So far, 2018 has been a noteworthy year for South Africa, as we celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
In keeping with the spirit of leadership we spoke to Rakesh Parbhoo, CEO at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa about his views on leadership; and how the company engages with its partners, vendors and people to build its brand of value-added distribution.
How do you define leadership?
Leadership for me is first and foremost about being able to bring a diverse group of people together and motivating them around a common goal.
That means respecting diverse opinions and listening to people. It’s about being able to simultaneously deal with many operational business issues while being able to shape a vision for where you want to take a business.
I personally follow a philosophy of “servant leadership”, which comes naturally to me and has been how I have worked over many years before I even realised it was a formal philosophy.
I see it simply as being part of the team and not the boss. My job is to help and work with others to achieve their ambitions, which in turn builds a better business and helps me achieve my goals.
In your role at Westcon-Comstor what do you define as your greatest asset?
I believe I have the ability to work with people and find common ground irrespective of backgrounds. This, combined with strong financial acumen, allows me to learn quickly and enables me to bring out the best in people to focus on what the company needs.
The best asset Westcon-Comstor has is a great team of people that cares about the business, our customers and partners – and that makes my job so much easier.
Africa as a continent is unique in so many ways, what do you believe sets the business environment in Africa apart?
I am fortunate to have spent the last 12 years of my life living and working across the African continent.
Africa is unique due to its diverse cultures and geographic spread. This results in the business arena being different in each country and you really have to understand that to be successful.
While there are risks in any environment, Africa also has the ability to leapfrog, which I have seen time and time again. This makes it an exciting geography to work in where boundaries are pushed continuously, and opportunities are ever present.
How important is partnering with leading brands to your line of business?
It’s vital. Leading brands have both leading technology as well as a vision and goal to ensure that their customers succeed. The technology world is awash with products but businesses need to see value from that technology, which leading brands tend to focus on.
What aspects of Westcon-Comstor do you believe make the business a leader in distribution?
We have a great team, locally and globally that support each other. That, combined with our constant focus on operational efficiency, being on the cutting edge of digital distribution and our geographic footprint, make us a preferred choice to both our vendors and our customers.
What type of business legacy do you want to leave on your business?
I want the people in our business to feel that they are part of something great and for our customers and vendors to feel that they have a true partnership with us.`
Any advice you can impart on a young learner hoping to be one of Africa’s next leaders?
Always keep your eyes out for new opportunities. Very few careers are mapped out , so don’t be afraid to step out of a comfort zone in order to grow. That means taking on more responsibility and proving to others that you can succeed.
Behind the scenes …
What do you do on your time off?
I braai – a lot. It helps me unwind after a long day. And I love to be with my family and friends. I do run (not as often as I should) and play a bit of golf when I get the chance. I also enjoy being a handyman. When you spend all day in meetings and in front of a computer, working with your hands can be therapeutic.
What technology device can you not live without?
Sadly, my phone. There are some days I wish it didn’t exist but, besides work, it’s a source of news, music and research.
What daredevil activity would you like to still do?
Everest, Masai Mara, Nascar etc – I would also like to get my pilot’s license at some stage and my dream has always been to fly helicopters.
I listen to Trance mostly, but love 70s, 80s, rock and heavy metal too. Yes, I am aware that seems muddled.
Too hard to choose. I love food. It could be a simple hamburger or a gourmet dinner – just depends what mood I am in.
I have to pick more than one: South Africa, Ireland and Kenya. South Africa, as it’s my home and where I have lived most of my life; I love the people and the lifestyle. Ireland as I was born there and always a part of me. Kenya, because I got to live and work there for five years and it’s an amazing country with wonderful people and a lot to do.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” by Nelson Mandela. I have loved that quote since I first saw it. I relate to it and we often start out thinking something is too difficult until we actually get stuck in and do it.