Spectacular CIO Journey puts IT execs behind the wheel

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Insights and friendships were fostered at the CIO immersion in Simon’s Town and Franschhoek.

Widely lauded as the “best CIO event ever” by its participants, IT execs were buzzing with energy and brimming with inspiration after the first ever CIO Journey, made possible by Makwa IT and its visionary leader, Lethabo Mokone.

Guided by the theme, “IT leaders behind the wheel”, world class wine tasting and incredible food provided the backdrop for an unique 24-hour programme full of discussion, networking and engagement.

Whether splashing through the waves with the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), learning to think like a founder or sparring with an experienced CFO about boardroom effectiveness, CIOs felt challenged and inspired – and the journey that took place on 17 and 18 August 2023 received rave reviews from its participants, creating proper FOMO among colleagues and the anticipation that more CIO journeys will be in store next year.

On the “morning after”, while enjoying a delicious breakfast in the wine cellars of Haute Cabriére in Franschhoek, CIOs enthusiastically listed some of their take-aways:

  • CIOs should not ask for permission to get involved in the business, when they already have a seat at the table.
  • Providing insight to other decision-makers is essential.
  • Learn from the founder’s mentality: bring back agility and get “shadow IT” under control.
  • The NSRI showed how purpose and passion can yield world-class and life-changing results.
  • Sharing experiences in the space of the CIO South Africa community benefits IT execs and their companies tremendously.
  • CIOs should always be involved in board level conversations.
  • Eliminating fear (whether on a crazy boat ride or in the office) can take you far.
  • See yourself as a business leader, not a tech leader.

Johannesburg-based CIOs flew into Cape Town early in the morning, and after meeting up with some local colleagues, hopped on a shuttle to Simon’s Town, the networking and laughter immediately kicking into overdrive. The reception at NSRI Station 10 was warm and welcoming, as volunteers fussed over the IT leaders, who were grinning from ear to ear with a mix of nerves and excitement.

In less than 10 minutes, NSRI CEO Cleeve Robertson gave an awe-inspiring rundown of the organisation’s activities: they rescue more than 1,500 South Africans a year (half of them children) with a completely donor-funded organisation, including 1,400 well-trained volunteers working from over 40 bases along the coast. Cleeve also explained how the NSRI is getting involved inland now, providing rescue swimming lessons to scores of kids and people who never had that opportunity before.

The CIOs were bowled over by the NSRI’s ability to remain sustainable and innovate. “I was very taken by the dedication that the volunteers have out at sea,” one CIO commented. “You could really feel it, it wasn’t just for show. Over and above that, it was amazing to see someone working with a purpose – something I can learn from as a leader and take back home with me.”

When it was time for CIOs to get behind the wheel, everybody suited up in wetsuits and took to the waters of False Bay in a variety of craft. Big smiles were shared, as each of the IT execs got an opportunity to drive each of the boats, hopping from one to the other at a speed of 12 knots, and exchanging ideas and insights with the volunteers and rescuers. The sky over False Bay seemed to have cleared into a beautiful blue just for the occasion.

Once back on dry land, it was into the winelands, as the CIOs headed off to Franschhoek to check into their accommodation at L’Ermitage. Situated on the slopes of the prestigious Fransche Hoek Estate, adjacent to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve and Haute Cabriére, is a haven like no other, shaped by the natural embrace of spectacular mountain ranges.

Wine tasting and unlocking your founder’s mentality
Jonathan Smit, the founder of PayFast, and executive transition coach Graham Fehrsen from NOVO had a stimulating discussion at the Holden Manz Wine Estate, encouraging CIOs to embrace their inner entrepreneurs.

Jonathan explained that he was highly stressed at the early stages of the business, and in terms of high-stakes decision-making, advised the CIOs: “never make life-changing decisions when you’re experiencing an unusual amount of stress. “Don’t let your brain override your gut, especially when you’re highly stressed – that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made.”

