Q Data's chief acts as if he's not everyone's boss
LEEN VAN DER BIJL
IN MANY ways Leen van der Bijl, acting chairman of Q Data, embodies a new management style which is in sharp contrast to predecessor Piet den Boer, who suddenly resigned this week.
For one, he has a computer in his office, and brings with him a style that is "consultative and facilitative".
Den Boer, in contrast, is described as "authoritative".
Van der Bijl assumes the mantle in the midst of an internal investigation into possible irregularities regarding the awarding of a contract, three years ago, to supply the SA Police Services with computer networks.
Van der Bijl is adamant Den Boer's resignation and the investigation are not related, but merely a "coincidence of time".
"The timing is not good, but time can never be good for anything," he said, adding "categorically" that Den Boer's resignation had nothing to do with the row over police commissioner George Fivaz.
He says the company line is simple: "Den Boer's authoritative style was not part of our immediate future. It was good at the beginning, but these days we need to strategise differently. The days when group strategy and its execution are determined by an individual are over. True to his style, Den Boer said the divorce was immediate."
The counter immediately responded, with Q Data shedding 1.94% (76c) to close the day at R9.10c.
Barring unforeseen problems, Van der Bijl is poised to become Q Data's new chairman. He plays the prospect down. "The appointment is not a foregone conclusion - the board will meet to consider options, such as bringing in a prominent black businessman in a non-executive position.
"A final decision will be taken on Tuesday," he says.
And if he were to be chosen? Van der Bijl says: "It would be a challenge, offering me the opportunity to expand my horizons. And of course it means more work."
The group has grown steadily since it was formed on April Fool's day in 1981 by Van der Bijl, Den Boer and Chris Bester. He estimates 40-50% of the business comes from the public sector and parastatals. These contracts were largely granted by the previous government, which in part explains the present row over contracts.
Black equity opportunities could be on the horizon, in line with the changed political environment. "At the moment it is simply my personal view that a black equity partner could add value to the group.
"The stake would have to be meaningful, somewhere between 5% and 10%. It has not been discussed formally, but I plan to raise the matter."
Van der Bijl expects more growth to come from exports, which accounts for 5% of group business. He wants this figure to rise to 15%.
Asked what he considers to be his highest achievement to date, Van der Bijl ponders for a few moments. "It's a good question. Personally, the major achievement in life has to be as founder member of Q Data and seeing the tremendous growth the company has gone through."
His career has not been straightforward. After high school, he was keen to be either a teacher or an electrician, but by the time he had finished studying part-time for a BA degree and a National Technical Certificate, he had lost interest in both. He subsequently completed an electrical engineering degree at the University of Pretoria, but lost interest soon after joining the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
By this time his interest had shifted to computer software. He joined IBM in 1974, but left to form Q Data in 1981.
A self-confessed workaholic, Van der Bijl says he spends up to 12 hours a day in the office. He seldom takes lunch, except for business, and makes it home just in time for dinner. He has little spare time, but what's left of it is spent at church and playing golf. He admits, however, that he has no time to improve on his handicap.