Originally from Durban, South Africa, Brad Smale has spent much of his business life in international roles across most European markets. Now, though, his focus is on developing his home continent. “Africa,” he says, “is host to some of the most exciting and entrepreneurial environments in the world.”
A speaker of both English and Afrikaans, Brad lived through the final days of apartheid and the transition to democracy in South Africa. “I was very fortunate to have been exposed to one of the most dramatic rebirths of a country in our generation. After years of oppression, we are seeing an explosion of innovation and freedom of thought. Travelling across the continent one can see that this story of transformation and entrepreneurial spirit is mirrored across most African countries. You only have to look at ideas like M-Pesa, the mobile payment platform launched in Kenya, and Mxit, Africa’s biggest social network launched out of South Africa to see that the continent is abuzz with innovative ideas.”
Having recently taken on the task of building the African network, he recognizes that the continent operates in a very traditional framework and has historically lacked good data. Many would see this as an obstacle to a company that places significant value on innovation. Yet, Brad Smale is not daunted.
“I work with a great team of highly energetic people and clients, who are constantly open to testing new ideas if they can help drive business results. This structure and working environment means that innovation tends to bubble up around me. Our strategy for approaching Africa is an example where, rather than investing heavily in bricks and mortar, we are putting technology at the heart of what we do. As a result, we are exploring solutions and structures that we believe will challenge the traditional ways of doing business on the continent.”
He adds, “The challenge is not necessarily applying innovative thinking to international projects where, by and large, a good idea gets traction with both local clients and agencies. The real challenge lies in developing a culture of innovation across markets that are so diverse and sometimes resistant to change. Finding the right talent, giving them the right support and freedom to challenge existing paradigms, and then enabling them to develop strategies that will lead the organization into new innovative areas, is key to facing and overcoming this issue.”