Navigating new horizons

Johannesburg, 14 Nov 2023
Kallie Carlsen, MD of Paratus South Africa.
Kallie Carlsen, MD of Paratus South Africa.

Dig beneath the surface of this seemingly tough executive and you’ll discover Kallie Carlsen’s extraordinary essence. The tough bravado is just a cover for his raw honesty and huge integrity. Dig a little deeper and you realise how he balances a punishingly hard work ethic with loads of humour, passion and charity. Carlsen is a telecoms man through and through. As the MD of Paratus South Africa, which has just built and inaugurated the largest teleport in the Paratus Group, Carlsen is now poised to carve out an even greater slice of the market and to revitalise the satellite communications sector in ways that nobody could have dreamed possible a few years ago.

His career spans the full spectrum of telecommunications. Having trained as a telecommunications engineer with SA Transport Services in the mid-80s, Carlsen joined Aberdare Cables, where he was first introduced to fibre-optic cables. He later joined Plessey in Jet Park, where he focused on PABX systems for businesses, including very large campus PABXes to dealing room systems, ending up as a National Product Manager for a new digital SME PABX.

In 1997, he joined VODAC as a network specialist and focused on its LAN, WAN and call centre requirements, which included implementing an IVR solution to enhance customer service. As a result of his strong call centre and IVR experience gained at VODAC, he was later recruited to join BSW Business Solutions, from where he progressed to Dimension Data, again focusing on call centres.

It was during this time that he started focusing on project and programme management, doing studies at Cranefield and University of Pretoria (UP). During his time at UP, he was asked to join a consulting firm called Barnstone, which specialised in SAP implementation projects for mining entities. He joined Bytes Technology Systems Integration in 2008 for a short stint, where he looked after the Microsoft integration teams, and then rejoined Barnstone in 2008, becoming involved in an investment they had made into a small company called Maxwell Technology. The founders of Maxwell saw the need for remote connectivity at mining start-ups across Africa. With some very interesting projects in difficult times – a very expensive technology in the early years, it laid the foundations for where he is today in the satellite space.

In 2009, he took up shareholding and a directorship in Maxwell Technology and started focusing on how to take connectivity to rural, under-serviced areas. It was during this time that he partnered with Skyevine and took the first steps into providing consumer-based VSAT solutions. From zero to hero after a few years, Maxwell attracted the attention of the Paratus Group shareholders, who approached Carlsen and his partners with an offer to buy the company. Paratus South Africa was born in 2015 and, a few years later, in 2019, it acquired its first teleport to strengthen its satellite offering.

The Paratus Group’s vision is to transform Africa through exceptional digital infrastructure and customer service, and the launch of the Goedehoop teleport is an important intervention in realising this mission. It represents the biggest investment by Paratus South Africa to date and is set to boost service offerings not only in South Africa, but to the group’s extended customer base in the seven countries in which it has operational offices, as well as in a further 28 African countries where it provides satellite services.

The new Paratus South Africa Goedehoop teleport is going to boost the company’s offering, particularly now that load-shedding is a norm in South Africa. Carlsen believes that success is the product of luck and preparation, and it requires hard work and dedication. He says: “Yes, we have been lucky. As a wise person once remarked, if you like what you do, then you will find the time and the energy to do it. It’s taken a lot of hard work to launch the latest teleport in the country and the current energy crisis in southern Africa is both affecting and disrupting the telecoms scene at once. Businesses and individuals are turning, in their droves, to satellite solutions as an indispensable technology for delivering an unbroken connection."

While this seems like a lucky break, Carlsen sticks true to his commitment of never making idle promises. He believes that honesty is critical in business and never short-sells his customers. His down to earth realism around the basics of doing business is disarming – and it cuts clean through any nonsense.

Underpinning absolutely every move he makes is a dogged commitment to customer service. He believes fervently that 24/7 professional and technical support is key to any deal and to overall business sustainability.

He lives and breathes this ethic and, indeed, this is what sets Paratus apart – the trust that its long-standing customers have and the fact that Carlsen knows his customers by name… these are rare things in telecommunications. And, all the while, Carlsen is at the coalface – he’s always prepared, at any hour of the day or night, to get in his car to visit a client who’s made a distress call about their connection.

As a leader, he drives himself hard, but he also drives a lot of fun and motivation while also nurturing a prevailing spirit of competition and charity. Inter-group competition is part of the Paratus culture, and this filters down into Carlsen’s domain too – whether it’s for creating the most entertaining braai event or for winning the Paratus Group fishing competition. Carlsen loves fishing – he’d fish for something in a puddle if he had the time – and Paratus South Africa is the proud reigning champion of the annual Paratus Group fishing competition; and he and his team have every intention of retaining the trophy when they compete in Angola next year.

For a man who hasn’t had a holiday in a decade (his customers really do come first), Carlsen has nevertheless undertaken an enormous amount of business travel and reckons he has travelled most roads and towns in South Africa. In fact, when he has the time, he should probably write a guide to the best bars and restaurants in the country and, because he’s a man who doesn’t beat about the bush, the guide would be compelling reading.

Carlsen’s passions know few bounds and for such a busy man, he’s an incredibly giving one and always makes time to hear about a school or a college that needs a leg-up. He’s modest about the help he signs off on, but he is inordinately proud of helping a disabled cricket team; countless other sports charities; Aids orphanages; schools; previously disadvantaged IT students; and more. He’s that busy that his prized Harley Davidsons are taking second place right now, but his fishing skills will still be very much at the fore, particularly as he hooks more and more satellite partners and customers across southern Africa.