Avocado Vision, a company that specialises in helping organisations make human connections with their clients and retain their top talent, has an interesting story behind how it got its somewhat unconventional name. When company founder and MD Jules Newton was building the structure that now forms part of the company’s offices in Kensington Ridge,Johannesburg, her plans involved removing an avocado tree in the garden. But when the previous owner got wind of the plan, he was horrified. “He told me how he had planted that tree from the pip of the best avo he had ever eaten simply because he wanted to be able to enjoy the same quality fruit in future. That spoke to me,” she remembers.The story encapsulates something that’s been central to Avocado Vision’s history: growth. From humble beginnings 11years ago the company has grown into a respected leader in its field, listing SAB Miller, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Discovery among some of its clients. And last year, Newton and partner Elaine Sampson formed Ngikwazi Field Marketing, a joint venture with Can Do. They were awarded a contract by Gidani, the new national lottery operator, to find, train, accredit and provide ongoing support to the 8 000 new and existing lottery retailers.
Newton attributes the company’s success to their fresh, innovative and practical approach to helping clients solve their problems. “Although the learning experience we provide is based on solid theory and research, it’s intensely practical as well, so clients come out of our sessions with something they can put to use immediately.” Having an edge is important in an industry that is growing rapidly but Newton and Sampson have their finger on the pulse of the direction things are moving in, as Newton explains, “We’re moving into a relationship economy and although technical skills are important, they are no longer what customers are buying. If you are unable to connect with people, unable to deviate from the script and meet human being to human being, you aren’t giving customers any reason to invest in your brand as opposed to the brands of your competitors.”Both Newton and Sampson bring something unique to the company’s offering. Newton has many years’ experience in training and development, and as MD, drives the company’s vision and strategy, while still remaining close to the sales team. Sampson hails from the Diversity Institute but prior to that was a teacher at the school on Robben Island. “Elaine played an important role in helping to bridge the divide between the former prisoners and prison warders, through their children who attended the school where she taught,” says Newton, adding that the experience makes her partner ideally suited to helping their clients form meaningful connections with customers and staff.
Regarding the company’s other focus area of talent retention, Newton continues, “Stats show that six out of 10 people leave bosses, not companies. The cutting edge of talent retention now focuses on helping people become more emotionally mature and better able to manage their relationships with their staff. People stay in companies because they feel valued, and they leave if they don’t.”
This statement hits closer to home for Newton and Sampson than many people realise. In spite of its huge successes,the company’s growth has also involved times of extreme challenge. “Last year,we nearly had to close the company down. We were overconfident and employed staff instead of contracting. Suddenly our overheads were way above our income and for 10 months, we couldn’t pay everyone’s salary,” Newton recalls. It’s testament to how valued Avocado Vision staff feel that during this difficult time,not one of them left the company. And the speed with which Newton and Sampson bounced back is proof that the ability to learn and grow is as central to the company now as it was in the early days. “We realised we couldn’t fix it on our own so we pulled in mentors who helped us tear the strategy and business model apart,” she explains. After making some small but important changes, Avocado Vision was back in the running and nabbed the national lottery training tender.Getting back to the story about the tree that lends its name to her company, Newton muses, “What we really try to do here is to plant ideas in clients’ soil. We invest in people, in soft skills and in helping people to shift their insights. After all, you have no idea whata person can become if they are helped to grow.” They’re prophetic words born of hands-on experience.