Successful leaders’ capabilities should transcend industries, says Shoaib Nathie

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He believes CIOs must be versatile, continuously learn and take risks.

Shoaib Nathie, CIO at CIB, grew up in a small community just outside of Vereeniging in the old Vaal Triangle. He was always the numbers person and initially wanted to become a chartered accountant before a relative at a family function suggested he take a dabble with IT.

His first corporate IT job was with Bryte Insurance (formerly Zurich/SA Eagle). “The majority of my career in IT has been in the insurance sector, where I have held many different IT roles,” he says. “However, I have over the years broadened my experience across various other industries, including telecoms, distribution, mining and manufacturing. I’d say out of my 25 years in IT roughly 10 has been outside of insurance,” he notes.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself

He points out that when you are being headhunted as a professional, companies often look at the industry you have spent most of your time in and, for the most part, you get offered roles in that one particular industry. “I wanted to be deliberate about my career and ensure that my skill set was both deep and broad, and that it transcended industries,” he says.

“When you get to the more senior levels in IT, your skills become portable; it’s no longer about the industry you're working in, it’s about being able to add value in whatever sector you’re in,” he adds.

While Shoaib was working as an IT executive, he completed his MBA with GIBS, another deliberate but important move, he says. “From an academics perspective, I always knew that I had to match my academics with the level of experience in order for the two to work together in synergy, and it’s worked out quite well,” he says.

From a career perspective, Shoaib has always known where he wanted to be in the future and that was in a senior IT role, a target he’s always had, coupled with the ambition to one day run an entire organisation. “I think it would be nice to see an IT guy run a non-IT company at some point. As it stands I don’t think there are too many examples of that,” he says.

A changing risk profile is a new opportunity

If I look at where I am now and how my personal risk profile will change over the next few years. My main focus currently are my two sons: one is in matric this year and the other in his second year at varsity. But once their future’s are secured, the long term plan is to pursue my biggest challenge yet: “Being entrepreneurially minded I want to test my mettle as an entrepreneur and possibly run my own business one day,” he says. “When your risk profile changes and some of your responsibilities decrease, it allows you to take more chances, and this is an opportunity I want to explore.”

As experienced as he is, Shoaib still relies on the advice of a mentor he met way back during his time with SA Eagle Insurance, who he describes as a coach rather than a mentor. He stresses the importance of mentorship and career coaching, especially for young, inexperienced individuals getting into the world of work.

“I think young aspiring IT professionals today really lack a full appreciation of how broad IT is as a discipline,” he says. “They view it as a career where one can make good money very quickly, but we all know that success doesn’t come without hard work.”

Success comes with life experiences

According to Shoaib, success is a result of several factors including education, industry knowledge, some luck and – most importantly – experience, which all became very clear while he was doing his MBA. “I’d say pursuing an MBA can give you a good advantage, but it must also be noted that not everyone is afforded that privilege.

However, something which stood out to me during the MBA journey was the age cohort: some people were older than me and others were younger than me,” he notes. “And being from amongst the older participants, I realised that we as the older participants added value because we had life and practical experience, and could relate more to the material being covered or subject matter being explored or even the case studies that were posited. On a personal level this helped to make the course easier for me,” he adds.

“In contrast, a younger person, even with an MBA in hand, is missing one important element, and that’s practical business and life experience, and the value of the mistakes you make in life and work, even in an academic setting.”

He did, however, make some suggestions for those looking to advance in their careers or become successful entrepreneurs. “You need to be business savvy and understand different areas of the business," he advises. “Playing the IT guy alone isn’t enough, you have to know a lot about the business and a lot about the different areas of the business.

"What happens in IT sometimes when you’re doing business projects on behalf of the business, is that IT is called upon to be the change agent or innovation hub. The company is investigating how technology can be used to solve specific problems. However, if you do not understand business processes and how to use technology to make those processes more seamless, you are not going to be seen to be adding the right levels of business value. To be more specific, business value is what organisations are looking for; organisations will not spend money on IT projects that do not provide business value."

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