Company Culture Leadership

3 South African CEOs driving the company culture agenda and what we can learn from them

company culture agenda

If you’ve been following our blog for a while now, you’ll know that we are passionate about the company culture agenda.

We’ve written quite a bit about it here, here, here, here and here, so suffice it to say it’s something we notice wherever we go. As such, it’s always a matter of great pride when we notice South African businesses who are killing it on the corporate culture front. 

Today we thought we’d take a look at a few South African CEOs who are going out of their way to encourage employees and create a culture of high performance. So, without further ado, here are three local rock stars who are making it their mission to create happy work spaces in which their respective teams have plenty of opportunity to grow, develop and thrive. 


1. Uno de Waal (CEO and founder of Between 10and5)

"My business is a media and publishing company focused on South Africa's emerging creative industry - we bring our readership the most inspiring creative work from young South African talent on a daily basis to celebrate the breadth and depth of work coming out of SA. We also produce a range of events and video content, using the creative industry as a base," explains Uno. 

As a leader, Uno believes that a positive company culture helps keep people inspired, motivated and moving towards the same goal. "There's a lot to be said for being on the same page when it comes to internal communication and I don't think that all companies value this enough," he emphasises. 

"We have a 90-day review for everyone in the business, which recurs every 90 days since the day they joined. Staff members create a Pecha Kucha style presentation (20 slides, accompanied by an explanation of 20 seconds each) on their previous 90 days and deliver this to the entire company.

READ: 360 Performance review template and how to use it

They talk about whatever was important to them - what they achieved, their challenges and what they're looking forward to. It's a chance to show everyone in the business what each person worked on (especially useful for a large remote team), plus it only takes 6 minutes and 40 seconds! Since we do a lot of video calls with our remote team, we'll record the talks so any new hires can go through the most recent ones, or other employees can go through it to catch up.”

Another big motivating factor within the business is the fact that there is a higher purpose to their work that goes beyond the bottom line.

"We have an active mission to showcase young emerging creative talent and that comes first and foremost in everything that we do. This is different to what drives most other companies that often have superfluous value missions, but never actually do what they say. Our publishing business lives and breathes this every day, and that permeates through the whole business."

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2. Carl Cronje and Jakes Maritz (Co-founders of Expat Explore)

Founded by two South Africans and based in the UK, Expat Explore offers group coach tours to top destinations around the world. Their professionally curated trips include comfortable transport, accommodation and the services of expert guides. Guaranteed departures and exceedingly affordable rates smooth the way for hassle-free travel, while their dedicated customer support team and online community provide all the advice that you need as you prepare for your once-in-a-lifetime journey. In short, Expat Explore makes travel possible for everyone. 

Co-founder Carl Cronje says they believe that their business will only ever be able to thrive when each and every employee that works for the company is given an opportunity to do so as well. 

“A happy, well-equipped employee who feels supported by their team and superiors will always go the extra mile to contribute to the good of the whole. As such, we strive to create a positive workplace culture that permeates our entire operational structure, from our international offices to our HQ in London and wherever our tour guides and drivers accompany our valued guests around the globe,” he explains. 

The managerial team goes out of their way to create a happy space where employees have the opportunity to upskill and learn continuously. This includes going on some of the Expat tours to see how things work out on the road. Once their employees have travelled abroad, they find that they come back with a new perspective on the jobs they do and how it contributes to the enterprise as a whole. 

READ: 5 companies with a great company culture (and how they did it)

Co-founder Jakes Maritz says that in order to ensure that their teams remain connected between the London and international offices, their teams have daily Zoom meetings to assess progress and see if anyone needs assistance.

“We use Slack and Asana to manage projects and tasks, so everyone remains on the same page. It's very important to us that our employees have access to all the tools they need to get their work done as efficiently as possible, so we are always testing and trying new technologies and collaborations with outsourced service providers to smooth the way for optimal efficiency,” he explains. 

The Expat Explore managerial team also takes their responsibility as custodians of company culture very seriously, and this extends beyond the monitoring of productivity and results.

They see their employees as humans first and foremost, which means that they celebrate birthdays and personal milestones, and support individuals who encounter personal setbacks that may affect their ability to perform to the best of their ability. 

“We host regular team-building events to ensure that the various departments within our business cross-pollinate and get to know each other. Our overall goal is to foster a happy, welcoming atmosphere in which employees can feel at ease enough to be themselves and ask for help when they need it,” says Cronje. 

“Even though our company continues to grow in leaps and bounds, we come from humble beginnings. We try our very best to retain what's good in small business and adapt what's good with being bigger.  We will never become 'corporate' to the extent where we'll lose sight of our core values, that's been our guiding principles right from the start. This allows us to foster strong, healthy relationships that form the basis of our innovative team's connection with one another,” concluded Maritz. 

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3. John Woollam (CEO of Euphoria Telecom)

Euphoria Telecom provides flexible cloud-based VoIP PBX telephone service solutions for businesses in South Africa. The company revealed a new company-wide profit share scheme internally in 2018, and the first pay-outs were made in July 2019.

CEO John Woollam says that the difference between the Euphoria program and most of the others out there is that it doesn’t only incentivise a few key people, but was instead devised with the wellbeing of every one of the company’s employees in mind.

“We’re trying to promote an inclusive culture at Euphoria,” Woollam explains. “The profit share is not tied to an employee’s performance within the company at all. Bonuses and incentives are a different aspect of our engagement model. Our profit share pay-outs are done over and above these payments.”

The scheme is independently analysed by the accountants, who are also in charge of distributing the share certificates. Pay-outs occur twice per year, in July and January, and apply to everyone from the kitchen staff to the highest manager, directors and shareholders not included.

“The reasons we chose these months are that the audit finishes in May, which allows us enough time to arrange for pay-outs in July, and it's nice to get a top-up in January after the financial rigours of the festive season in December,” says Woollam.

“Companies with a culture of reciprocity report much higher levels of internal alignment and employee engagement. The long-term rollout of a program like this holds incredible benefits for the financial health of the company,” says Woollam. “A lot of people will speak to their staff and tell them that they are all in the same boat, and provide verbal recognition, but they seldom put their money where their mouths are.”

“At Euphoria we like to keep it simple. We introduced the program last year. We paid out this year. The process has been fully transparent and there was no lengthy waiting period. It's as simple as this - in your third year of working for Euphoria you will start earning profit. We want our people to feel that they are a part of something, and we want the company to make more profit so everyone can share in it. Our dream is for our employees' lives to be more financially stable, and just better in general.”

There you have it - three South African CEOs who are actively working to promote a positive company culture agenda. We look forward to keeping an eye on these innovative businesses, celebrating their inevitable success and watching how it bolsters our local economy from the inside out. 

If you would like to implement these engagement strategies alongside a recognition and rewards program that will enhance and streamline your existing measures, we invite you to take a look at our SaaS-based platform. It has been tailored with the needs of discerning CEOs and HR professionals in mind - it’s the perfect solution to keep the company culture agenda top of mind at your business at all times. 

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