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Keep systems simple yet structured: Business maxim of Accsys (Pty) Ltd

Accsys (Pty) Ltd

Winner of the Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems

Category for medium enterprises

Keep systems simple yet structured

“Use your best judgment at all times,” is the business maxim of Teryl Schroenn and Cathie Webb, Accsys CEO and COO, respectively, but they readily admit that other staff members might need more guidance than that. This is why little is left to chance when it comes to the ins and outs of how the company conducts its business. “We have a lot of documents for a medium-sized company,” says Schroenn.

Whatever needs to be done at Accsys, from developing bug-free software to working with customers, you can be sure the rules around it have been written down in plain English and added to the company’s Knowledge Tree for everyone to access.

“The Accsys way of handling things, such as dealing with someone who wants a credit, is set out in a one or two-page document. It’s very structured and also very easy,” says Webb. “We want everybody to know what to do in a given situation and who to speak to if in doubt, but we don’t want life to be too complicated.”

Keeping things simple yet structured is embedded in the culture of the company, which specialises in payroll and other people management solutions.

“Systems put you on a structured road and tell you if you’re going off it,” says Webb. “For example, our model for developing software includes the time we typically spend fixing bugs. It means we can measure and compare how we’re doing against the benchmark so that if we deviate we can figure out what’s changed and what we need to do to close the gaps.”

The importance of having sound systems and structures can’t be emphasised enough. “My advice to entrepreneurs is to get your structures in place early, follow the money and know what’s happening in your business every day,” says Schroenn.

While good systems should stand the test of time, they shouldn’t be cast in stone, especially in an era when technology and markets can change in the blink of an eye. “We’ve kept our models going for years and years but we tweak and modernise and rejig them constantly,” she says. “We cross-examine ourselves every day and we’re always looking at creative ideas from around the world to manage people and systems.  Although we never feel we are excellent, we are working towards it all the time.”

Innovation Systems – Making Sense of the Noise

Technology is recognised as an enabler of innovation and growth. Having a software tool, specifically the right software tool, can greatly accelerate your innovation results by creating an easily accessible and self-sustaining platform for ideation and innovation management. Over recent years, however, the innovation technology systems market exploded and an influx of players are contributing to an ever increasing maze of offerings with functionality that features internal and external collaboration capability, enterprise communication tools and in some instances the integration of various ecosystems for co-creation.

The result is an increasingly growing and crowded landscape of innovation management tools that are becoming more and more difficult to navigate – a trend that is expected to continue as new and existing offerings incorporate more radical technologies such as artificial intelligence and crypto currencies.

The current innovation technology market is estimated at over $200 million and boasts up to 250 vendors (and counting), almost doubling its size in the last two and a half years. In a fragmented innovation system market differentiation is not easy to come by. This does not come as good news for increasingly frustrated customers trying to make sense of it all. The very reason the innovation system vendors make a case for their software (to help organisations innovate and differentiate) might become a paradox in itself that begs the same question from them – how are innovation technology vendors creating new value and differentiation in an increasingly dynamic market?

At Innocentrix we understand this problem as we work with both vendors and clients to make innovation intentional, repeatable and supportive of next level growth. One solution will not universally fit all needs. Organisations need to understand the functionality on offer, how it fits the organisation’s own requirements, the financial and business models available as well as how this aligns with current innovation maturity levels and future goals.

Where to start is not always easy to figure out. The aim of this article is to offer a practical point of departure to assist organisations to navigate this landscape better.

But we can Build?

Customers increasingly look for a voice in the development of a solution that best meets their needs and prefers “exceptional service” as opposed to traditionally offered technology services. This might be one of the reasons investigating in-house development is often one of the first activities undertaken by organisations when the need for an innovation management system has been identified. It is possible that certain organisations by the nature of what they do have the ability to develop in-house and it seems like an attractive option when one ponders the crowded innovation technology landscape mentioned above. Add to this foreign currency hurdles if you are considering best of breed international solutions that also naturally comes with geographical and time zone challenges. The other reality is the speed of change, the impact of digital innovation and the requirement to have to run hard just to stand still, for what could be considered to be a non-core activity. Building you own is not impossible but with the rise of mobility and SaaS offerings, it is becoming increasingly challenging to do so well.

