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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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