BT Tech's pick of the high riders in SA's IT industry
South Africa's IT industry, for decades in the backwaters of international development, has come of its own in recent years. Not only have we witnessed an influx of the top international, mainly US, companies, we have produced some homesprung talents which are beginning to spread their wings north of the Limpopo and beyond. Perhaps because of the early years of isolation and protectionism, but mostly because of their genuine talent and innovativeness, four local companies are among the top six in our ranking. In compiling BT Tech's Elite 15, SVEN LUNSCHE relied heavily on "expert" opinion, recent media coverage, both in the business and specialist press, as well as US magazine Upside, which runs the global Elite 100 every two years . The rankings are completely informal and are intended to recognise those running the show right now and to stimulate a bit of debate. Since the boundaries between IT and telecommunications are becoming increasingly blurred, we decided to include the latter. For brevity's sake we decided to exclude the cellphone industry.
Perhaps because of the early years of isolation and protectionism, but mostly because of their genuine talent and innovativeness, four local companies are among the top six in our ranking. In compiling BT Tech's Elite 15, SVEN LUNSCHE relied heavily on "expert" opinion, recent media coverage, both in the business and specialist press, as well as US magazine Upside, which runs the global Elite 100 every two years . The rankings are completely informal and are intended to recognise those running the show right now and to stimulate a bit of debate.
Since the boundaries between IT and telecommunications are becoming increasingly blurred, we decided to include the latter. For brevity's sake we decided to exclude the cellphone industry.
While he admits that he uses his PC mainly for its E-mail capabilities, Ord has crafted a local IT empire that ranges from outsourcing to the internet. In the process he has made a stack of money for his shareholders (Didata's share price has surged from 33c in 1991 to R14.50 at present) and himself (wealth unknown, but probably a few hundred million).
2 Rob Katz, managing director, Microsoft SA
Bill Gates's man (or woman) in South Africa would always make the top grade in this country, but Katz has performed well beyond the call of duty. Having started the business less than five years ago, the group has increased profitability tenfold, dominates the software market and is successfully exploring the rest of Africa.
3 Andile Ngcaba, director-general, Department of Communications
Not the man you would expect to transform the state-controlled telecommunications industry, given his Umkhonto we Sizwe background (including a stint as radar specialist with the Polisario guerrilla movement in Western Sahara). But after having structured a liberal regulatory environment for telecoms and sold off a bit of Telkom, Ngcaba has his mind set on making SA an integral part of the global information society.
4 Roux Marnitz, chairman, Persetel
Marnitz is an old campaigner in the local IT industry, including a stint at IBM SA, but his recent ventures have given him, and Persetel, a new lease of life. His recent R1-billion plus acquisition of Germany's Comparex is perhaps the most ambitious offshore deal yet by any of the local IT entrepreneurs. Shareholders are smiling as the share price has catapulted from 500c early last year to R27.50 this week.
5 The Internet Solution team
A mere three years ago these computer geeks were students experimenting with the Net at university. Now the company employs 150 staff and is valued at a conservative R50-million since Didata bought a 25% stake. The only service provider yet to make a buck out of the Net, it is largely responsible for introducing corporate SA to the web.
6 Piet den Boer, chairman, Q Data
Like Ord and Marnitz, Den Boer has build up his own local empire and provided his shareholders with an enormous bounty (share price performance: 40c in 1991, 900c today). The mainstay of his business, Q Data Consulting, is a big hit with the public sector and Den Boer is also leading the drive to develop local IT skills.
7 Dikgang Moseneke and Brian Clark, chairman and MD, Telkom
The pair (Moseneke, a lawyer and former PAC leader; Clark, previously head of the CSIR) have put an inefficient and protected giant on the road to consumer orientation. It is clearly not there yet, but its recent partial privatisation should help it achieve that goal while at the same time doubling the size of South Africa's telephone network.
8 Robert Breyer, managing director, Intel SA
In the US, Intel is in a league of its own with a Wall Street market value topping the equivalent of R400-billion and its president Andy Grove enjoying superstar status. Its local profile and that of its boss, Breyer, is much lower, but it is still hard to find any real competition for the microprocessor company.
9 David Kan, managing director, Mustek
The son of a former Taiwanese trade counsellor to SA, Kan started up Mustek in 1987 with a small 10-man factory in Ga-Rankuwa. It is now an IT industry heavyweight selling more PCs in South Africa than the big-brand companies. Mustek was listed on the JSE this week.
10 Jim Myers, president, SBC Communications Africa
Myers heads the African arm of Texas-based SBC Communications (formerly SouthWestern Bell), which this month became the largest foreign investor in the SA technology industry when it bought 18% of Telkom for about $770-million. It has held 15% of cellphone company MTN for a couple of years, a stake it has to shed given Telkom's control of Vodacom.
11 Sas du Toit, MD, Oracle South Africa
Oracle to date has been one of the top distributors of networking systems in SA, but its more recent claim to fame is taking on Bill Gates by backing the development of so-called "NCs". Ridiculed by Gates, network computers rely on the Internet to give you all the software you need, making both software and hardware applications obsolete. In two years time Du Toit will either head or bottom our rankings.
12 Hans Hawinkels, chief executive, Multichoice Africa
Digital satellite TV is now in well over 100 000 SA homes and this is only the beginning. As a pioneer of digital TV technology worldwide Hawinkels can rightfully claim a spot in this ranking. In a few years time he will undoubtedly climb up this table particularly if the satellite TV becomes interactive, introducing such specials as video on demand and access to the Net.
13 James Fitzgerald, MD, EDS
The biggest challenge facing the local IT industry is its skills shortage. Outsourcing IT sections is the obvious answer for corporations, both in the private and the public sector. Gradually Fitzgerald and EDS, backed by parents Didata and the global EDS network, have established a strong market position, a position that will strengthen as computer specialists exit to what they perceive are greener pastures.
14 Bill Venter, chairman, Altron
The grand old aristocrat of the local IT and telecoms industry, Venter built his empire during the bad old days of isolation and import substitution. He is still leading the call for greater protectionism, but his companies, particularly Fintech, have recently discovered a new lease of life. The Punchline debacle is all but forgotten.
15 The IBM management team
The IBM name should ensure top billing anywhere in the world, but is lucky to have made the list at all. Since the US parent sold out, Big Blue has lost its direction. Now that the Americans are back in the driving seat, and despite their own problems back home, they need to put a visionary at the helm of the local operation so that it can occupy its rightful place.