His agility enabled him to make working from home a reality in a matter of days.
Justin Freeman, CIO at Telesure Investment Holdings (TIH), has spent most of his life working in the insurance industry – and for the very same company he works for today.
He joined TIH in 1999 as a programmer. After several years at TIH, he took a brief hiatus, and rejoined the company in 2010 as a senior developer. In 2019 he was appointed as TIH’s interim CIO, and was officially appointed as CIO in 2020.
Weeks after his appointment, the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores, giving Justin and his team the opportunity to ‘lean in’ and turn a crisis into an opportunity.
“When Covid-19 hit, and working from home became a reality, we hit the ground running. It took us three days to ensure that our staff were fully equipped, networks and security protocols were available to everyone to allow them to work from home securely, and it was business as usual for our customers, despite the unusual circumstances,” he explains.
He describes this time as going from looking after one building, to looking after 4,000 separate buildings, since everyone was working from home. “Looking back, this crisis was a huge confidence booster for myself and my team – we accomplished the seemingly impossible, in a short space of time. This has fuelled us to believe that anything is possible.”
Justin knew from the get-go exactly what route he wanted to take in the IT industry – the management route instead of the specialist route. “My time away from TIH and subsequent return really showed me that I had a way with people. I understand how to identify, engage, mentor and guide young talent – and get the best out of them. It was this realisation that confirmed that my passion was in management.
“My programming and developer background has also assisted me in my career. In IT, you don’t just want someone who just has the people skills, but someone who has the technical capabilities to be managing a team. IT professionals do respect someone who understands their world and where they are coming from,” he adds.
Justin's main task as CIO is to focus on key areas that need improvement, in order to stay on par with, or exceed, current international standards.
When it comes to moving up the ranks as quickly as he did, Justin says that this would not have been possible without the guidance, support and mentorship of his colleagues, as well as TIH’s CEO, Tom Creamer. “His guidance and experience have been pivotal,” he says.
His advice for the youth who aspire to enter the industry and become IT leaders one day is simple: “Study the company first and understand the type of business that the company does, before trying to get into its IT department – there’s your foot in the door,” he advises.
Justin says that this approach also applies to the interview process: don’t just approach it with an IT mindset – research the company beforehand and show that you have a keen interest in it. From an IT perspective, show them how you can enable the company and add value, he advises.
In his downtime, Justin enjoys spending time with his family, being outdoors, playing golf or reading. The last book he read was The Upside of Down: How Chaos and Uncertainty Breed Opportunity in South Africa by Bruce Whitfield.