Rare breed of IT tal­ent

Ser­ima looks to lift com­puter gi­ant’s game

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & Technology - CHIMWEMWE MWANZA chimwemwem@fin­week.co.za

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

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