Five years in, entrepreneur’s ambition strong as ever

Five years in, entrepreneur’s ambition strong as ever
Most entrepreneurs who use corporate careers as a springboard wait until at least their mid-30s before they take the leap to start their own business. Not Lyle Malander, whose ambition was far too expansive for any corporate career to contain for long. 

He had always wanted to be CEO of a big listed company, and at the age of 28 he decided to build his own business rather than claw his way up an increasingly narrow corporate tunnel.

Today, five years later, the Malander Group employs fifty people, has offices in Johannesburg and London, provides financial, marketing, recruitment and IT services to dozens of listed companies, and Lyle has been recognised as a rising star in the consultancy and accounting world. Among other awards, Lyle has been recognised as a top 15 finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® awards a competition run by Business Partners Limited.

It was a difficult decision to set out on his own, says Lyle. As a young CA at the accounting giant Deloitte who already had two US stints for the company under his belt, his path upwards inside the corporate world was open. But he was too impatient for the long waits between promotions. As entrepreneur, he felt he could set his own pace, create an organisation with his own values and experience the satisfaction of creating employment and opportunities for others.  “I decided I was young enough that, if I failed, I could always crash on my mom’s couch.”

Lyle grew up in Kuils River, Cape Town, with a perspective on both a corporate career and the life of an entrepreneur. His mother worked for a large clothing retailer, while his father started various businesses ranging from a panel beating workshop to a newspaper. 

Lyle knew how difficult the entrepreneurship path could be when he stepped out of his job in 2015.

In an early stroke of luck, he was joined in his venture by a Deloitte colleague, Shaveera John. Looking back, says Lyle, he did not fully realise how important Shaveera would be to the success of the Malander Group. As it turned out, the two CAs complement each other’s skills, with Shaveera running the company’s finances and compliance as CFO, and Lyle overseeing the operations and projects as CEO. 

They started off with “two minds and two laptops”, says Lyle, and in another fortunate break they landed their first contract on their second day. It was for a finance related project at a large construction firm. Lyle explains that in the world of financial consulting relationships matter, and in their short careers at Deloitte he and Shaveera had built enough of a professional reputation to give them a foothold in the corporate world when they started out on their own.

More contracts followed, and a year later the two entrepreneurs recruited their first employee. As their growth accelerated, finding talent became a major focus, and Lyle decided to turn the cost of recruitment into a profitable service by starting up Malander Placements. 

He did the same for marketing. Rather than treating the business’s marketing functions as a cost centre, he set out to build it as another service in the Malander Group’s increasingly diverse set of offerings to its clients. The result was the acquisition of a Johannesburg based business-to-business marketing agency Evergreen Media. 

By now, the Malander Group housed virtually all the non-core services that any business needs – finance and admin, recruitment and HR and marketing – putting it in a good position to expand its client base from large and listed companies to small and medium enterprises.

Because the nature of small businesses differs significantly from corporates, the Malander Group houses its outreach in a separate unit called M-inent. Apart from expanding their customer base to a whole new segment of the market, the idea is to help grow some of their small-business clients into future large customers.

The different services of the Malander Group are each housed in its own unit, with its own team and leadership, but function synergistically as a whole. Currently, about 90 percent of the group’s turnover stems from its accounting and financial service, with recruitment and marketing contributing about 5 percent to revenue. In the foreseeable future, Lyle hopes to grow the recruitment and marketing sales to 15 percent each. Meanwhile, the Malander Group has taken its first step on the international stage by opening an office in London. Lyle sees international expansion as an important part of his company’s growth, as it not only opens up new markets but makes the recruitment of talent easier by providing opportunities for international experience.

Five years into running his own business, Lyle has no doubt that he made the right decision to start his own company. The hardest part for him is the relentless pressure of having to set the tone for the entire organization in terms of work standards and values. But he finds that his ambition to one day head up a listed company has not diminished at all. What does constantly change is the path to his goal, as each of his decisions opens up so many new possibilities.  

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