Stephen Newton has long known he wanted to live and work in Africa. The US expatriate, who recently took the reins as country manager at Google SA from Stafford Masie, says he has always had an affinity for the continent.
“It’s a beautiful place,” he says of SA, “even though people try to scare you away.”
Newton, who has been visiting the country on and off for the past six years, decided after only his second visit to SA that he would eventually relocate here.
“What attracted me were the changes happening here,” he says. “I think the country seems willing to accept [racial integration]even faster than it happened in the US. The power of that change is appealing.”
He says the country’s high crime rate did not deter him. Philadelphia, the US city where he was born, is referred to as “Killadelphia” among its residents, he says. “I’ve lived through the [Los Angeles] riots, and in London people are getting stabbed all the time. When you come to a big city you have that sense of balance and you know when not to go down a certain road, you know how to deal with situations.”
After growing up in what he calls a “house full of women”, Newton left home early to study political science and French before taking up law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
He practised law in the City of Angels before joining LexisNexis, the popular, searchable online archive of newspaper, legal and other material. The LexisNexis job saw sim hold down positions in the US and, later, in Europe.
He eventually left LexisNexis to join Hitwise, an Internet analytics company that was looking for someone with a legal and online background. He held various roles at the company, including director of accounts and general manager, before leaving several years later to join online advertising company DoubleClick.
It was a fortuitous move. Not long after joining DoubleClick, the company was acquired by Google in a cash deal worth $3,1bn. Overnight, the deal made Google a powerhouse in online banner advertising — until then, it had been strong only in contextual, mainly text-based advertising.
Soon after the DoubleClick deal, Google asked Newton to take over as head of Google Analytics, the search giant’s Web traffic measurement service, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. When the SA job was advertised internally earlier this year, he jumped at the opportunity.
Newton, who is divorced with two girls, 14 and 6 — they live with him in SA — says he is in no rush to leave the country. “When we leave will be up to my girls,” he says.
He is reluctant to talk in detail about Google’s plans for SA. This is not surprising given that his predecessor, Masie, found himself in a spot of bother with his superiors when he spoke out of turn about the company’s plans to build a data centre in SA.
It’s widely believed that Dimension Data division Internet Solution is building a data centre facility near Cape Town which will be used to host a number of Google services locally. But Newton says he can’t comment.
His more pressing problem is smoothing ruffled feathers at SA advertising agencies. One agency, Entelligence, recently filed a complaint against Google with the Competition Commission, accusing the company of abusing its dominance in contravention of competition law. Masie came in for a roasting from these agencies.
Newton says he is engaging with agencies to try to address any concerns they may have but declines to comment on the Entelligence complaint. “We have to work closely with the agencies, especially the good agencies. With the number of clients we have in SA, and the numbers we’d like to have, it’s impossible to work directly with every client.” — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral