Old Mutual CIO Johnson Idesoh unpacks the fundamentals to retain top tech talent

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Johnson shares his top five tips for South African companies to grow tech skills in their organisations.

Purpose, exciting work, culture, diversity, and money – these are the fundamentals that companies should adopt to retain top tech talent. That’s according to Johnson Idesoh, chief information officer at Old Mutual.

The half-Nigerian, half-Scottish international says that when it comes to talent, South African companies are still grappling with how to grow skills.

“In the 60s,” he says, “India made a decision to become the biggest tech country in the world. Look at where they are right now in the world. I see no reason why we can’t do the same. Sure, we don’t obviously have a billion people, but we have education structures, the infrastructure, the skills, and the time zone in our favour. We can definitely become a player in the tech space.”

However, to reach this level, he points out the importance of finding and retaining talent. Here are the five key steps he recommends CIOs should adopt to retain talent:

  • “Purpose. People want to work for an important purpose, and I think large companies tend to miss that. As a tech employee, you’re fundamentally helping a customer with a new experience. You’re fundamentally helping a customer reach their financial goals. Because of you, the customer is now in a better financial position. That’s the purpose, and that’s why I spend a lot of time linking our technology with the purpose of the organisation.
  • People want to do exciting work. Some companies have old systems. I’m 51, and if I were to bring a 25-year-old and tell them to work on a 30-year-old system, they’re not going to stay for long. However, bringing them on to work on the initiatives that are transforming us from our heritage systems to Cloud based solutions, Robotics and Digital serving is what is going to excite them. What is also valuable is that the people who have been in the company for more than 30 years, have a degree of intellectual property in understanding the business – and they are critical when it comes to skills development.
  • Culture and environment. We all talk about new ways of work, but this concept of allowing people to work in small teams to deliver outcomes and simplifying a lot of bureaucracy in companies is important. People want some level of flexibility and working for a company that affords you that is a plus. As an organisation we also realise that the world has changed and that people work as effectively from home as they do in the office. For this reason, a hybrid working model is a fundamental part of new ways of working.
  • Diversity. Ensure you have a diverse capability; ages, genders, and race. The moment you get that mix right – you’re on a smooth road to retaining talent.
  • And then there’s money. We have to be competitive. You don’t necessarily have to be the highest paying, but you must be competitive.”

Prior to joining Old Mutual in 2014, Johnson was with Aviva for nine years where he held various roles. He says that he came back to Africa because he was fascinated by how the financial services sector is so innovative.

“I think as Africa we are too humble. And we say other countries are more advanced, but I’ve had the privilege of being in those countries, and I can tell you the level of expertise in Old Mutual is no different from companies in the UK. So being humble tends to hold us back, and we end up selling ourselves short,” says Johnson.

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