- Makgatho holds several professional qualifications, including a BSc Genetics from Wits University, as well as higher diplomas in project management, sales and marketing and business management from various institutions. She has also attended various board leadership and corporate governance courses at IOD and GIBS.
- She started working in ICT as a research analyst investigating the sector’s trends and dynamics, for both the government and private sectors.
- She has worked for a number of blue-chip companies such as MICT Seta as sector skills planning manager, as well as Torque IT, where she served as the sales and marketing director.
- Some of her other notable positions include working as a non-executive director at Storage Technologies Services and as a supply chain management consultant for the State Agency IT (Seta).
- She also served as board member for StorTech (Storage Technologies).
- As the managing director of Netcampus, headquartered in Centurion, Pretoria, she provides specialized (ICT) training solutions for several blue chip companies such as PWC, Telkom, Dark Fibre Africa, and BCX.
Embracing ICT (Information and Communication Technology) as one of the key drivers of social and economic development has in recent years been a topic of discussion among industry experts. While there’s no denying that South Africa has made tremendous strides in the ICT sector in recent years as documented in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index 2017, as to how much has the sector truly embraced the concept of transformation had somewhat remained a mystery, until recently with the purchase of Netcampus, among a few other known cases, by one feisty IT professional, Tebogo Makgatho.
Setting a good example of how the ICT sector has the potential to pioneer meaningful transformation and contribute to inclusive economic growth, Netcampus now prides itself as among a handful of wholly black woman-owned ICT training company…and oh well, if not the only one.
Serious about helping the country meet its transformation goals, Makgatho boasts more than 20 years of experience gained in deployment with several, highly placed ICT companies. The non-nonsense corporate executive talks to NOWinSA about Netcampus’ landmark acquisition and her plans not to only build a multi million-plus company in the next five years, but a sustainable business with broad-based black economic empowerment at the centre of its existence.
MEET THE BOSS
Q. You’ve come a long since your first entry into the ICT sector as a research analyst tasked with unpacking industry trends. Take us through your humble beginnings with Netcampus, all the way to its exemplary acquisition as SA’s wholly black woman owned ICT training company.
A. In 2015 I joined ICT company, BCX following a brief sabatical, after having sold Torque IT – of which I was a shareholder – to the Kelly Group. The main reason I joined the company was because they had a wholly-owned ICT subsidary training company, NetCampus, which had been a loss making entity for some time. It was smaller and wasn’t their core focus. As such, they needed somebody who understood and had a passion for training to help turn it around and make it a profitable business. So they asked me to come and join them. Initially it was meant to be for a short period and I was going to leave at the end of the 7 months I was contracted for. During my short tenure with them, the company slowy started picking up traction without any incurred loss. Things steadily started to go in the direction we had hoped for as we put into place new processes like having training rooms, sorting out accreditation, and aquiring new equipment and trainers. These were some of the things we introduced to help reduce cost, while enabling the company to get revenue at the same time. As the contract came to an end, which was coincidentally their financial year end, one of my seniors at time asked me to stay on. I obliged as I didn’t have much on my plate, except for a few other projects, which were all on a smaller scale. So I decided to stay for another 12 months and in that year (2016), we started to have more good things happen. It was around the time the Telkom/BCX aquisition deal was also being finalized. When that happened, obviosuly the company’s focus was bound to change. The management wanted to shed all non-core assets and focus on subsidaries that were making money and which were also in line with their core-mandate and strategy. With Netcampus being one of the smallest susidaries and was really not in line with what they wanted to focus on in the future, it was among the ones that they would have had to sell or shutdown and I had pre-empted that way before it could happen. So I approached my principals and suggested a management buyout because clearly they were not going to have use of this entity, and luckily they were ok with the suggestion. However it took a while for the deal to be concluded, following quite long discussions and negotiations. At some point, I didn’t even think that it was going to happen. But in September 2017, the deal was finally concluded and we became the first wholly black woman owned ICT training solutions provider. Consequently, we came out of the Telkom/BCX stable and we have been on our own ever since.
There’s this thing that you need funding or a big venue to start, which is a pure lie.
Q. Transforming the ICT sector has been one of the main focuses of the government in recent years. What does this acquisition – of Netcampus – mean to the industry in a nutshell?
