Meet the CEO is a new, weekly feature on TechCentral. The aim is to introduce our readers to the people behind the news by providing insights into the leaders shaping South Africa’s ICT industry. Our fourth interview in the series is with BCX CEO Ian Russell. We hope you enjoy it. — Duncan McLeod, Editor
What was your first-ever job?
Assembling wooden crates, which were used to transport apples from farms to retailers. If you drive around Ceres you will see very many of these … and every time I see them I can still feel the blisters on my hands from hammering in endless nails into every piece of wood. I can still smell the glue used between the joints and I still picture the splinters to be extracted every evening. It was a 12-week holiday job. I was 18, and needed cash for university. It paid well, but it really was sweat equity!
Who is your greatest role model, and why?
I grew up in an era where you either loved or hated Margaret Thatcher. But whatever you felt about her, you had to admire her.
She took on an incredibly closed, bigoted and chauvinistic society, opened it right up and forever changed the place of women in UK society.
While doing that, she took on a broken economy, with most workers on a three-day week when she arrived, with inflation nearing 30%, and drove through aggressively Milton Friedman’s monetarism economic policy, taking the UK through much pain but huge gain as well.
The vision she had, allied to the guts, determination and skill to steer through the required changes, was quite remarkable.
What’s your favourite quote?
“There is no limit to what a man can do and where he can go if he doesn’t mind who takes the credit.” If you look closely at pictures of Ronald Reagan’s desk when he was US president, you’ll see a plaque with this written on. The author is (highly appropriately!) unknown. It is advice that I have found incredibly helpful.
What phone do you currently use, and why?
The iPhone X, probably because I have been totally sucked into the Apple ecosystem and don’t have the wherewithal to fight it any more.
What are you currently reading?
Scott Galloway’s Four, about the history and interrelationship between Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. It’s insightful, irreverent (occasionally bitchy) and great fun.
What are your three favourite books?
Eish. A properly tricky one. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. They are all books (trilogies in the case of Tolkien and Pullman) that redefined how you can tell stories, and weave mind-bending yarns with plots of breath-taking breadth and depth. I get goosebumps just thinking about them.
What’s your favourite movie?
When Harry Met Sally. That answer probably destroys my carefully cultivated reputation. However, it remains a deft, insightful and surprisingly deep essay on relationships and love.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a Swiss Army knife I bought when I was about 11, with lots of gadgets to fix my bike with and saw down trees (I was in the Scouts — sawing down trees was essential). I saved for it for months and months and months, checking the window of the shop every week to make sure that they hadn’t sold it. I still use it today (more for opening wine these days than sawing down trees), but it represents two things for me: attaining a seemingly impossible goal and the brilliance of great design and functionality (it’s still working, 35 years later).
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Undoubtedly this role as CEO of BCX. To have the privilege to look after such an incredible organisation at a time when technology is absolutely critical to the rebirth of the South African economy is an unbelievable opportunity.
What is your greatest regret?
I really don’t do regrets. Life is too short.
How do you cope with stress?
I have an amazing wife who has walked the corporate tightrope and really understands what pressure is like, and what it means to do the kind of things I do. Talking things through with her, sharing some of the challenges and allowing her to bring me back to reality is an incredible opportunity to decompress. If that doesn’t work, getting down on the floor with my two boys (aged 6 & 8) and building some Lego usually works.
What skill or talent would you most like to possess that you don’t already?
I would simply love to be able to play an instrument or be able to sing. I am absolutely tone deaf with zero ability to read or play music. I marvel at musicians and would love to be able to do what they do.
What phrase do you most use/overuse in business?
“Can we go back one slide…”
What’s your favourite place in the world, and why?
Kurland, in The Craggs, near Plett. It’s where we got married in 2006, and somewhere we have stayed as a couple and as a family every single year since then. It’s our home from home, and filled with many precious memories. — (c) 2018 NewsCentral Media
- Read TechCentral’s Meet the CEO interviews with Webafrica’s Tim Wyatt-Gunning, Dimension Data’s Jason Goodall and Seacom’s Byron Clatterbuck