Kevin is a multi-talented CIO, whose love for all things IT began when he joined an after-school computer club, which gave him a definite edge over his peers.
Kevin Wilson, GM for group IT services at Stefanutti Stocks, describes himself as a child of the ’80s with roots in Zimbabwe, who grew up on the ZX spectrum – the early computers.
Fortunately for him, one of the parents at his school was a computer scientist by training, and offered to train kids on a device you could program on at home. “This exposure led us to create a computer club,” he says, “where myself and my brother, and a few other classmates spent a lot of time after school playing around with these programs.”
Kevin’s brother leaned towards the software side of things, while he was more of the electronics, hardware and infrastructure person. “We were at least in standard 6 or 7 when we created our first consumer computer program,” he explains. “So, we’ve been in this world of IT for quite a while now, and I believe this gave us a massive advantage over most of our peers.”
“Unlike the computer literacy classes that are offered at schools now, where students learn how to, for instance, create a Word document, during our time, we were writing in assembler on the processor, which allowed us to work on a few incredible things. We developed a program that would balance any high school chemical equation, and this would allow you to essentially complete your chemistry class for the entire year by merely working on these programs, and this is what gave us the leapfrog advantage,” Kevin adds.
A stint in the army
After completing his matric, Kevin went off to university to study electrical engineering at Wits, but in the process was roped into the army. He later became a lieutenant and ran the army’s training camp, teaching soldiers about weapons and mortars. Kevin was also a PT instructor, and still exercises every morning, encouraging his team to do the same.
“I was already working in the computer industry, and if you didn’t want to be a programmer and were forced do a BSc, the only other option you had was to study what was then called light-current electrical engineering, where somewhere down the line, you might have an opportunity to work on some computer circuits, but I wasn’t convinced that I’d be fully immersed in the computer industry taking that route.”
After Kevin left the army, he worked quite a bit for managed services companies and had the opportunity of working on mainframe peripherals, and Unix and Linux environments. “This set the tone of my career in IT, where I worked heavily around Unix and Linux solutions,” he explains.
He later acquired other skills such as software development, integration, and deployment, which Kevin Wilson is a multi-talented CIO, whose love for all things IT began when he joined an after-school computer club, which afforded him a broader view of the other disciplines. “Understanding how the code was written, looking after databases, installing networks, capturing data, made it a balanced and holistic view of IT,” he adds.
This was during his time with CS Holdings, which later became Bytes Solutions. Kevin was looking after managed services with 2,000 engineers in 32 service centres around the country. It was a large set-up that included most of the big PC and printer vendors in the industry, which all gave Kevin exposure to different technologies.
From banking to construction
Today, Kevin, more often than not, uses open source, largely due to his software and coding background. “The telephone system at Stefanutti for instance, is completely open source telephony services and is cloud-based,” Kevin explains.
He also has experience working with some of the big five banks, but what drew him to Stefanutti was that unlike in the financial services industry, where he was doing integrations across 400+ applications, there are only six lines of business applications in the construction industry.
Kevin highlights that the construction industry – compared to the other industries – works in reverse because most of their services are insourced. This requires a highly technical and hands-on internal team.
An IT powerhouse
Kevin says that he is quite fortunate that four out of the five siblings in the family are entrenched in the IT industry, which makes his family a little IT powerhouse of its own. They can lean on and bounce ideas off one another.
He does note that standards have dropped over the years, highlighting that maths literacy and computer literacy have now become the everyday, mediocre norm. He’d love to see excellence return, which requires higher-grade maths and computer science. Kevin believes that very little emphasis is being put on that aspect of IT: “Even if you just have two students in that class, it doesn’t matter, you need those two students – they can be the shining stars,” he says.
For Kevin, it is pointless to bemoan the fact that the industry lacks skills, but fails to fix the problem at grassroots level. “If IT doesn’t look after or sponsor those two or three students who want to do maths and computer science at that higher level, we will fail at developing the next generation of IT leaders,” he adds.
The missing middle
Kevin recently spoke at a conference on skills and defined a term he calls the missing middle. It speaks to the structure in an organisation where you have the interns at the bottom being trained and the very senior staff right at the top who are being handsomely compensated, and comfortable in their roles. Then there is the group in the middle that you’ll always struggle with. As such, what most companies do is outsource that missing middle.
The solution, according to Kevin, is to somewhat dilute the leadership and delegate it all the way to the bottom in a bid to continue and create a culture of leadership at all levels.
This may be the reason that Stefanutti has a better employee retention rate than other companies. “I’ve even had some people return. I believe that this all boils down to us doing something right as an organisation,” Kevin says.
The multitalented CIO
On a personal level Kevin comes from quite an artistic family: they all love music and entertainment, which inspired him to become a DJ and open his own bar. He also hosted large events and still runs a massive speaker system for the company events.
Kevin was also a diver and did that for many years until his health let him down and he was advised by doctors to take it easy.
Some of Kevin’s family members have fine arts degrees, and he says he’s able to put pen or pencil to paper fairly well, as an amateur cartoonist, and a self-proclaimed whiteboard specialist with a multi-coloured pen arsenal.
“It’s interesting because you’ll find that a person is never really one thing,” he says. “If you dig deeper and peel away the layers, you’ll find that underneath the professional persona lies a triathlete or chef, and all of those hidden talents can be applied to one’s day-to-day work, and even how that person manages their team.”
This interview was originally published in the second edition of the 2023 CIO Magazine. Read it here.