Seartec South Africa – Boosting Growth through Diversity

“I think we’ve been given a phenomenal opportunity to take a company that in two years will be 50 years old and reengineer and reposition it.”

Interview with Mark McChlery, CEO of Seartec

Mark McChlery, CEO of Seartec

Seartec was re-launched with a new vision and new management mid-2014 when you were appointed by Deneb. Can you start by telling us how you and your senior management intend to reposition and reengineer the Seartec brand?

I think we’ve been given a phenomenal opportunity to take a company that in two years will be 50 years old and reengineer and reposition it. With decades of similar market approaches and strategic penetration, you can lose sight of just how dynamic the market that you follow can be. Through all of that our holding company, Deneb Investments was looking at the performance of the Sharp brand, which is the principle brand that we import into South Africa. They looked at Sharp for what it is, what the potential is in the South African markets and what we need to do, to be a player in that potential industry. For Seartec, the key is understanding more about what the market needs and competing in a space where you are delivering and educating the market into what is coming next in advancing technology so that they can evolve with you.

What was your brief when they hired you?

We were tasked to renew, reinvigorate and reposition the company. More importantly, it was a coalition of the willing to take it from where it was to where it has never been before.

What are some of the major changes you’ve implemented and instituted since taking over?

Critically it’s all about technology. We’re a technology-based company in that we play in a number of industries or sectors but it’s all on the foundation of technology. So in our business automation space it’s about questioning what is currently being utilized, what is the next best thing and how can we easily integrate that into day-to-day business life? From this we built everything around technology and one of the key changes was data. It understood the data that existed within Seartec and what that could tell us. Then reengineering our integrated systems so that we could be more dynamic and reactive at first, so that we could then position ourselves to pick up nuances and become proactive.

The birth of FuzeCloud, which is our data centre company, was really about understanding that data is the nexus of all technology solutions.

Will Sharp remain the core element in Seartec business or will you look to make additional acquisitions?

Sharp is our primary brand. Since April 2014 we have made a number of strategic moves where we’ve diversified for ourselves. We acquired 100% of the equity in a security and access control management company called Limtech. We also then saw an opportunity with a start-up out of cape town called OfficeBox which is a phenomenally exciting brand that we see great potential for in that customers can now order their stationery online as you would anything from Amazon or locally here but more in the business realm.

How do you see the business developing as it starts to grow under your management?

Again, my answer is always going to revert back to technology and the use of technology. Historically in South Africa and Africa we have an economy that has always been more advanced in its use of technology. But we’re actually at a stage now where globally the pervasive use of technology on multiple platforms has started sprinting. With technology we understand that businesses shouldn’t need to pay to buy on premise installations. It’s quite expensive, you need resources that need to be able to manage the implementation and service of that and so it’s more about taking the various components of our bouquet and then taking elements of that and tailor making it into a service rather than just a product.

Do you view the business overall as a technology company or as a product company?

A technology company. In its origins Seartec was known simply as a distribution company where for example it would buy a container of boxes and sell that container of boxes. And there’s still a space for that in every economy. But critically, the sustainability of that is that you make yourself more vulnerable to the exogenous or the endogenous impact of currency or the geopolitical landscape, availability of stock or lack of stock due to strikes. You are at the mercy of so many elements if you’re just a simple box mover. So we see the tremendous value in Seartec and in creating the sustainable business model of offering service and on-consumption service where our customers, whether it is a business or a consumer, still gets the benefit of the entire infrastructure but only pays for what they consume and not the whole thing.

Could you elaborate about your new data hub in Cape Town, which will allow cloud-computing services? What will this give the company and is it also expected to be replicated elsewhere in South Africa?

Yes absolutely. I think the birth of FuzeCloud, which is our data centre company, was really about understanding that data is the nexus of all technology solutions. We need to be able to own the data for it to provide any true value to the user or to the company. So when we redeveloped the building we took the view that we were going to invest in building a world-class data centre. First and foremost for our internal use but also to offer it as a service to our group companies that we are a subsidiary within. And then through that morph it into a platform where we can offer disaster recovery or hosting or co-location and effectively become a landlord of our little piece of the cloud. To do this effectively, we need to make sure that we have all the right security protocols in place that the redundancy is efficient, so we’ve already replicated into other data centres for our own disaster recovery and when we get to a commercially viable number, we will build another one and replicate internally.

From your perspective what do you think remains to be challenged in the South African technology industry overall?

The big debate on the big business table at the moment is security of information. There is a promulgation of an act, which is the protection of private information, which will have a massive impact in a number of industries such as retail, lending and banks where it’s actually a gazetted law in terms of protecting the information that you’re given to transact with a customer. That then says, by extension, how secure are businesses data environments? When you sign up with a data centre and trust that data centre to have a server of yours there, what is that security measure and how failsafe is it? I believe security of data is going to be the trump card and that’s all about relevance and trust at the same time.

South Africa has been ranked very low in terms of science and education generally. Do you think a group like Seartec can actually make a meaningful contribution to boosting South Africa’s global rankings in the sciences and technology arena?

That’s a big job. It would be naive to think that any one entity or company would be able to make such a massive impact. I think corporate citizenry is critical in uplifting the societies that can least afford the use of technology. It’s widely recognised that we are now in the fourth industrial revolution where the proliferation of technology and information is really what will drive education into the future. And the simple fact that Seartec has been proudly distributing calculators for Sharp as the largest distributor of Sharp calculators in the world for close on forty-eight years means that we are already talking to that education sector. Over the last few years Sharp has been developing touchscreen technology for use in the digital classroom and installing them all over the country. This is where tactile education becomes the next best thing and where students actually get to interact with data and information.

What is your overall vision to change the technological landscape and redefine the meaning of innovation on the African continent?

What will need to be understood is that technology is the augur for big business, society and for government. Being the augur for all of those is technically the nucleus pulling all of these things together. As a technology provider to the business realm and to the consumers through consumer goods, I think it’s about putting technology into people’s hands and allowing them to join the dots themselves. As a business model by bringing that product in and offering it to our markets on consumption, will allow us to keep relatively continuous contact with our customer base and that’s all about education as well.


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