Di­ver­sity makes all the dif­fer­ence

The CEO of Praxis Com­put­ing says the key to suc­cess is ap­pre­ci­at­ing each in­di­vid­ual in his com­pany, writes Kayla Chetty

CityPress - - Business -

Di­ver­sity, by its very def­i­ni­tion, is about dif­fer­ence – a dif­fer­ent way of op­er­at­ing, a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to busi­ness and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the con­tri­bu­tion of ev­ery in­di­vid­ual in the group.

It is this true ap­pre­ci­a­tion of di­ver­sity that is be­hind the suc­cess of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ser­vices and so­lu­tions com­pany Praxis Com­put­ing.

CEO Yu­gasen Naidoo says: “We ba­si­cally live di­ver­sity. Be­cause we have such a di­verse staff com­ple­ment, we just en­sure that the com­pany is op­er­ated in a fair and trans­par­ent man­ner, and the rest ba­si­cally takes care of it­self.

“It may sound a bit sim­plis­tic and rather al­tru­is­tic, but it does work very well. Our employees come from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds and are all se­lected on the ba­sis of their in­di­vid­ual and, very of­ten, im­pres­sive skills,” he adds.

Em­ployee-driven

The black-owned-and-man­aged or­gan­i­sa­tion be­lieves the tech­ni­cal na­ture of its work and the man­ner in which tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions are man­aged pro­vides a space for a com­mon meet­ing of minds for its 80-strong em­ployee base.

“I don’t ac­tu­ally think our ap­proach to di­ver­sity is unique in the busi­ness arena,” says Naidoo.

“When peo­ple are from di­verse back­grounds, it is al­most in­evitable that dif­fer­ences will ap­pear a lot of the time. In­di­vid­ual in­ter­pre­ta­tions of sit­u­a­tions may dif­fer.

“But as our fun­da­men­tal busi­ness is very tech­ni­cal, it helps us to fo­cus on our vic­to­ries, and that tends to level the play­ing field for our staff.”

The lead­er­ship at Praxis, which has been in busi­ness for more than two decades, is firmly of the opin­ion that happy employees make for a thriv­ing busi­ness.

“We in­vest heav­ily in our staff and their skills de­vel­op­ment. This starts with our long-stand­ing in­tern­ship pro­gramme and car­ries right through to high-end train­ing,” ex­plains Naidoo.

Com­mon ground

From an ex­ter­nal per­spec­tive, the com­mit­ment to di­ver­sity also al­lows Praxis to serve as a pos­i­tive case study in the rapidly evolv­ing and com­pet­i­tive world of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy.

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few bumps along the way.

“We find it more use­ful to fo­cus on our com­mon love for our field of in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies and the skills that go with it, rather than fo­cus­ing on dif­fer­ences.

“To over­come some of the chal­lenges of hav­ing a di­verse ar­ray of in­di­vid­u­als in one com­pany, we con­tin­u­ally chal­lenge our peo­ple to cel­e­brate our dif­fer­ences and abil­i­ties – and we ac­tively en­cour­age di­a­logue,” says Naidoo. He also be­lieves in hav­ing an open mind. “Be will­ing to let the dif­fer­ences among your staff lead you.”

Sus­tain­abil­ity

An em­ployee-fo­cused ap­proach has also had an un­ex­pected pos­i­tive spin-off.

“This year, we sold off one of our busi­ness units – the fi­nan­cial sys­tems di­vi­sion – to a for­mer mem­ber of staff, Ray­mond Dombo, who is do­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well with it,” says Naidoo.

Dombo is now the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Oval Ven­tures, which he co-owns with Elias Diale.

Dombo ex­plains: “I had been run­ning the fi­nan­cial sys­tems di­vi­sion, or the Mi­crosoft Dy­nam­ics Great Plains sec­tion, for more than five years and I was part of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee [at Praxis ]. I un­der­stood the na­ture of the busi­ness and it has al­ways been my goal to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur.”

Praxis con­tin­ues to pro­vide busi­ness sup­port in the form of men­tor­ship, in­fra­struc­ture and ad­min­is­tra­tion ser­vices.

“Praxis has been sup­port­ing us since in­cep­tion and they have vowed to do so un­til we be­come suc­cess­ful as a wholly black-owned busi­ness,” says Dombo.

Dombo is also con­vinced of the ad­van­tages of broad­based BEE.

“I think broad-based BEE is nec­es­sary for eco­nomic growth be­cause it gives black en­trepreneurs an op­por­tu­nity to en­ter the mar­ket. I feel there should be more com­pa­nies like Praxis that are will­ing to em­power their employees to be­come busi­ness own­ers,” says Dombo.

Oval Ven­tures, which em­ploys nine peo­ple, also sup­plies hard­ware and other in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ser­vices.

“It is true em­pow­er­ment and also serves as an in­di­ca­tion to our staff that any­thing is pos­si­ble,” says Naidoo with pride.

Ex­pan­sion

A mod­ern ap­proach to busi­ness has served the com­pany well.

Since it was founded 22 years ago, Praxis has ex­panded its foot­print to Cape Town and Dur­ban, with its head­quar­ters in Johannesburg. The com­pany serves the southern African re­gion.

As a Mi­crosoft gold-cer­ti­fied part­ner, it uses and sup­ports nu­mer­ous open source soft­ware prod­ucts.

Praxis works ex­ten­sively in the pub­lic sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of skills de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tion, and has de­vel­oped a com­pre­hen­sive port­fo­lio to understand the busi­ness re­quire­ments in that en­vi­ron­ment.

The com­pany has a strong track record of broad-based BEE.

In 2007, Praxis achieved its aim of making the com­pany 51% black-owned.

IT BE­GINS WITH YOU AND ME From left: Ray­mond Dombo, Yu­gasen Naidoo and Mir­riam Zwane

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