When it comes to beautiful success stories, we naturally gravitate toward the beginning or the end of a story as a starting point. But sometimes, as is the case with Andile Mfingwana, to fully understand and unpack his interesting story, one must start in the middle.
How did a high-ranking Joburg IT-exec land up trading in the collar, tie and tech for khaki’s, cattle and a farm in Kokstad? We chatted with Andile to find out. Here is part one of his curious journey.
The middle begins in 1987 when a young, ambitious albeit wet-behind-the-ears university graduate gets picked up by IBM to be trained. The young man was hired in Durban but sent to Joburg for training.
“I completed training in about 8 months and I was supposed to go back to Durban. I asked my manager if I could stay because I saw a lot of opportunities in Joburg.”
Andile explained that while in Joburg he had started working with large clients such as Liberty Life and Volkskas, at the time.
“In Durban those opportunities weren’t open to blacks at that time,” he said.
He saw that Joburg was an option to advance his career quickly so he stayed put. And advance his career, he did. By the end of his tenure at IBM he had reached the top rung of the ladder, having climbed all the way from trainee assistant engineer to top-ranking position of consultant systems engineer.
Andile shares that his greatest achievement while at IBM was the consolidation of four banks to form what is today called Absa.
“We had to put all those mainframes together and make one system. We did that project in Washington in the United States. That was a serious eye opener.”
Luckily, Washington was just one dot on a long list of places Andile would travel to. He said that with IBM he had the opportunity to travel all over the world.
“We had a training centre in Rosebank, so I’d go to New York and learn some stuff there, do some research in the labs, comeback and train our customers in Rosebank, and even train our system engineers who would in turn go and train others.”
Andile explains that what he had before him was a very good platform for learning and then growing an idea.
“It was an equal opportunity company. You just had to fly if you had the wings to go.”
In 1998, when opportunities started to open up in the BEE sector, Andile explains, seven colleagues decided to leave IBM and form a company called Lechabile IT Solutions. They sourced capital from a Mercedes Benz subsidiary, which in those days was called ‘T Systems.’
“That’s when I started learning the tricks of the trade. I was a technical guy, I enjoyed getting calls in the middle of the night and going and fixing tablets. It was then that I started getting introduced into the boardroom. I used to sit in the boardroom and plan the next system conversion or system upgrading but now we started discussing the business which was really for me a new field.”
Andile admits that he is a very hands-on person but the new challenge of management was not something he particularly enjoyed.
“I love people, I’m a team worker but I hate kicking a**.”
Some time later the seed that had been planted in Andile as a boy (or in other words the beginning of the story), which had lay dormant all that time, began to sprout.
“I got a little bit bored so I started making my moves.”
A few influencing factors nudged him in the direction and he decided to run it past his wife.
“So, why don’t we look for a farm in Kokstad and take a sabbatical for two years, get this thing going, get a floor manager and then after that I’ll come back and continue my work in IT.”
That was eight years ago.
What transpired in the space between now and then and that seed from the very beginning?
Part two coming soon.