A founder is nothing without his people, in terms of building the right culture and one that sticks, said Jonathan, who also encouraged CIOs to celebrate the small wins, whether it’s a R1 deal or R100 million deal. That’s why he personally always keeps a bottle of champagne in the fridge for such occasions. Challenging bureaucracy was another important lesson. “Challenge the status quo of bureaucracy,” he said. “Don’t let it exist if it doesn’t have to be there.”

“When I think of a founder’s mentality, three things come to mind: passion, purpose, and inspiration,” one CIO commented, as the group combined the discussion with a tasting menu of Holden Manz’s spectacular wines. “To motivate my team to continue to innovate and give them that purpose and passion to their work – that’s what I’m bringing back to my organisation.”

A dinner with a CFO
For dinner, the group headed to Ōku, a Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant situated on Franschhoek main road, to discuss what IT leaders are doing to shape the future of their business, where special guest Zaf Mahomed, CFO at Oceana, also shared his perspectives on relevance in the boardroom for CIOs.

To set the scene and in between a delectable 10-course meal, CIO South Africa’s MD, Joël Roerig, encouraged the CIOs to discuss some of their success stories. Zaf then jumped in to shed some light on what he believes would propel the CIO’s relevance in the boardroom. “Start by simplifying the tech,” he said. “This is because some of the terminology we use can go over people’s heads. Try explaining its value in its simplest form.”

As far as strategy is concerned, Zaf said that digital is bigger than everyone thinks – it’s an entire shift, which has many moving parts in the digital transformation journey. “When you think that you need a standalone digital strategy, that’s when you’ve lost the entire plot,” he explained.

A seat at the table
Francine Katsoudas, executive vice president and chief people, policy & purpose officer of Cisco globally, had joined the afternoon and evening sessions of the CIO Journey through her excellent relationship with partner Makwa IT. She explained that the discussion about the CIO’s importance in the boardroom is fairly common in other countries like the US.

“Whether they are the CIO or the CTO, tech leaders need to initiate conversations or issues that put them front and centre of the strategy,” she said, emphasising that CIOs should be “prepared and ready” to have strategic dialogues with other leaders at any given time.

To be able to react to waves or disruptions, CIOs or CTOs must think like leaders, Zaf added. “You already have a seat at the table. What are you waiting for, permission?” He advised the IT leaders at the dinner to stop thinking about themselves from a functional perspective when they already have a seat at the table as a leader. “If you don’t, he warned, you will have a seat at the table, but not a voice at the table. You need to play the role of a co-pilot to assist exco or the CEO fly the ’plane’ and for it not to crash. Don’t ask for permission, act,” he concluded.

Participants in the first-ever CIO Journey included:

  • Clayton Naidoo, Ciso Senior Director
  • David Long, Motus CIO
  • Dolf Smook, Empact Group Head: Technology Solutions
  • Doug McNeilage, Verint Regional Director 
  • Faith Burn, Eskom CIO 
  • Francine Katsoudas, Cisco Executive Vice President
  • Francois Swanepoel, Oceana CIO
  • Graham Fehrsen, Novo CEO
  • Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa Managing Director
  • Jonathan Smit, Payfast Founder
  • Justin Freeman, Telesure Group CIO
  • Lazola Ngqaza, Sanlam Business CIO
  • Lethabo Mokone, Makwa IT CEO
  • Linda Vos, Linda Vos Photography
  • Malose Mabusela, Makwa IT Head of Demand Generation
  • Melle Eijckelhoff, CIO South Africa Director
  • Mohammed Gause, Tiger Brands CIO
  • Neil Davy, Verint Account Director
  • Nomahlubi Sonjica, CIO South Africa Community Manager
  • Nomonde White, Bidvest Bank CIO
  • Reabetswe Rabaji, CIO South Africa Managing Editor
  • Shalendra Singh, Hungry Lion Head of IT
  • Sylvia Sathekge, SNG Grant Thornton CIO
  • Zaf Mahomed, Oceana CFO

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