IT with a soul

Style of lead­er­ship key to suc­cess

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - IF FUR­THER PROOF CHIMWEMWE MWANZA

were needed that women can over­come the gen­der stereo­type of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the ICT in­dus­try – largely con­sid­ered a bas­tion for men – it came at the re­cent Com­puter So­ci­ety of South Africa (CSSA), Gart­ner and Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence (GIBS) spon­sored IT per­son­al­ity awards.

Mar­dia van der Walt-Korsten, CE of T- some op­por­tu­ni­ties, Van der Walt-Korsten says other cost-con­scious com­pa­nies were in fact ramp­ing up their ICT spend.

“Most cost-con­scious cor­po­rates want to de­ploy ICT in­fra­struc­ture that will help them trim costs. But one im­por­tant prin­ci­ple in the ICT in­dus­try is that a squeeze on spending breeds lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for ser­vice providers.”

As one of those ser­vice providers, T-Sys­tems has spread its tar­get mar­ket from large cor­po­rates to in­clude the pub­lic sec­tor. In 2005, T-Sys­tems set a tar­get to ring up rev­enue of up to R1bn by 2010. De­spite the squeeze on dis­cre­tionary spending, it has man­aged to hit tar­get two years ahead of time, in­creas­ing its rev­enue in the pre­vi­ous fi­nan­cial year to well over 50%.

Tar­get­ing the pub­lic sec­tor was no stroke of luck. Van der Walt-Korsten says pub­lic sec­tor spend on ICT ser­vices has in a way helped the com­pany to strate­gi­cally off­set the ef­fects of de­clin­ing cor­po­rate spend on ICT ser­vices. Sys­tems (the IT ser­vices arm of Ger­man tele­coms gi­ant Deutsche Telekom), beat a host of male fi­nal­ists to scoop the 2008 IT per­son­al­ity of the year award. The cer­e­mony recog­nises an IT pro­fes­sional who has made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the in­dus­try. That a woman trumped male fi­nal­ists was a first in the in­dus­try.

For 45-year-old Van der Walt-Korsten – a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist turned ICT man­ager – the ac­co­lade was sim­ply the re­ward for a three-year turn­around strat­egy dur­ing which she man­aged to re­po­si­tion T-Sys­tems from a rel­a­tively ob­scure ICT multi­na­tional into a se­ri­ous player in the in­dus­try in SA.

Her suc­cess came from her style of lead­er­ship, she says. “When I told my staff soon af­ter tak­ing over the reins at the com­pany that I in­tended to cre­ate an IT com­pany with a soul, some ar­gued I couldn’t pos­si­bly put soul and IT in the same sen­tence. But we’ve done it.”

Her achieve­ment – ev­i­dent in T-Sys­tems’ bot­tom line and its swelling port­fo­lio of high value clients – hasn’t gone un­no­ticed. While the cur­rently volatile fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion has closed

Open mind. Mar­dia van der Walt-Korsten

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