 year full-time M.B.A. at Cranfield University
which I finished in early 2005. I was then assigned to
Istanbul as the CEO for DHL in Turkey, which was a big
business and one which I ran for a year. That was also an
incredible experience for me since Istanbul is split by the
Bosphorous River, which places half of it in Europe and
the other half in Asia. You can imagine how fascinating
and extreme the mix of cultures are in a place like that,
and also how exciting it was to be exposed to daily life
Your employment at DHL was by far the longest part
of your career thus far. What was it that prompted
you to leave the company?
I worked for DHL for over 12 years, which in my opinion is
a fairly long time. I then decided to leave after this period
because I was no longer enjoying the culture in particular,
and so I decided that I wanted to move on. Soon after
leaving the company I returned to South Africa on a
family holiday and was fortuitously introduced to Craig
Venter. Coincidentally, the role as Managing Director of
Altech Netstar had just become available and through
this encounter with Craig I was lucky enough to land the
job. I joined the Altech Group in May, 2006.
Well that’s amazing when one considers that late last
year the company you were presiding over, Altech
Netstar, won the award for ‘Best Supplier Of Vehicle
Tracking Technology’ at the Focus On Excellence
Awards. This was just over a year into your job as
MD there. What impact did this have on you?
I was delighted with the award, primarily because it had a
very wide nomination base due to them polling over 6000
customers. And secondly because we were measured
against all of our nearest competitors like Tracker, Matrix
and Digicore, both on the stolen vehicle recovery side
of the business and also on the fleet management side.
We resoundingly won and were held up as the market
leaders, as voted for by the actual customers and industry
players, for providing the best services in our particular
Altech Netstar has also just recently received another
2 awards at the Technology Top 100 (TT100) event.To
receive just a single award at the TT100 is considered
to be momentous, as they are one of our country’s
premier accolades given out to business. How does
this make you feel about your former stewardship of
It makes me exceptionally proud to have been at the
helm of a company that has achieved so much. Altech
Netstar won the award for Excellence in the Management
of Technology for the TT100 Awards, as well as the
event’s top honour, which was the 2007 Minister’s Award
for Overall Excellence. This is indeed one of South
Africa’s highest business honours, and it was presented
by the Science and Technology Minister himself. When
government acknowledges a company in this way you
have no doubt about the competency of the organisation
and its competitive ability, not only locally, but across the
globe. It’s just another reminder of how Altech Netstar
stands head and shoulders above the competition and
the other leading technology firms.
Did Altech Netstar pioneer vehicle tracking in this
Yes, we were the first to bring it into the country. However,
it was actually developed by 2 or 3 guys over in Canada
who pioneered the technology to track the migration
patterns of fish in the rivers around Canada. And from
there it was modified to track the movement of train
trailers that were carrying cargo. A few entrepreneurs
brought this new technology to South Africa 12 or 13
years ago, and Craig and Dr Venter had the foresight to
see its potential from the very outset, and bought the
business as an absolute start-up. It has now gone from
a start-up to a large company that is producing some
extraordinary financial results.
Some personal questions now…
Do you have any hobbies or favourite pastimes?
I love playing golf. I’m a bad golfer but I love it! I read a
lot and enjoy spending time at home.
What was the last book you read?
It was a biography on Rockefeller called ‘Titan’ by Ron
Where do you most like going on holiday?
My idea of a holiday is to do as little as possible. Ideally
it would be somewhere on the coast, with a beach for
the kids and a golf course nearby for me, so that I can
take in a few rounds of golf.
You say you have children. How many?
I have 3 children, a son who is almost 18, and
2 daughters that are 7 and 6 years old. I have been
married to my wife, Justine, for 8 years now.
What quality do you most admire in another
What’s your new role as Chief Operating Officer of
the Altech Group like?