Apart from functionality and development costs, organisations need to consider time available for development as well as servicing the organisation’s future innovation aspirations.

Other considerations should be:

Insight

Does your development team understand the organisation’s technical and innovation-critical requirements to enable it effectively? Can you map the minimal viable product (MVP) and do you have a good understanding of the future roadmap for the product? Moreover, does the development team really understand innovation and innovation software development?

Skill

Does your organisation have the required technical in-house experience to deliver a solution that is reasonably comparable to what is available off the shelf right now? Will you have continued access to these skills in the future and do they have the time available to bring the product to the organisation reasonably quickly? 

Relevance

Innovation software vendors have been in the game for several years, they understand the dynamics of the market and are trusted by some of the world’s largest companies. This is their core competency, the reason they exist. It is in their interest to remain relevant and at the forefront of best practice in innovation management. Consider the internal stakeholder challenge as the organisation has to continually justify the investment and when it becomes a cost/price game the 3rd party vendor has the scope to offer compellingly lower prices.

Total cost of ownership

It is necessary to consider the complexity of total cost of ownership. The allure of building your own is attractive when one considers the ubiquity of the tools and seemingly low barriers of investment, but what costs are associated with personnel, ongoing maintenance, and continuous development. Opportunity costs if this is not a core competency for the organisation also need to be considered.

Building an in-house solution is possible but it is not straightforward. Initially and at low levels of innovation maturity in-house built systems can serve their purpose, but they soon fall by the wayside as maturity levels and the complexity of needed functionality increases. Another challenge is that in house development can become someone’s pet project. Organisations often fail to maintain their systems due to a change in roles and responsibilities over time, resulting in an eventual waste of not only money but time as well.

So how do you make sense of it all?

It is important to select a fit for purpose tool to fulfil the organisation’s objectives in support of its innovation business case, and to be able to adapt as the organisation matures on its innovation journey, or as needs become more varied.

Answering the question is, in essence, coming back to basics. Innovation is a business necessity but it is important to understand what you are trying to do and what good looks like for you. What are the organisation’s aspirations in this regard? Once that is defined, the road to find the best tool and operating model might be less complex.  

The Forrester Wave Report (2016)[1] used 26 criteria to evaluate a list of 15 current Innovation Management vendors and grouped them according to (1) current offering in the market (2) strategy of the vendor and (3) market presence. This resulted in a list of leaders and strong performers that according to the report represent strengths and trusted expertise in the field. But the picture is much more complex as the authors allude to in the introductory contextualisation.

Consider the following nuances.

Technology firms operate on very similar business models

Industry operating models chase brutal quarterly targets, a maximisation of licenses sold to customers and discounts for multi-year deals.  Painstakingly logged and managed, sales discussions will focus on these main aspirations which can be counter to client needs. Continuity with staff presents another challenge. Direct dealings with a vendor can become problematic as staff turnover impacts on relationships and the history with the vendor. Consistency becomes a moving target. One can argue that the technology sector is still in its formative years. Standards and interoperability across platforms are limited, with the story often being about the ‘best’ widget in town. Some have compelling features that are more influenced by the development of user interface design, but in many cases, there are much maturing to do.

Many organisations want a voice to get what they view as valuable. They prefer more flexibility in their engagement models with vendors, as the needs of the organisation will change with a maturing innovation capability and as new learnings are integrated.  Which brings us to the next point.

An innovation system does not create an innovative culture

There are many great systems out there. None of them is going to guarantee that innovation work in your organisation. Your system will most likely become your cornerstone for success and enable innovation if managed well, but your people and doing the right things will be your secret sauce. You will need to consider many things like strategy, leadership, management, effective communication, impacting on engagement, measurement of outcomes, ROI and much more. It is important that you manage this from the beginning.

