The new COO of the Paratus Group in Africa, Gert Duvenhage smooths the way
Everyone in the business knows that the pan-African telco sector is a complex network filled with license agreements and multiple complications around the technologies and different ways of working. Tell that to Gert Duvenhage as this man with a mission rises poised to tackle the challenges. As a man who understands the collective power of true cooperation, Gert is on a mission to stimulate understanding. His new role as COO of the Paratus Group is a key appointment as the group plans to double its revenue in the next five years with a mission to transform Africa through exceptional digital infrastructure and customer service.
“I think one needs to have an eagle eye on everything and then dive into the issues that need sorting – so that if or when people are not aligned in the common cause, I can mediate the process. I feel like a diplomatic peacekeeper at times, although it’s not that anyone’s at war, of course. It’s just that with a Group that is growing so fast, it’s sometimes a challenge to keep everyone up to speed with the plan.”
With innate know-how, Gert brings yet more skilful accuracy to bear when he clears the way for bigger things to happen. Gert’s expertise has been refined over around three decades of dedicated work in the industry. While he worked for Paratus Namibia for many years, Gert became somewhat bored and, as he explains: “the work for me at that time became somewhat repetitive.” So, he decided, in 2015 to take a sabbatical – one that lasted a less than luxurious two weeks. The Paratus leaders quickly realised that they needed to deploy Gert to bigger and better things, and they whizzed him back from the beach and right onto the frontline of the business operations.
Since then, Gert’s been leading the operational decisions in Namibia and now he’s the Group’s COO for all the English-speaking countries in which Paratus currently operates – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia. “In carving out our future, you can’t always charge in headfirst. You need to listen to people and to the individual challenges that they face on the ground.”
As the Group’s main mediator, Gert says it’s important to get everybody on board with the roll out of infrastructure. “I need to ensure our main overriding mission is at the forefront of everyone’s thinking. This means that sometimes we need to do away with the nitty-gritty and knuckle down to what’s important, so that we can align them as far as possible.”
This he balances by working with his colleagues to make the deals happen on the ground and, because he’s not afraid of change, Gert’s the best person to promote positive change within the business. “Change is essential in technology and in telecommunications. Without it, we won’t progress, so I really enjoy listening to people, hearing their concerns, and then addressing those fears so that we all share the enthusiasm and actively participate in crafting the future.”
And the man who was instrumental in deploying the Trans-Kalahari network in 2018, Gert is no stranger to ground-breaking interventions that change the way Paratus customers in the SADC do business.
We plan to double revenue within the next five years”, Gert adds. “We can only do that if we are united on all fronts, and I really enjoy seeing the dawning on our people’s faces as they realise what we are planning and what’s in store for them in the future. It’s an exciting time to be in this business in Africa.”
A deft hand is what’s needed in this role and, coincidentally, Gert is good with his hands, as witnessed by his woodworking hobby. For a man who does not relish the mundane, the grass isn’t about to grow under Gert’s feet any time soon. “I’ve got systems to review and put in place, people to talk to and meet and a whole raft of projects to implement. For example, we’re currently busy with open access agreements in Zambia so I really don’t have time for my hobby – it’s been parked for now because I’m travelling so much more now, when I’m at home I want to spend time with my family.”
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