It’s tremendously exciting and very, very challenging. I’m
extremely fortunate to have such an incredibly talented
and experienced team of Executives to work with, and
also to have such regular and ready access to Craig. The
Group’s performance has been phenomenal over the past
10 years, and as a result of past efforts and very clever
structuring of the Group, we are perfectly positioned
to capitalise on some significant market opportunities.
I’m enjoying my new role enormously, and am thriving
on the culture, which is driven by energy and delivering
ALTECH TALKS TO...
who has a true rags to riches story. He used
to sell newspapers in Hillbrow, but is now
the CEO of Pamodzi Investment Holdings,
which has a multi-billion rand company
portfolio and control of the country’s
largest private equity fund. He will be
going to Monte Carlo in June to represent
South Africa at the Ernst & Young World
Where were you born?
I was born here in Johannesburg in 1952. The actual place
was Kliptown near the Freedom Charter. Soon after I
was born, the government rezoned Kliptown under the
Group Areas Act, as an area for coloured people only.
Due to this my family was forced to move somewhere
else since we were black. We then moved to Orlando
West in Soweto, when I was about 5 years old, and this is
where I grew up and went to school.
What was your first job?
My first formal job was as a young boy helping my aunt
with selling goods from a coffee cart. We used to sell
coffee in the morning for people going to work at the
bus and railway station in Kliptown, and then we would
sell peanuts, apples and other items throughout the rest
of the day. When I got older I was pushing trolleys at the
Checkers in Yeoville during the day, and then also selling
newspapers in Hillbrow at night. I would stand on the
street corner near the cinemas and sell the papers to the
people coming out of the movies. I did this while I was
doing my matric, but after I finished my schooling I began
work for the Johannesburg City Council as a clerk.
You were involved with retail from an early age
then. What difficulties did you face from the
apartheid government when you were trying to
nurture this entrepreneurial drive and build a
The biggest problem that I faced was that the playing
field wasn’t fair. Firstly, I could only trade in an area that
was a black area, since it was illegal for me to conduct
business in any other area. Secondly, there were other
laws that encouraged black businesses to be run by a
sole proprietor, turning them into ‘one man shows’
where it was impossible to form partnerships. These 2
things made it very difficult for a black person to become
successful in his or her respective business. Especially
since in those days all the money was to be found in the
Central Business District, and this is where a person of
colour was prohibited from trading. If you tried to sell
any goods in the CBD you would be arrested by the
How did you manage to overcome these obstacles
and create a successful business?
Well I knew from the beginning that I was confined to the
black areas, so I started a building construction operation
with 2 of my friends. We could only do developments in
the black townships and were not even allowed to have
offices outside of these townships. The biggest problem
was to get clients to come to us during the day because
they were all in the CBD doing their work. So meetings
were usually conducted on weekends or after hours with
our clients, which made things very difficult for us and
them. But having said this, we were determined to break
the commercial laws and give ourselves a fair chance of
succeeding in our business. So we rented a small office
in the Carlton Centre, which we weren’t allowed to
do. However, there was a white guy that we bought a
lot of furniture from to put into the houses we were
building, and we got him to do us a favour and put his
name on the lease with Anglo American Properties for
the first year. Our business then improved because our
clients were in the vicinity, as were our building suppliers
who were mainly white and didn’t want to go near the
townships. But we still faced other problems from the
banks in those days because black people didn’t own the
actual properties that their houses were built on, the
land belonged to the municipality, and so the banks were
reluctant to lend people money to improve their homes.
When the government introduced the 99 year lease
this all changed, because for the first time black people
were able to own the land they lived on for a period of
99 years. This helped many families improve their living
standards, since they could then legally approach the
banks for a loan.
You were part of the team that brought Nike
back into South Africa in the early 90’s. You then
served as Executive Director at Nike from 1993
to 1997. What was it like being involved with
one of the world’s best-known brands and doing
business with Phil Knight?