The need for partners

Many vendors have not eloquently addressed the need for partners. Strategic services are being offered by some whilst sharing their view of best practice for the use of their solution with customers is part of the package. But as put forward by Forrester’s report, few innovation management solution vendors can address wider business transformation requirements alone and need to work with outside consulting partners. Recent partnerships between KPMG and Idea Factory and IdeaScale and the content platform InnovationManagement.se play to this point. It will, however, require vendors to actively build and contribute to the market in a collaborative manner. In too many instances the opposite is still true and vendors are found to dilute the innovation ecosystem instead of positively and actively contributing to it. The winners in the innovation systems market will most likely be those that recognise the exponential power and value of true collaboration to the benefit of all parties, especially their client’s. The most valuable partnerships will be those between a vendor and a partner offering expert strategic innovation expertise. Trust, ethics and respect still make good business sense and often provides an indication of vendor reliability. Choose your vendor well in this regard.

The market, maturity and attitude

In all of this, however, the client has a responsibility too. Do you have real strategic intent for innovation in the organisation?  In other words, do you have a budget in support of building an innovation capability and culture, and are you open to working with your suppliers to make it work? It might seem like an obvious question but it is an important one. Why invest in an innovation management system if you do not intend to enable it. Tripping over dollars to pick up pennies does not make sense, especially in this scenario. Your innovation team, if you have one, needs to be empowered for success. They cannot be expected to go at it alone. That is setting them up for failure from the beginning. And just like your vendors and your strategic partners, it is necessary to pull together a dynamic innovation team internally as well. This is no place for ego’s, immature jockeying for power or feeling intimidated by partners or team members for fear of being stood up for expertise. You will need to collaborate to be successful. Your external team are there in support of your success. If your innovation team cannot appreciate this your efforts will be compromised and your investment will most probably be wasted.  Take heed, this is a leadership responsibility.

So when starting out on the road in evaluating innovation management systems, think further than the obvious. Whichever way you dress it up, innovation is a complex coming together of multiple capabilities. Getting it right is hard and finding the right solution takes effort.

This article attempted to call out a number of the key tenets to consider when setting off on the journey.  Like in all relationships, it is often the little foxes in the vineyard that can destroy something good.

This article is written by Mrs Henra Mayer, CEO of Innocentrix and Da Vinci Head of Faculty related to the Management of Innovation.

About Innocentrix

Innocentrix is an ideas and innovation company. We help our clients to deliver the future. We improve existing offerings or bring to market new business models, projects, products or services. We help our clients to Create, Engage and Deliver. Find us at www.innocentrix.co.za.

Michael is a mine of information on safety at the coalface

Michael Madonsela is the kind of safety officer who is willing to roll up his sleeves and work at the coalface – literally.

When he was elected and qualified as a mine health and safety representative 14 years ago, he looked at the two short-term diplomas he had earned and decided he wasn’t satisfied. “I wanted to broaden my knowledge of mine operations.”

So he qualified as a miner.

After three years at the coalface underground, with blasting certificate in hand, Madonsela went back to the safety environment – where his true passion lay – with a deep understanding of coal mining.

His hunger for knowledge and broader horizons was still not satisfied, though. “I enrolled for a National Diploma in Safety at Unisa and then met Chanel Swart, a Marketing and Sales Manager of ERCA, who recommended the Da Vinci Institute.” He enrolled for a BCom degree in 2014.

For his work-based challenge, mine safety was a natural choice of topic for Madonsela, who is now chief safety officer at Kanga Coal’s mine in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.

Why do people take risks?

His focus was on safety hazards associated with what is known as the “Continuous Miner”, a machine operated by remote control and used to cut coal from the coalface underground.

“Statistics showed quite a few operators were getting injured,” he says. “Investigations showed that some of the injuries were due to at-risk behaviour by the operators and I wondered why. What causes people to take risks?”

