Rare breed of IT talent
Serima looks to lift computer giant’s game
CONSENSUS AMONG IT analysts polled at the recent Government technology summit in Durban was that the downturn in the global economy will have a negative effect on the purse strings of major corporate IT spenders. Add to that the squeeze on discretionary spending – largely the result of a worldwide credit crunch and spiralling interest rates – and it would seem the pessimists might have the upper hand.
However, that’s a prediction Pfungwa Serima, incoming MD of SAP Africa, is quick to dismiss. “Despite the challenges ahead, the IT industry is poised for stellar growth over the next few years,” says Serima, adding that uncertainty in the financial markets is often seen as a key driver of IT expenditure. SAP’s first black MD in Africa.
But the modest Serima downplays the significance of the race issue to his appointment. “I don’t let this black and white thing go to my head. Given my achievements with Microsoft during my short-lived stay, I’d say I got the position on merit.”
Deloitte’s annual Best company to work for survey ranked Microsoft SA as the top ICT company in SA for 2006/2007. With all companies factored in the survey, Microsoft took second place. “While we’ve been spending money on training and up-skilling IT personnel we’re mindful of the fact we work within a free market environment,” says Serima. During his stint he trained more than 3 000 IT graduates, most of them having since either been poached or defected to competing stables.
So why the jump to SAP? “Notwithstanding the strength of the Microsoft brand, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to join SAP. Its position complements my career path. Besides, the challenges at SAP are huge,” says Serima. SAP’s global revenue for
It’s not atypical of the pragmatic Serima to take hugely contrasting positions in such key industry debates. For someone with direct access to Bill Gates and who counts Cheikh Diarra – Microsoft Africa’s chairman – among his close business associates, Serima’s earned the respect of peers in the local IT industry.
In 2006 the 42year-old Zimbabwean-born computer science and business studies graduate defied racial prejudices to become the first black MD of global IT heavyweight Microsoft’s operations in SA.
Richard Hurst, analyst at research house IDC, is complimentary about Serima. Says Hurst: “He represents a rare breed of black IT talent. Let’s face it, other than MTN’s Phuthuma Nhleko, GijimaAst’s Jonas Bogoshi and Thoko Mogkotsi-Mwantemba (HP), there aren’t too many black executives in this industry.”
Though Serima declines to make public Microsoft’s share of the SA market and revenue figures, the company during his tenure as MD had a considerable market presence. But it seems not even the lure to head SA’s biggest unlisted IT company, which comes with a direct line to the legendary Gates, was enough for Serima to stay on at Microsoft.
In another first for his IT career, Serima has jumped the Microsoft ship for German software giant SAP, replacing Claas Kuehnemann, who has been promoted to president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In fact, Serima becomes financial 2007 grew to €6,5bn, with emerging markets accounting for around 33% of that figure. “Although Asia – driven by the spending prowess of India – is a big IT spender, one of my challenges is to grow Africa’s contribution to SAP’s fortunes. SA, Nigeria and Egypt are just some of the big drivers of growth.”
Asked about future moves, Serima says: “My high school teacher – who happened to be a former US Marine – taught me something that’s largely helped shape my career path: Take one challenge at a time. I can’t be looking for the next challenge when I’ve hardly started at SAP.”
“I want to grow SAP’s footprint in Africa.” Pfungwa Serima