We applied for the licence to bring Nike, and also
McDonald’s, back into South Africa in 1991. To do this
we had to grow Nike from zero to number one in the
country and we began by sponsoring the Springboks,
the Gauteng Lions and the Natal cricket team. It was
a personal milestone for me to do business with a man
like Phil Knight. He had a big dream and was up against
many hurdles to realise this dream. He started Nike by
selling shoes from the back of a car at sporting events in
America. He’s a visionary and saw this vision through and
created one of the world’s leading companies.
Which other groundbreaking deals have you
In the early 90’s my business partner and friend, Solly
Sithole, and I approached Mining Investment Corporation
(MIC) about getting involved with diamond mining in
South Africa. This lead to us gaining a percentage of one
of their diamond interests and we became the first black
people in the world to have a stake in a diamond mine.
We’ve also done the 2 biggest leveraged buyouts in South
Africa, and bought the first Europe Bond in the country
through the Foodcorp structure. We beat 3 of the
national banks in clinching the Wesbank Auto deal, which
was a first for a black controlled company. Furthermore,
Pamodzi recently launched the biggest private equity
fund in South African history, with investment capital
totalling US$1,3 billion.
How did Pamodzi take shape and become the success
it is today?
In 1996 we collected a team of 8 people, who are still all
here today, and decided that we must all invest money
in the business, all be at risk and all be working full
time for Pamodzi. From the outset it was also a truly
South African company, owned and run by South African
people, and included 3 whites and 5 blacks on the team.
This was our founding vision because we believed that
the future of business in South Africa was not about BEE,
but about all South Africans. Then in 1997 we were given
the opportunity to buy Foodcorp, which we did. This
became the biggest leveraged buyout in the country, with
the deal totalling R1,8 billion. This acquisition allowed us
to expand into other businesses and really paved the way
for Pamodzi to become what it is today.
Last year you won the South African chapter of
the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Awards.
This is the nation’s most prestigious accolade for
entrepreneurship. How does it feel to be listed
alongside previous winners like Brian Joffe, Bill Lynch,
Koos Bekker, Mark Lamberti and Patrice Motsepe?
It’s an honour for my name to be included with the
ones you’ve just mentioned. They say the harder you
work, the luckier you become, and this rings true for
this competition. Although I also won the Financial Mail’s
Business Mover and Shaker Award last year, this one is
different because it allows me to represent our country
on the world stage. It also draws candidates from across
the board, black and white, from medium and large
companies. So in this competition you really compete
against the best of the best, and to be chosen from so
many worthy individuals was a highlight of my business
career. I’m humbled by this award but I feel I deserved
it by looking at where I came from. I love business and I
love what I do, and to be recognised by your peer group
and the world at large that you’re number one in this
category is truly a humbling experience.
You’ve made mention of the private equity fund
that Pamodzi has recently launched. It’s officially
the largest equity fund in South African history, with
US$1,3 billion in capital. How did you manage to
persuade the Americans who invested this money, to
show such confidence in your company and also in
We can be proud of this achievement because it’s the
biggest fund on the continent. It took a lot of time to
accomplish since there was a very long build up to
securing this investment. It stemmed largely from the
fact that the American investors who contributed to this
fund saw me as a person with integrity, and moreover, as
a person who has faith in our country. Although there
are problems here, there are also solutions and many
positives that outweigh these negatives. So we had to sell
the nation of South Africa to these people first, and then
my company second. In terms of race relations, we’re
the best in the world thanks to Nelson Mandela setting
the precedent that he did. Kobus du Plooy is my partner
and the discussions relating to the fund have always
been discussed together with Kobus. Because of this, the
investors saw two South Africans who believe in their
country, working together with none of the problems
that the history of South Africa would’ve lead them to
believe we had. My company’s track record was also very
important, and the fact that I’ve always done business
with a big heart. The figure was originally set at $1
billion, but I said to them when you come out to South
Africa we can talk about the real figure. So I brought
these Americans to our country to show them where
our facilities and offices are. We walked through these
buildings, meeting the people involved and showing them
how we conducted business. They were impressed with
our operations and also with the country, so after all
this we sat down with them and I said “Look guys, 13 is
a number that I love, let’s make it 1,3 billion!”. And that’s
how the fund’s total was finalised.