His starting point was to go through all the accident investigation reports. “I then went to observe machine operators underground and also interviewed those operators.”

Getting to the root of problems

He soon identified several problems. One was that visibility underground was sometimes so poor that machine operators could not see the exact positions of the Continuous Miner machine and the shuttle cars (vehicles used to load cut coal from the Continuous Miner onto conveyor belts). That could make it difficult for them to navigate the machines accurately, sometimes exposing themselves to hazards that may result in injury.

A related problem was operators misjudging their own proximity to the machines and the mine’s sidewalls, sometimes finding themselves caught between the two.

Another problem was when machine operators went into areas where coal had been freshly cut but the roof was not yet properly supported.

It also transpired that some, more experienced operators were taking risks because they were so familiar with the job they were cutting corners.

“It was a combination of conditions and human error,” says Madonsela, who then came up with concrete recommendations for preventing Continuous Miner-related accidents as far as possible.

Coming up with solutions

His recommendations included installing reflective sticks to demarcate areas considered dangerous for operators, installing ducting to clear dust and keep air flowing to improve visibility, and improving communication between machine operators, especially by using sign language (given noisy underground conditions).

“We also send out a weekly bulletin to inform employees about not only the latest safety issues, but to raise awareness as well,” says Madonsela.

He graduates with his BCom degree in September 2017. “I’d like to say thank you to Da Vinci, because my studies have helped me a lot with understanding operations. When I started my studies, I didn’t know what to expect but I have received quite a lot of support from my colleagues and management from the mine, and my lecturers have been helpful. I have learnt a lot.”

 

 

 

ABOUT EDWARD KIESWETTER

Edward Christian Kieswetter
NHDip (Elec Eng), HDE (Engineering Education), B.Ed (Mathematics & Science), M.Ed (Cognitive
Development), Executive MBA (Strategy & Transformation), M.Com (SA & International Tax) cum laude

Edward Kieswetter is a life-long leadership scholar and practitioner. He has spent most of his working life at the cross-road of theory and practice, believing that each indivisible informs the other on an interactive and dynamic continuum.

With over 30 years in various leadership positions in academic, public sector and private sector roles, as a reflective practitioner, Edward has consciously and mindfully referenced robust scholarly works on human behavior and leadership, along with actual real-time leadership practice to develop his own personal leadership model and leadership brand. He has a deep conviction that leadership is an inordinate privilege and has service as its ultimate purpose.

Edward’s leadership practice is based on a strong SERVICE and HIGHER PURPOSE orientation. He tells a number of real stories and anecdotes to demonstrate what he means by this. Recently, reflecting on his own leadership experience, but also observing the current state of global institutional leadership, Edward’s sense is that despite paying lip-service, many leaders become self-serving. Such leaders are motivated by short-term expediency without regard for the impact of their leadership work on all stakeholders, nor the long term integrity and sustainability of the institutions they lead. In line with a strong service orientation, Edward is an ardent commitment to the notion of the LEADER as a STEWARD.

Edward recently retired from Alexander Forbes, as Group Chief Executive from 2010 – 2016. Under Edward’s leadership the company restored its institutional integrity and financial performance, rebuilding a reputation and ethos of trustworthiness. He resolved longstanding civil and criminal and tax disputes by proposing a path of “doing the right thing”. He made a commitment to zero retrenchment and honored it throughout his tenure. His contribution led to relisting on the JSE in 2014, attracting significant local and international investors, whilst serving the interest of all
stakeholders.

In previous roles as the Deputy Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service and Senior Executive at Eskom, Edward has led groundbreaking change management Programmes with pioneering and world-class results. Throughout this, his focus and investment in people was a hallmark of his work. His contribution at Eskom resulted in him being recognized as South Africa’s Boss of the Year 199/200, and a Leadership Thinker in 2006.

Edward is a qualified educator and through his passion for education, he has remained involved throughout his professional life. In addition to qualifications in Electrical Engineering & Science
Education, he holds Master’s degrees in Cognitive Science, Business, and Commerce (cum laude). His career is marked by an impressive list of achievements and recognition as a leader at executive and governance level at international level.

