Chris Kistasamy has global ambitions for MakwaIT

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IT veteran Christopher ‘Chris’ Kistasamy has taken on the role of CEO at MakwaIT and reveals his plans to take an ambitious and dynamic IT firm onto the global stage, while retaining its African roots.

CIO South Africa caught up with Chris on the back of two major sporting events: the Soweto Derby at home and Manchester City vs. Liverpool across the pond. He’s a man passionate about his sports, namely volleyball in recent years, and football in his pre-injury years – making him  more spectator than player these days.

Digging his heels firmly in the sand with his volleyball league colleagues is how Chris keeps active nowadays – that’s when he’s not spending quality time with friends and family.

Chris, who is originally from Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal, has more than 25 years’ experience within the technology space. “I’ve been a fan of Makwa’s purpose and vision for some time now. It resonates with me,” he says. 

Surprisingly enough, Chris had no IT ambitions growing up. He initially wanted to become a chemical engineer.

“A unique opportunity presented itself to me,” Chris explains, “by way of my brother, who took it upon himself to apply to the Department of Minerals and Energy trying to get me a scholarship. I landed the scholarship! It was with Formula One sponsor Petronas, and in no time I was on a flight to Malaysia, where I accidentally ended up studying IT after laying my hands on a computer for the first time.”

Upper hand

The biggest selling point and differentiator for Chris is Makwa’s entrepreneurial approach to doing business: no red tape, fast and agile.  

Chris has a fair bit in common with CIOs, largely due to his prior roles. “Possibly the only difference between me and other CIOs at the time is that I had – over and above IT – other functions reporting to me (logistics, facilities, and occupational health and safety),” he explains, “which is why my role at the time couldn’t be labelled as a CIO and was more aligned to the executive of enterprise shared services role.”

Chris notes that transitioning from CIO to CEO has become more popular over the years as people start to understand the important role of CIOs in business, the consumerisation of IT, and how IT is disrupting almost all industries. 

“The CIO has the upper hand in terms of moving into the role of a CEO, just given the disruptive nature of technology across the globe,” he says. “However, it must be made clear that you cannot do technology for technology’s sake: technology is meant to solve problems. As such, CIOs have to take a different and more strategic perspective in looking at the business, becoming part of the opportunities being driven by the business, and assessing how tech can assist in meeting those desired outcomes.”

Chris has served in the public sector, leading enterprise shared services at state-owned entity Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, and in the private sector too, spending close to a decade at Standard Bank Group, initially as senior manager and lead segment architect: business enabling services. At the latter, he occupied several senior IT executive roles, spanning software quality engineering, technical platforms and tools, and engineering practices.

He also served as group technology architect at Metropolitan, and honed his skills as a junior programmer back in 2003 during his tenure with the State Information Technology Agency of South Africa.

Agenda 2024

MakwaIT is a leading South African digital technology company, which is committed to its partners, ensuring seamless management of their technology infrastructure, while empowering them to prioritise customer needs.

Chris plans to focus on differentiating and diversifying Makwa’s portfolio, and ensuring that the pipeline of clients is increased from a cross-sale and up-sale perspective, all while attracting and retaining awesome talent. “We also want a global presence, but a local flavour,” he explains. “We are very passionate about the continent, South Africa especially.” 

But first, he is getting to know the lie of the land, which is a big part of his plan to develop a roadmap for Makwa. 

“The business has to do a lot of deep introspection in terms of the kind of business it wants to be, but not forgetting where we are and what has brought us here,” he says. 

“Taking over from a founder-CEO is not an easy task, as there are certain existing values and characteristics that drive the business, and bringing in a CEO from the corporate environment would obviously have a different perspective and interest in how to drive the business forward. Part of the journey is really thinking deeply about the purpose and values of the business, the ‘smell of the place’, something we have to define for ourselves,” he adds.

This interview was originally published in the first edition of the 2024 CIO Magazine. Read it here.

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