In June you head to Monaco to represent our country against 40 other finalists from around the world. Bill Lynch
brought the world title home in 2006, and if you succeed in repeating this feat, South Africa will be the only nation
to have won the award twice. Do you think you’ve got a good chance of achieving this?
I have to give it my best shot if I hope to win this thing globally. I feel it’s very important to bring it home to South Africa
because it allows the world to recognise business in this country and the investment opportunities that go with it. With
my track record I feel I’ve got a good chance to triumph abroad and put our nation on the map by winning the title back to
back with the late Bill Lynch. Each time we raise a flag for South Africa it benefits everyone that lives here. So I’m not only
doing it for myself, but for all South Africans.
Who would you most like to meet?
What does the name Pamodzi mean and why was
It means togetherness or “we are one”. It came about
after trip I did with Solly to Lusaka a long time ago.
We were there to a see a comrade of ours who had
been shot and was in hospital there.While we were in
Zambia we used to hear Kaunda singing on the radio
and television about “togetherness” or pamodzi, and
this is where the name first came to our minds. It’s a
continental word, with similar derivatives being found
and understood throughout Africa, from Nigeria to
Tanzania. I like to think of it as referring to the inclusive
nature of our company, where all races and genders
are involved in it. We have 8 500 people working in
Foodcorp alone, with about 25 000 employees in total
when taking all our interests into consideration.
A few personal questions…
How do you relax?
I spend time with my children doing some kind of
activity like swimming or tennis. I also watch sport,
particularly rugby, soccer and cricket. I often combine
these events to network with people and enjoy the
live game. I love interacting with others through
discussions or general chatting. Like over a meal
in a restaurant where I can enjoy another person’s
company is something I benefit from.
How many children do you have?
I have 3 children. My oldest daughter is married and
has just given birth to twins on the 11th of February.
So now I have 2 grandchildren too! My other daughter
is now in Grade 12 and I have a laat lammetjie who’s
4 years old.
Warren Buffett. I love his management style and how
he approaches business. I hope to meet him at his
next AGM meeting. But if I think about South African
personalities, I’d have to say Anton Rupert. After I
read his autobiography, I then understood how much
work he did for black entrepreneurs in this country.
He donated large sums, along with Oppenheimer, in
helping to promote black entrepreneurs in South
Africa when there were no other initiatives being
done. I only realised after I had read his book how
much I owed him in making things easier for me
and my businesses. Another mention must be made
of a South African who I have met and who’s given
me much joy from our meetings, and that is Altron’s
founder, Dr Bill Venter. He has such a positive culture
and has risen above many business obstacles to build
his company. I gain a tremendous amount of inspiration
from his success. If you look at the guest speakers he
has chosen at Altron’s Annual Awards you cannot but
feel humbled by these personalities, and how reflective
they are of all our people.
A final question… Pamodzi owns 25% of Altech
Information Technologies. What’s it like being
involved with the Altech Group?
It’s very exciting for me. The history of the Altron and
Altech Group reminds me of where I started and how
tough it was to build something out of nothing. Craig
Venter is continuing this trend by going against the
odds. He’s turned Altech Autopage Cellular into the
giant it is today and made world leading technologies
along the way. I respect how he always has a hands
on resolution to any problem within Altech, how he
isn’t intimidated by his competitors from overseas
and how he always listens to debate. This makes him
a great leader in my opinion. He has created great
wealth, but retains a big heart with a humble nature.
This is reflected in his businesses and it’s no surprise
that he has become one of our country’s leading
entrepreneurs. I think he deserves to win the Ernst and
Young Entrepreneur Award for his achievements! I’m
proud to be associated with Altech and its people.
leading technologies: touching lives