In his leadership roles, Edward has worked extensively within the private sector as well as the public sector – including Government, SOE’s and Universities within South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Europe, bringing unique insights and experiences from several cultural and national contexts within Commercial and Non-Profit organizations.

His professional accomplishments include:
• South Africa’s Boss of the Year, 2000
• Member, International Centre for the American Tax Administrations 2004 – 2009
• Involvement in BNSL Customs Forum and Africa Tax Administrators Forum 2004 – 2009
• Leadership Thinking Award, Boss of the Year, 2006
• President – South African Institute of Bankers, South Africa, 2002-2004
• President since 2012, and significant investor in Da Vinci Institute of Technology
Management.
• Deputy Chair – IFAC International Accounting Education Standards Board 2011 – 2014
• Member & Deputy Chair Free State University Council 2004 – 2014
• Current Board Director: Shoprite Holdings, and Da Vinci Institute
• Current Visiting Professor: Free State University, Da Vinci Institute of Technology

Edward is commitment to continue his work to advance the notion of: THE LEADER AS STEWARD.

You can follow Edward on Twitter @EdKieswetter.

Showcasing Da Vinci’s research: Elliot Kasu

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Dr Elliot Kasu

Dr Elliot Kasu is a Zimbabwean, a holder of a PhD in Management of Technology and Innovation from the Da Vinci Institute of Technology and Innovation of South Africa, a Master of business Administration degree from Zimbabwe Open University, a graduate and associate member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Zimbabwe (CIS). He also holds a Diploma in Logistics Management from Pakistan School of Logistics. He is a competent academic, intellectual, researcher, consultant and expert in integral research, quantitative and qualitative research, facilitation, training, monitoring, evaluation, implementation, strategic development, innovative entrepreneurship development and financial management.

He possesses several years of public service and corporate experience at strategic level and has a deep knowledge in indigenous knowledge systems grounded in Africa. He has held several appointments up to director level in Zimbabwe’s ministry of defence, company secretary and finance manager for the Zimbabwe Defence Industries, Managing Director of Kasimboti Trading P/L, Finance and Administration Director of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and currently is one of the founders of Integral Social & Enterprise Research Centre (ISERC) where he is employed as a senior researcher, finance & corporate services director. As such, he is a creative and innovative strategist, consultant, researcher, public accountant, chartered secretary and team player with vast experience in strategic planning, leadership, human resources management, financial management, administration, logistics and corporate secretarial practice.  

Title: Ubuntupreneurship within rural communities: Creating community colleges for a developing economy

Abstract: The study utilised the four world rhythm, the 4Cs (Lessem and Schieffer, 2014) and the CARE (Lessem and Schieffer, 2009) pattern in collaboration with the Tangwena people. The ideas of ‘mushandirapamwe’ or collective wealth generation are indeed relevant for purposes of this thesis. The focus on ‘Zunde ra Mambo’ is a relevant security arrangement and indeed an effective way towards indigenous volunteering. The study has also indicated that the use of ‘permaculture’ could assist communities to create sustainable habitats by following nature’s patterns. The study has demonstrated a sincere focus towards ensuring meaningful life for the Tangwena community. The use of African Ubuntu values as tool of solidarity and interdependence seem to provide a solid foundation of African economic redemption, which in turn could lead to effective African economic humanism. The model ‘towards co-creation in Zimbabwe’ is well argued and structured. The story telling aspect of the research is informative which has truly reflected traditional values while African humanism has been well articulated throughout the thesis. The indigenous exogenous community-based learning and innovation research facility within the community seems to contribute towards the institutionalisation of the community college. The researcher followed the appropriate southern path and effectively demonstrated a good practice of the Participatory Action Research (PAR) aimed at community activation in alignment with the needs of the Tangwena people. The ‘ubuntuneurial spirit of agriculture’ ideology is sound, and, indeed an effective approach to solving communal poverty issues, which is the strength in the study.

