CASE IN POINT | Neotel
by Alex Rose-Innes
A Successful South African Start-up Story
As Sunil Joshi, CEO and MD of Neotel, says, “Everyone likes to relate to a success story and the challenges that preceded it” and his own personal one and that of Neotel, are indeed tales of perseverance, innovative business thinking and success. They also paint a picture of how a major role-player in a tough and demanding industry can stay human – who values the contribution of his staff and acknowledges mistakes. Which is why it is no surprise how Neotel, as a telecommunications services provider, has grown from 2 staff to approximately 1000 and from ZERO Revenue to R3.9billion in a mere seven-and-a-half years and is now a company to be reckoned with in the ICT industry and more.
It is no surprise that Neotel as a company, grew from two laptops and a business case spreadsheet to a company to be reckoned with, in a mere seven-and-a-half years.
The fact that a major deal has recently been struck with telecoms giant Vodacom, is indicative of how far Neotel has progressed in an industry, where today’s innovation is next month’s old news and of how much team Neotel’s contribution, combined with Joshi’s leadership has benefitted the company over the last three years.
After obtaining his MBA, Joshi started his career as a sales management trainee with an Indian company, setting the tone for his future career in information technology (IT).
His diploma in computer applications, combined with marketing and sales skills, made him aware of how important customer requirements are in the development of IT and telecoms products. Joshi’s experience of being at the coalface in the market and with his customers in HCL Hewlett-Packard, to solution selling in IBM India and New Zealand, and thereafter to growing the market for Intel Servers for market share growth, to delivering game-changing telecommunications solutions in New Zealand and then Singapore, is now making a difference in South Africa.
Although born in Egypt and having lived in various countries, Joshi calls Wellington home, but it is obvious that South Africa has a special place in his heart. His sense of humour allows him to admit that he is in a bit of a conundrum as far as where his rugby loyalties lie. But, being a strategist and a marketer, he obviously has a solution for this predicament as well – a rugby fan jersey with the Springbok colours on the front and those of the All Blacks on the back!
Having been at the helm of Neotel since 2011, Joshi has seen how a start-up company, (and he believes that Neotel is still a start-up company), has grown into a telecommunications service provider with almost R6-billion of infrastructure invested in South Africa. Neotel has access to 16 500 kilometres of national fibre-optic cable in South Africa, (of which 50% is leased) and a further 9 000 kilometres in metro areas such as Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. The company is also the only service provider in the country to have access to, as a consortia member, all 5 submarine cables that connect South Africa to the world. This means Neotel can connect customers to any one of 300 cities across 200 countries in six continents as a single point service provider.
Neotel subsequently connected its entire fibre optic network and domestic capability to Tata Communications’ global network, thus allowing any business in South Africa to expand anywhere in the country and in the world – developed or emerging. However, apart from Neotel’s main business of enabling commerce through telecoms, Joshi is passionate about social upliftment and this has seen Neotel establishing the Neotel Training Academy that has trained 117 learners in telecommunications who have gained employment in the industry with approximately 70% within Neotel.
Through a partnership with NIIT, over 5000 learners have been provided with ICT skills in KZN in conjunction with the KZN Province and 350 maths labs have been deployed in 350 schools in the Free State in conjunction with the Free State Province, producing tangible results and making a difference to the lives of learners, with innovative learning techniques in key areas such as maths, science and ICT. This directly addresses the shortages of suitably qualified teachers and learners, preparing them with the necessary maths and science skills to successfully make the transition from kindergarten to primary-school teaching and eventually to secondary-school teaching. The training also involves educating teachers, especially in these fields. The latest assessment of the success of these ventures has shown an increased knowledge base of 21% among learners.
From a company with two employees, Neotel now has a 1 000-strong workforce and its financial spreadsheet shows R3,9-billion of assets. When talking to Joshi, one realises that the success of Neotel is not surprising, for it is led by a humble, dedicated and wise man at the top who had a wall built outside Neotel’s head office where every employee, who has contributed to the success of Neotel, has their names engraved for future generations to see.