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Making a Mint

Having recently won the prestigious Microsoft South Africa MD’s award for FY 2018, Mint Group has obviously been doing something right. The Margin sat down with Group CEO Carel du Toit to find out what makes the company tick. 

Carel Du Toit, Mint

 

Mint Group is a living, breathing example of the accumulation of many pieces of the most modern business advice and strategies that the channel has been presented over the past decade.

By way of example, Mint’s CEO Carel du Toit says that although the company focuses on all of the Microsoft cloud workloads (Azure, Office and Dynamics), rather than selling specific technology, the company is all about client-centricity. It’s creating a solid annuity revenue stream, and its services business is swinging more towards being a business consulting organisation, rather than a pure technology enablement company. But Du Toit sees the business as something else.

“Mint is no longer an IT company, we're a talent company. The people we deal with, the scarcity of skills and the level of requirement means our entire focus is on talent. You need the talent to scale, either creating IP or consulting with clients,” he says.

Talent is evidently important as Mint transitions its services unit’s outlook from tech to business. “Digital transformation has forced consulting companies to become technology enablers, but it’s also forcing enablement companies, such as ourselves, to consult. We don't get involved in defining a client’s strategy, but we'll definitely be involved in helping them understand how technology will shape that strategy. Technology has moved up the stack. It wasn't our decision to become technology consultants, it was the market's decision, we just did it quickly.”

The shift to providing a more strategically important offering means that Mint has had to evolve its workforce over the past 18 months.  Du Toit estimates that today, 80% of the workforce is still focused on enablement, but the drive to offer more strategic business advice has resulted in the need to hire people with more ‘life experience’ (see sidebar). “The seniority of the people coming in is much higher,” he says.

Client at the centre

The move to a more business-focused consultancy offering fits perfectly with what Du Toit says is the key ethos for the business – client centricity. “Our entire business, all the technologies we leverage, everything we do, is designed around one thing – how do we get our clients to be more client-centric? If we can't add a fundamental difference in making a client more client-centric, or if we don't help our clients to sell the right thing through the right experience to their clients, then it's something we'll walk away from.”

Du Toit says that speed in delivering value to clients is key. Mint doesn’t want to be locked into monolithic 12-month monster engagements or working to a six-month-old spec that’s fast becoming irrelevant. And, realistically, neither do most clients.

When speaking to prospective clients, connecting with open-minded modern executives is a great place to start. Find people in a business who are tired of the pace at which things are happening, he recommends. “We want the people who bridge the gap between business and IT and have the courage to drive it. They're not business- or IT-focused, they're just solution- or outcomes-focused."

Besides its existing footprint in South Africa, Africa and US, the next level of geo-expansion for Mint is the Gulf and United Arab Emirates. The company is currently working in alliance with EY in the region, and will look to leverage that initial foothold.

“EY is getting deep into tech enablement, so it’s acquiring companies like ourselves across the globe. For us, EY doesn't have the capacity yet, so there's a gap for us to fill.”

Being open to partnerships has long been a key differentiator for Mint, and its alliance with EY comes at an important time as the local competitive landscape has fundamentally changed. Many of the companies that Mint used to view as similar sized competitors (AccTech, Karabina, Immix and Nvision IT) have been acquired by larger corporate groups. “Now, we compete with Altron, Foresight...we don't compete with the niche companies we used to,” he says.

In terms of vertical focus, the company has also expanded its focus beyond banking and insurance. “Over the last two years, we've invested heavily into health, education and the public sector. In that period, about a third of our revenue has come from the public sector,” he says.

Growing value

That has been one contributor to the group’s recent sales revenues growing by 90% in the last calendar year.

Although the services revenues have grown well, it’s the IP and licensing revenues that have grown most significantly. “We've really grown the value of the business, due to the fact we have an IP and licensing business at a different multiple to our services business. Our licensing revenue grew by 400%, and we're investing heavily into the Microsoft CSP journey. Microsoft has also been a key part of our geo-expansion because we leverage it through IP co-sell. I don't think we have a deal that's not IP co-sell,” he says. And it’s this that really highlights why Mint has been identified as a textbook case study of transforming its business in line with the cloud world and modern advice being doled out to the channel.

“One consistent in the Mint story is that we're a company of change; it's baked into everything we do,” he concludes.

The apprentice

As part of Mint’s drive to hire more consulting skills, it has developed an apprentice programme to build skills.  But this isn’t the usual apprentice scheme, as the applicants must have some life experience.

“We require consulting skills – someone who can hold a conversation, has some business acumen, some industry experience, they need to know how to document things, run a presentation, engage people...at a very broad level. This kind of skill doesn't generally come in someone who is 20, it's usually someone who's worked for 10 or more years, and has figured life out a little,” says Du Toit.  

“We find people who want a change and we put them in our apprentice programme. The programme is 10 quarters' long, two-and-a-half years, and when they start, they know exactly what they’ll earn by the end of the programme.” Each quarter includes specific achievements, but there are also exams to write and assessments to undergo. “They're vested in it, they're hungry to create their own tomorrow. We gain a great consultant who’s vested in our business and we ramp them up quickly so they get a career, the ecosystem grows and we don't poach.”

Du Toit says the programme is diversifying, with the company having taken on its first two developer apprentices, who come with no background in development, merely an interest. “We tested them from a technical aptitude perspective and the consulting skills as well. The reality is you can't have developers who can't talk to clients anymore, that’s all shifted as well.”

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