Academic supervisor: Dr A Schieffer;

Field supervisor: Dr PC Muchineripi

Awards come and go but TT100 shows staying power

Business awards in South Africa may come and go, but one awards programme has showed staying power for a quarter of a century. The 2016 TT100 Business Innovation Awards of The Da Vinci Institute, being presented in Johannesburg on Thursday, 27 October, is the 25th edition of these long-running awards.

“The longevity of the TT100 programme is one of the qualities that make the awards so unique,” says Carol Varga, TT100 Awards Manager for The Da Vinci Institute.

The awards have been presented annually since 1991 and recognise emerging, small, medium and large companies that excel in managing technology, innovation, people and systems.

“Some companies entered the awards for the first time in 1991, when we started out, and are still taking part to this day,” she says, mentioning De Beers and Altech as examples. There are other regular participants that have been entering year after year for as long as 15 years as they use the TT100 process as a benchmarking tool.

“The process is very unique in South Africa,” says Varga. “To enter, companies don’t just fill in a piece of paper. They have a two-hour consultative interview with the adjudicators, who provide detailed feedback on the company.”

Detailed feedback, expert adjudicators

This takes the form of verbal feedback during each two-hour adjudication session, an electronic dashboard that each entrant can download after the awards, and a 30-minute post-awards feedback session with the chief adjudicator.

This year, 22 adjudicators volunteered their time and expertise to the judging process. All are champions of innovation, have experience in enterprise development in one form or another, and represent a cross-section of the economy, from banking and business incubation to auditing, energy and public policy-making.

The awards have also succeeded in attracting and retaining some of the country’s biggest supporters of innovation. The Department of Science and Technology has been a sponsor since 1995.  This year PWC are the official auditors of the programme, and MTN, one of the original sponsors from 1991, is back this year after a brief break, as is Eskom.

That’s staying power for you.

Ends

 

4 States of the System

For many years, Da Vinci adopted a ‘3‐states’ of the system approach as proposed by Zandi (2000). This approach involves an investigation into the “as is” the “as it will be” and the “as it should be” state. By exploring these issues, the organisation is able to gain a fundamental appreciation of its current positioning and gain useful insights into its future.

The “as is” state defines the current situation. It is an understanding of what is taking place within the organisation’s system. In the conventional school of strategic planning it is what would emanate from a SWOT analysis.

We go one stage further by exploring what if the current managerial leadership style is not adapted to take into account the realities that are taking place? In this case, the organisation has a great propensity to destroy itself. We define this state as the “as it will be” state ‐ this defines the system in a point of time in the future if nothing but natural influences are imposed on the system. We refer to this state as the “Early Warning” – state. In terms of the previous article, the concept of the Mess Formulation embodies both the “as is” state and the “as it will be” state. There is a well‐defined process to get to a full picture of the Mess.

The “as it should be” state ‐ this defines a desired future state of the system. It is that state that will ensure sustainable growth for the organisation.

The investigation of the “as‐is” and the “as‐it‐should‐be” states is carried out by groups of people from different levels of the organisation who interact and carry out dialogues to map where the organisation is and where it should be.

It can be seen that in order to move from the “Mess” a process of “design” is introduced taking the organisation to the “as it should be” state. The design process will be described in the final article and its objective is to ensure that the new state of the system would be harmonious with its environment and would take cognisance of changes in the containing system.

Over the years, The Da Vinci Institute has worked with a wide spectrum of business and public sector organisations. In all these cases these organisations were in search of a process, which would move away from a linear approach to strategic planning. In reflecting the outcome from these interventions The Da Vinci Institute has questioned whether the notion of a 3‐state description of an organisation’s system adequately/holistically describes the realities, which organisations face from a systemic viewpoint?

In reviewing the impact the approach had on these organisations, it was found that in many cases, the outcome resulted in a totally new dispensation that had a profound impact on the organisation being able to meet the expectations of its stakeholders. However, in some instances the process had less of an impact and in time the organisation lapsed back into a state of disarray.