A. Oh well, as you may be aware, the ICT training sector, like many other industries, is full of rats and mice and everyone believes that they are wholly black woman-owned companies when they are necessarily not. In this case, my benchmark is around accreditation, size and scalability, which clients do you have – are these bluechip companies and if so what is their size and what is it that you do in there. Furthermore, the size of revenue and the variety of clients you service are other important indicators and so are the different types of income stream. In our case, unlike most women-owned ICT training companies with one source of income, whether is funding, grants or whatever they may have in place, we have multiple sources. Obviously credibility also goes a long way. So when I say we are the biggest wholly black woman-owned ICT training entity, I mean exactly that. As I speak, we stand toe to toe with the best and the biggest in the sector. Of course, they may still be bigger than us, as they have systems that are more mature than ours, as well as more staff members. However, we are competing with them head-on and are infiltrating the market like never before. Better still, we have internationally recognized programmes, delivered by highly sought-out, accredited instructors and I’m confident that given a few years, we will be on a similar scale in terms of size if not larger.
Q. What about the role it plays in terms of driving transformation within the lilly-white ICT sector?
A. As a 100% black woman-owned company, add to that the fact we are level 1 BBBEE contributor, it means our clientele can use us for procurement and enterprise development, and in the process score points for themselves. It’s also a good thing that in the space that we occupy, we are slowly changing the colour of players. We are here and are making a big impact. The other thing is that skill development and training by its very nature is transformational. And because we ourselves are black, we understand the dynamics of a black child looking to transform their life – be it from unemployment to employment or from poverty to success. We understand what is it that needs to be done to add value to their lives. Of course we understand that we are a business and have to make money in the process, but ensuring sound transformational practices in the workplace is one of the mandates we take seriously as Netcampus. Therefore our goal is to make a great impact in the lives of the people that come through our hands. For those individuals that are employed by our company, which are primarily professionals wanting to get to the next level of their careers, we understand the everyday issues that they are confronted with – the red tapes that exist within ICT and that silent yearning for recognition. Because of that, we believe that we have a differentiator and that far more than a transactional relationship, we can add a better value to the lives of the individuals that we train.
Q. What are some of the unique services that Netcampus offers ahead of competition?
A. Yes, we may be smaller than our competitors, yet we are big enough to service blue chip companies. We have more specific agile frameworks in place that enable us to be more flexible. Because we have a flat structure, our decision-making processes are very quick and to the point. Also, unlike many old companies, we don’t have legacy issues and common problems of people who are used to doing things in a certain way that may be detrimental to the company’s envisaged success. As a 21st century ICT training company, we also combine online and offline training. We have several products, which has got to do with using broad-based e-learning courses. We are also an instructor-led training, which enables face to face learning with trainers. The other thing is that we have both soft and technicals skills, which makes us a preferred one-stop shop.
Q. What are some of the common challenges within the sector that you’ve had to learn to navigate?
A. The ICT sector is male-dominated and we all know that. Because men have long built their networks, they automatically tend to have more solid support structures than us. They are likely to call one another for business deals and whatever is it that needs to be done at that particular time. But by the same token, it depends on the type of networks that we as women have managed to built and how long we’ve had them. In my case, I have a far better advantage as I’ve been in the industry for 20 years or more and I’ve managed to build strong relationships along the journey.
For an example, I’ve been very active in the Black IT Forum, as well as the Information Technology Association (ITA), where men happen to be the main players. As the result, I can proudly say I have a healthy network of both men and women and that alone is an advantage.
Also, there are several platforms for women to network and luckily I do form part of that. Besides, as women, we have to find ways to rise above these type of hurdles, and one of them is to deliver a quality product so that people can come back to you. But I also do think that the legislation has made it easier in a sense that companies have slowly begun to look for broad based BEE compliant businesses, and as a level 1 complaint company, it tends to work a lot in our favour. But I’ve also found that since there are other ‘level 1’ companies that even though they are black-owned, are white run, there’s equity in the fact that we deliver on both. Look, it’s a reality that the BEE landscape is also looking out for people like me – new type of businesses with fresh ideas. So if you are able to deliver and meet their expectation, then they are likely to support you.
Q. Where do you see Netcampus in the Next 5 years?
A: I’d like the company to have a turnover of 100 million plus rands and possibly be listed in one of the stock exchanges. In a nutshell, I envisage a stable company not only with matured processes but one that is highly profitable. Furthermore, I’d love to empower more and more people along the journey as I personally grow.
Your advice to women wanting to start their own bussinesses?
They must just start. There’s this thing that you need funding or a big venue to start, which is a lie. All I can say is that ‘do something’…just do something with the little that you have and it must be in line with your vision and from there God will align stuff for you. If it must happen, it will happen. For an example, if you want to be in the hotel industry, just go and be the waiter. Be in that space, know the people, be the best at what you do and joy to be around. Once that happens, you’ll gain favour and things will start happening for you in the direction that you should go. I personally know what is it like to have a dream and want to see God’s hand at play in your life and in my case, in business too. As a born-again Christian, I am blessed to have known Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I look up to him for strength, motivation and solutions and my life has never been the same ever since.