Becoming a great leader is a journey, not a race, says Nazeem Aberdeen

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He believes that discovering and developing one's passion leads to success.

Nazeem Aberdeen is the group IT manager at Sturrock and Robson, a company with headquarters in the UK, the US, Australia, Mauritius, and South Africa. Its products include transportation equipment, liquid automated solutions (LAS), which are fuel instrumental management tools for the petroleum industry, and protective equipment for the mining industry. He joined the group in June to help strategically drive the business and IT forward in terms of development and growth.

As CIO, Nazeem is in charge of the group’s entire IT infrastructure, ensuring that the infrastructure, networks, and environment are all in good working order. “My main role is aligning IT strategy with business strategy, ensuring proper IT infrastructure and services are in place to maintain the growth of the business expectations, and managing operations and ensuring that the various business expectations are met from a reliability, availability, and integrity of data and overall IT services,” he says.

One of Nazeem’s main responsibilities is to oversee the group’s ERP systems as well as governance and risk, putting in place structures and procedures to limit the company’s IT risk and exposure. “My biggest project right now is cybersecurity, and we’re doing full vulnerability assessments in that regard,” he says.

According to Nazeem, employee awareness accounts for 80 percent of cybersecurity; if employees are unaware of the various types of malware out there, they will be unable to understand what is required for a secure environment. “As a result, we are embarking on a large security awareness campaign aimed at our employees, training them on what they can do to mitigate that risk,” Nazeem explains.

Despite having a lot on his plate, Nazeem believes it is critical to devote enough time to all aspects of one’s life. As a result, he has set himself a personal goal of improving his time management skills.

“We must make time for everything in our lives,” he says. “I’ve set myself the goal of ensuring that my own time management is extremely effective.” Nazeem's favourite recreational activity is golf, which he enjoys when he has some free time. “It clears the mind and revitalises the soul,” he says.

Nazeem studied programming and finance after finishing matric, with a focus on finance and project management. He then worked in the finance department at Goldfields Mining before moving on to Sage, formerly Softline. While at Sage, Nazeem was instrumental in the development of an accounting system known as Brilliant Accounting, which led him into the consulting and IT fields. Nazeem later worked for the furniture retailer Wetherlys, a division of Ellerines Furnishers as an IT executive for 10 years.

“I wasn't a CIO at the time, but I worked under two incredible CIOs, Allan Dickson and Ian Childs, who actually mentored me to become the CIO that I am today,” he says.

Nazeem has also worked in project management and consulting, implementing ERP systems in the financial services industry, and retail sector spanning the tourism trade and literary market segment. He says that his experiences in these various roles have given him a diverse set of skills. “Moving around brings with it experience, knowledge, exposure, growth, and personal development.”

Having switched roles and industries throughout his career, Nazeem disputes the notion that becoming a CIO requires only a strong IT background. In fact, his advice to aspiring CIOs, or any aspirant leader, is to learn as much as possible. “If you’re unsure about what you want to do with your future, take your time or do everything: go and study multiple courses and figure out what field you really want to go into, and it doesn’t have to be in IT,” he says.

Nazeem has also encouraged his own children to do the same, saying that young people often struggle with deciding which path to take after high school. So, experimenting with various disciplines is a good way to see what works best for your personality. “The beauty of being young is that you have all of the time and opportunities that the world has to offer at your disposal: use your 20s to realise your passion, then build on it in your 30s, and by the time you’re in your 40s, you’re already flying,” he advises.

Nazeem is a self-proclaimed foodie who appreciates a good meal. He frequently explores the city in search of the best food spots, and according to him, Johannesburg has a plethora of hidden gems that most of its residents are unaware of. “I often hear people say that there isn't much to do in Joburg, which is completely false: there is a lot to do if you actually take the time to go out there and find it,” he says. “The most important lesson I’ve taken away from the Covid-19 pandemic is that life is meant to be lived, so go out and live it.”

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