The realities of this 3 states model is that it is based on the assumption that there is a managerial leadership style in place that is capable of ensuring that the organisation has the ability to move to a desirable, more beneficial end‐state. The model makes a tacit assumption that the conditions precedent to move the organisation from the “as‐is” state to the “as it should be state” is conducive to a transformational leadership style (Transformational Leadership Report, 2007) in which those responsible for the “redesign” of the system are fundamentally systemic in their thinking and managerial leadership styles.

In truth such an assumption does not reflect the reality of what is found in organisations throughout the world. In many cases, contrary to the notion of transformational leadership characteristics (Transformational Leadership Report, 2007; Bass 1990) there is evidence of transactional leadership characteristics which mitigate the ability to design a new system, which has the desirable end results.

Da Vinci has identified the concept of a counterpointing situation in which the organisation, depending upon the prevailing managerial leadership styles, can move either in a positive direction which implies a transformational leadership style (the “as it should be” state) or a negative direction resulting from a leadership style which is transactional. In recognition of this pivotal issue the concept of a 4th state namely the “as it could be” state has been identified.

……………………………………………………….

by Prof Roy Marcus and Dee Marcus

References:

Bass B. M (1990) From Transactional to Transformational Leadership: Learning to share the vision in Organisational Dynamics vol 18 issue no 3 (pages 19‐31)

Gladwell M, (2000) The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Little Brown and Company, New York

Cloudy outlook clears as Lean’s studies take him higher

New horizons have opened up for commercial airline pilot Lean Janse van Rensburg. Where once the outlook was cloudy and visibility limited, his studies at The Da Vinci Institute have given him fresh perspective on life, work and his place in the world.

Grounded and jobless

“After 1Time airlines went bankrupt in 2012, I couldn’t find another job in flying. South Africa has a small aviation market and there were about 90 other pilots looking for work at the time,” he says. “I’d always wanted another qualification in case I lost my medical licence and couldn’t fly, so in 2013 I enrolled at Unisa.”

That didn’t work out, so he kept himself busy doing odd jobs until he happened to see a “random” Facebook advert for The Da Vinci Institute. “I contacted them and we sat down and they reassured me I would get all the necessary support as a student.”

In March 2014, Janse van Rensburg signed up for a BCom degree in Aviation Management. All went well – so well that his average at the end of his first year was 85%.

Looking up

Things started looking even better in 2015 when he joined Safair as a pilot and was earning a salary again.

Then he ran into a hurdle – the Management of Systems module he had to complete for the second year of his Da Vinci studies. “I didn’t know what was going on. I contacted my lecturer Greg. We sat down and he made sure I understood.”

Meanwhile, back at Safair, he was starting to be noticed. “Every assignment I did for my studies had to be work and industry-related. As a pilot, I hadn’t been exposed to finance, marketing, sales and how the operations run, but through Da Vinci, I plugged into these areas. In the process of learning about my company and industry, the company learnt about me.”

Intriguing discoveries

During his research, for example, Janse van Rensburg discovered that flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town with Safair was only R1 more expensive than going by train, and R35 cheaper than going by bus.

He brought this to the attention of management, who liked his suggestion that the company start targeting its marketing at travellers who normally travel by train or long-distance bus.

Other assignments brought him into contact with other areas of the business, opening up all kinds of new possibilities. “I’ve been asked if I would be interested in becoming involved in sales, scheduling, the technical department and even the pilots’ union.”

Now in his third and final year, Janse van Rensburg says he feels “more relaxed” than before about the future. “I know there are opportunities to expand my possibilities of where I could work if I couldn’t fly.”

What’s more, Management of Systems, once his worst subject, is now his best. “The penny has dropped. When Da Vinci talks about how everything is connected, it’s not just philosophy. I really am seeing the bigger picture and how everything fits together.”

lean

Ends