Ferocious growth
From home office to market leader

Robert Sussman joint CEO of Integr8 Robert Sussman joint CEO of Integr8
Broadly speaking, the idea behind an SME goes something like this: a young entrepreneur sees a gap in the market.

He or she invests everything they have into this idea and customers jump at it.

Over time, they start employing people.

Soon, the business has 50 employees and then 100. Many years later, it is a large corporate with offices all over the show.

The entrepreneur, now grey and wise, sells the business for a bundle and buys a tropical island. Robert Sussman's life has followed this path to some extent. But, says the joint CEO of the Integr8 Group, the story will end somewhat differently.
Bigger is better
The Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year competition entrant explains that the business is now the largest privately owned ICT company on the continent.

With over 550 employees and blue-chip clients that most entrepreneurs only dream about, Sussman and partner Lance Fanaroff have walked a difficult path together.

But, after 10 years, the company is reaping the rewards generated by dedicated leadership.

The electrical engineer came into the employment market during the dot com boom, when IT professionals were still a rare breed. He worked at a small firm and eventually ran its Parliamentary contract.

This business was sold to a large conglomerate however, and Sussman decided it was time to start his own business.

Sussman met Fanaroff through a chance encounter and the latter knew of a large contract up for grabs. The contract was renewed a couple of times and the duo decided that a successful business was on the cards.

This business was eventually sold and a burst IT bubble later, they formed Integr8 with their pooled savings totalling R300 000.

"We decided to start exactly the same type of business (as the one we had sold). But this time, we were going to build a business with longevity; this time we would not sell but be the acquirer and build an IT giant," he says.
The differentiator
In 10 years, the partners have not invested another cent of their own money. Profit was continually reinvested and growth has been completely organic.

"What we make today we use to grow tomorrow," he says.

But, there are many other ICT players in the market and Sussman is intimately aware of this. Simply put, the difference is that Integr8 if different: "If I had to make an analogy, it would be Google. AOL and Yahoo! were there first but Google just did things differently.

"We had what the market needed: innovation and an entrepreneurial flair with a corporatised structure."

He explains that the never wanted to be a stuffy corporate organisation. But, large clients want a certain amount of structure so they adhere. Nevertheless, they also ensure that the structures within the business compliment the entrepreneurial spirit and never stifle it.

"A business with 20 people is completely different that one with 100 the business dynamics change each year."

A case in point illustrating this mindset is the company's new in house incubation programme where staff can bring a product or business idea to market.

Sussman explains that the average employee age is 26. Allowing staff to grow, expand and explore ideas, allows the business to grow and expand.
Brothers in arms
A growing organisation needs stable leadership and Sussman says that pressure the partners are under has obviously increased over the years.

Having a brother in arms means being able to share the stress and expectations new dynamics and conditions bring to the table.

"Behind closed doors we obviously don't agree on everything. But while the ideas might differ the vision is exactly the same."

It is this vision that has driven, and will drive, Integr8, he adds. The partners know exactly where they are heading and that is to grow the business.

Over the years they have also had to learn how to let go and delegate. This means that you now have take care of people who take care of your clients.

"But, we are completely entrenched in the business. It is not as if I am the CEO and sit in my office all day we are completely involved."

He explains that people who are interested in coming to work each day have driven growth and this specifically includes management.
Seedlings
When it comes to growth, advice is easily found: "Everyone will tell you how to make a million dollars but very few of them ever will. You just have to go ahead and do it.

"Then, you need to fail. If you fail, then fail as many times as you can as quickly as possible so that you can succeed."

Sussman explains that you will make mistakes and that you need to make mistakes in business.

"Over the last 10 years we have definitely lost some clients. But, we also have clients that are still with us and that have grown with us."

He says that there will always be issues that arise and that mistakes will be made. But, you have to get involved immediately in rectifying the situation and face up to it because "issues don't age well".

In essence, growth brings risk and risk needs to be interrogated and managed.