Working alongside an industry icon and being mentored by them is one thing, but having to step up to the plate and fill their shoes when they're no longer there is a different story altogether.
This is the position Brad Willson found himself in last year when he took over the reins of media solutions provider, Global Access, after the company's leader, his mentor and South African broadcasting industry stalwart, Ronnie van Wijk passed away. Thrilling, fulfilling but not without its challenges, Brad has embraced the opportunity, demonstrating a single-minded commitment, passion and vision that promises to take Global Access to even greater heights.
Strong technology background
Brad realised from a young age he wanted to work in technology. Fresh out of school, he enrolled for an IT diploma. He landed his first job as a PC technician shortly thereafter in 1999 at a company called Macroscott Technology, just ahead of the dotcom revolution.
When he was offered an opportunity 18 months later to take up the post of network and system administrator for the much larger IT firm, Titan IT, he jumped at the chance. Brad spent the next three years tending to the technology needs of some of SA's largest corporates before moving to London.
There he joined the IT consultancy Net Root, which provided full turnkey IT solutions for large international businesses in the UK and Europe. It was while working with these global multinationals that Brad began to see technology in a whole new light.
A new business perspective
"I'd always been fascinated with technology in its own right, but while working in the UK I became more interested in what businesses wanted from technology, and what IT specifically could do for big business," Brad says.
This completely changed the way Brad saw the convergence of business and IT, and he returned to South Africa in December 2009 fired up by his new perspective on business.
"I returned to South Africa with a completely different outlook. It was an exciting time for the country; preparations were underway for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and I saw an opportunity for me to use the skills and knowledge I had gained in Europe to contribute to the South African economy and hopefully make a difference. I believe business is the driving force of South Africa, and business should be doing everything it can to make this country a great place," he adds.
Brad was in the process of starting his own IT business when Ronnie van Wijk approached him to help setup the web streaming aspect of the Global Access business. Ronnie, the founder of SA's first pay-TV channel, MNET, had assumed ownership of Global Access a few years earlier. He had turned the company from a single private broadcast channel into a full end-to-end media solution provider at the forefront of its market.
Rising through the ranks
Committed to innovation, Ronnie had big plans for Global Access, beginning with the establishment of a web streaming platform, which Brad successfully implemented after joining the company in January 2010. He then focused on packaging, selling and marketing this new innovation to customers.
Once this solution had been successfully incorporated into the company's television broadcasting offering, Brad was appointed operations manager, responsible for the operation of Global Access' new digital signage business unit. The following year he was appointed a director of the business, overseeing the entire digital signage business unit. It was two years later, when Ronnie sadly passed away, that Brad stepped up to become company MD, responsible for what was by then two extensive business units spanning six core functions.
Brad quickly learnt to rely on instinct and trust his decisions, fuelled by his deeply competitive spirit and unrelenting desire to be the best. He drew on the support of his team, developing a democratic leadership style that takes into account the team dynamic.
Brad believes his previous positions within the multicultural technology industry in South Africa and abroad, and within Global Access specifically, have provided him with a holistic view on both technology from the perspective of a business and that of its customers, and on Global Access as a company with a multifaceted service offering.
Full end-to-end media solution
Global Access is a forerunner in the South African media and broadcast industries. It is the only company in South Africa capable of providing clients with a full end-to-end media solution, from private broadcasting on the DStv platform, web streaming and IPTV to digital signage and queue management services, all supported by a full, inhouse creative agency and extensive studio facilities.
"Our strategic alignment of these products and services in the marketplace has ensured our position as a market leader for the past 20 years. Not only are these solutions competitive within themselves, but collectively they allow us to offer our clients a one-stop-shop media solution that supports their marketing delivery strategies," notes Brad.
SA's no.1 media solutions provider
It's from within this highly differentiated service offering that Brad has crafted his strategic vision for Global Access: to make it the no.1 media solutions provider in South Africa.
"We will achieve this in two parts: first, by ensuring that as a technology-based business we are always looking ahead to the latest trends to ensure we remain relevant and competitive with best-in-class products and solutions, and second by working closely with our customers as their partners, not just as a service provider, to better understand and support their communication, services and media strategies. The world is changing rapidly and technology is taking centre stage. People and businesses are embracing technology like never before, and Global Access is perfectly positioned to be at the leading edge of that evolution."
And at the heart of it all is innovation.
Global Access was built on innovation, and through Brad's continual nurturing of a spirit of innovation, he aims to ensure the company not only remains a trailblazer in its field, but at the same time pays homage to the living legacy his predecessor left behind.