Meet the CEO is a regular 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 latest interview in the series is with Grant Marais, CEO of Wi-Fi specialist Vast Networks. — Duncan McLeod, Editor
What was your first-ever job?
During my university days, I ran a photographic counter at Stax in Bedfordview in Gauteng. This role evolved into an opportunity to become the local distributor for Minolta cameras, where I was responsible for inside sales and establishing the company’s website.
Who is your greatest role model, and why?
This would be a manager I worked with at Nokia. He was a great mentor who took the time to provide me with constructive (and often brutal) feedback. This has been the basis of my greatest learning. To this day, I find tremendous value in the advice he provided and I make every effort to share the learnings that have fuelled my career.
What’s your favourite quote?
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” – Nelson Mandela
What phone do you currently use, and why?
As someone who is determined to maintain a healthy work-life balance, having separate phones for business and personal interactions makes the biggest difference. I therefore have two iPhone Xs but I also keep a Samsung Galaxy S9 so I can regularly test our services on both Android and iOS as I travel. This way, I also have a clear view of the user experience at our various locations.
What are you currently reading?
I really enjoy online journals and often read a few simultaneously. I especially enjoy those that focus on topics related to sales and marketing, which I am sure comes as no surprise.
What are your three favourite books?
Nothing truly stands out. My choice of books has also evolved significantly over the years and I am always keen to delve into an interesting read.
What’s your favourite movie?
That’s classified! (laughs) Top Gun and Heat probably notch ahead. However, I generally prefer spy/thriller-type movies. I must admit, though, that I’m a TV series buff who enjoyed every episode of House — I absolutely loved the series.
What is your most treasured possession?
My most prized possession is a set of paintings I inherited from my late grandmother. They are truly beautiful and I look forward to someday passing them on to my daughter.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Hands down, the greatest feather in my professional cap was our achievement of more than US$650-million in handsets sales over a 12-month period. What was even more incredible was that the team I led was very small, yet together we worked exceptionally hard to achieve unprecedented results — and had a lot of fun doing so. This success became the blue print for so many other teams across the globe.
What is your greatest regret?
I regret not doing my MBA earlier. While I have been blessed with great successes, the opportunities an MBA presents and the value that the global business community places on this cannot be overstated.
How do you cope with stress?
I really value and enjoy the time I spend with my family. It allows me to leave behind the stresses of a difficult work day. Having conversations with my wife, particularly, puts much into perspective and I appreciate her advice as well her ability to rationalise.
What skill or talent would you most like to possess that you don’t already?
This would undoubtedly be learning to speak more langues/lingue/ulwimi (languages). “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein.
What phrase do you most use/overuse in business?
What’s your favourite place in the world, and why?
Mystical Dubai is my second home. This is where my wife and I built the foundations of our marriage and made many treasured memories. We also have a bunch of good friends that live in Dubai and we therefore make every effort to return at least annually.
- Missed any other interviews in TechCentral’s Meet the CEO feature? View them here