Risk is a word that inspires fear in the hearts of many, but Bryan and Zi Hattingh believe that risk must be viewed in context, and that to avoid it entirely is to under-perform, under-achieve and minimise opportunities. Having built a self-funded, highly successful niched IT recruitment services company which they started in 1987, the two sold it 11 years later.
But the deal went sour, and they were forced to start again from scratch.“We had developed a holistic IT resourcing group with a number of service lines and value-based offerings that placed it way ahead of its time back then,” says Bryan.
The Bryan Hattingh Group, as they named the business, had 85 employees and over 300 professional services contractors, as well as a joint venture partnership with IBM, at the time that it was sold.
Their success was attributable to elements that still underpin their business today. “Most recruitment services are volume and transaction based,” says Bryan. “We built our business around a career management model that depends on long-term relationships.
Our focus is on value transfer, whether it’s in executive appointments, executive coaching or business transformation.”The decision to sell their successful business was motivated by their wish to turn the company into a fully-fledged medium-sized business that was no longer “family run”.
“Our goal was to capitalise the business and take it into the global arena,” says Zi. “We were approached by a number of companies, including one of the largest resourcing organisations in the world.We went with the offer, even though it was not the best one, because our strategies appeared to be aligned. We could not have been more wrong.”
After the sale, the Hattinghs tried to conclude a management buyout, but were turned down. They worked out their contracts and left. What followed was a pernicious legal battle which went on for four years. Meanwhile, Bryan and Zi set about creating a new entity, Cycan,that was birthed from the lessons they had learnt.
“We had lost our business, our money and our brand,” says Bryan. “But we took strength from the fact that we had built an excellent business, and we were going to do it again.”The two funded Cycan, a leadership and strategic talent management business, with their own money, cashing in the investments they had left following the disastrous deal.
They soon added executive search and coaching to their portfolio of services and rapidly developed a reputation for being at the top of their game.
Today Cycan is a member of the World Search Group, one of the world’s top 20 executive search alliances which, on investigating Cycan, welcomed the company as “an epitome of 21st century executive search and coaching practice with much to teach the world.”
This year Cycan achieved 100% year-on-year growth compared to 2006, and plans for global expansion are well underway. Cycan identifies and accesses the best possible – and usually inaccessible – talent and facilitates a process that helps them qualify what they want for themselves.
“We then find congruency between their requirements and those of our clients,” Bryan says. “All our appointments are leadership appointments. Across all industries they have been proven to deliver financially and with passion and commitment to the companies they work for. Our success rate is upwards of 98%.”
The company’s biggest challenge today is finding the right talent internally because Cycan depends on people who are genuinely interested in others. It’s a challenge they have addressed particularly well with succession planning. “The key to escaping the rather limiting owner/manager trap is to make yourself dispensable,” says Bryan.
“To do that you have to hire people who share your vision and your passion, and who are able to challenge you at every level.”Zi concurs: “One of the most important things you can do when starting a business is to identify your exit strategy.When the business no longer needs you, you are free to add much more value to it.”
Cycan is still run according to family values such as caring and respect, but it is managed by a seven member exco, it has a board of directors, and is black-empowered.“Our objective is to enrich the lives of everyone we touch,” notes Bryan. “It’s an attitude that permeates the company from the executive team to reception desk.”