Sbu Shabalala: Leading the charge

Sbu Shabalala has won the IITPSA's 2016 IT Personality of the Year Award.

By Lesley Stones
Johannesburg, 24 Nov 2016
Sbu Shabalala: South African software engineers have a great deal of intellectual property that deserves a global stage.
Sbu Shabalala: South African software engineers have a great deal of intellectual property that deserves a global stage.

The IT Personality of the Year 2016 winner Sbu Shabalala believes in delegating to capable people. He's someone who thinks about every angle, stays out of the limelight and quietly gets things done.

Shabalala founded Adapt IT 13 years ago, as one of the earliest black-owned, black- run IT organisations.

"It's been a very rewarding journey," he says. His goal was to use South African skills to form a software development house to create products that could be sold internationally. That international reach is still in its infancy, with 73% of the revenue generated within South Africa. But Shabalala believes a big growth spurt is imminent now that Adapt IT is well established, and its JSE listing confirms it meets global levels of corporate governance and transparency.

The company serves customers in the manufacturing, education, financial and energy sectors in 38 countries. Its revenue for the year to June 2016 was R803m, up 38% from R578m the previous year.

Shabalala intends to hit R3bn by 2020. "We are just over a billion in revenue now and we employ close to 950 people in and around South Africa. So I don't believe R3 billion is a big goal to achieve in another four years because of the market potential that we see. We use the adage, you build it once and sell it many times, and the building was the effort we have been expending in the last 13 years of existence."

The next phase is to create the sales and distribution channels for its software, and that is happening steadily. In the last year, it has set up a presence in Mauritius and Botswana.

High-performance culture

Shabalala runs a high-performance culture, he says, where everyone works towards the goals in an agile, but highly accountable environment.
He describes himself as having the entrepreneurial flair and leadership ability to drive his vision to fruition. "I may seem like the personality leading this charge and I believe it certainly requires a person to lead it, because it's not an easy feat. But Adapt IT has a team of capable software engineers, managers and technical experts who allow us to be a market leader," he says.

"Because I work with capable people, my management style is to robustly debate and be sure we are clear on where the company is going. I spend a lot of time defining and discussing strategy with my team, then I give them the room to execute on that strategy by delegating to the people who are best at it."

IITPSA awards

Shabalala was named the winner at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) President's Awards, held at Montecasino in Sandton, on 24 November 2016.

In its 38th year, IT Personality of the Year Award recognises a person who has made a positive impact on the South African IT industry and a significant contribution to the IT profession in the past year.

It is presented by the IITPSA, in association with ITWeb, the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and Gartner Africa.

Read about the other IT Personality finalists


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