Jeremy George: The First Hundred Days as Chief Operations Officer and Commercial Officer

29 May 2017
On 1 February 2017, the Frans Indongo Group welcomed a new addition to the top management team. Jeremy George stepped into the position as Chief Operations and Commercial Officer, taking the reins from Etienne Cloete. Now, after spending some time in the proverbial saddle, we sat down with Jeremy to discuss his first three months as part of the Frans Indongo fold, learn about his plans and expectations going forward and meet the man behind title.

Destined for the Frans Indongo Group

Jeremy describes himself as proudly Namibian, born and bred in the nation’s capital. Although his tertiary training took him to South Africa – first to the University of Stellenbosch and then the University of South Africa – he returned to Namibian shores as soon as he had the necessary qualifications in the bag. Jeremy’s CV is an impressive one, featuring stints in auditing, corporate finance and asset management at the likes of, amongst others, Deloitte and Old Mutual.

Yet despite a spot at internationally renowned names, Jeremy had his eye on the Frans Indongo Group for a number of years. “Etienne and I wrote our qualifying exams together and afterwards we remained in touch. One of the things I used to tell him was how fortunate he was to be part of the Group.” Then, when an advertisement appeared late in 2016, announcing that the Group was looking for a new Chief Operations and Commercial Officer, Jeremy did not have to think twice. A gruelling series of interviews later, the coveted position was his.

Jeremy George

“There are a number of reasons why the Frans Indongo Group topped my dream-companies-to-work-for list,” Jeremy confides. “As a proud Namibian, the pull is tremendous. It is a Namibian-born and Namibian-run company with Namibian people at head office and staffing the subsidiaries, featuring Namibian entrepreneurs on the Board of Directors and a Namibian business legend as the founder, that is committed to see the Namibian economy flourish by shaping our nation and our people today to own a better tomorrow.”

Another appealing factor, Jeremy offers, is the opportunity to work alongside – and learn from – some of Namibia’s top business and entrepreneurial minds. “The Group boasts an exceptional CEO, Board and the man many call the father of Namibia’s business word as peers and prospective mentors. And I am looking forward to drink from this well of knowledge and experience.”

Three months down the line

Jeremy describes his first three months as Chief Operations and Commercial Officer as a period of emersion, a time to embrace the ethos and heartbeat of the Group – and more importantly, of its people. “There is a misconception that the focus in a position such as this is purely on figures, bottom lines and output. While all these are crucial,” he explains, “the deciding factor is relationships: getting to know the people in your subsidiaries and then fostering strong interpersonal relations with them. Steamrolling into a position and expecting people to follow your dictates without first understanding them and their needs is simply a recipe for disaster. This is particularly true in Namibia, which is a small country with a population of just over 2 million people. Here, we operate on relationships. And your ability to forge and maintain them will ultimately be one of the main factors determining your success.”

Jeremy George

According to Jeremy, one of his biggest challenges over the past three months has been coming to grips with the diversity of the Group’s investment portfolio. “My experience in some of the investment sectors is limited,” he holds, “which is why I focussed on gaining a hands-on, in-depth understanding of our operations and the industries. I am a firm believer in the power of personal experience, of seeing something first-hand. That is why I have invested a large chunk of time in visiting the Group’s subsidiaries and business outlets, getting a feel for the operations, meeting the people on the ground one-on-one and laying the groundwork for the way forward. Now, the foundation is in place and we can continue building on that.”

What the future holds

Looking ahead, Jeremy is optimistic about what the future of both the Group and the Namibian people. “We all know that the country is facing tough times. Some of the Group’s subsidiaries, especially those in the retail and construction sector, are feeling the effects of the economic crunch keenly. Yet despite the challenges, it is crucial that we do not stare ourselves blind at the trials. I believe that what sets the greats apart from those who merely survive is an ability to identify the opportunities amongst the challenges, opportunities to take hands with those who might be struggling to help them grow,or opportunities to expand our own base of existing businesses where, within this diverse group, we can synergise.”

“That being said,” he continues,“the Group remains committed to keeping a close eye on our and our subsidiaries’ performance, checking that our belts are tight enough, and ensuring that we do the right things with the right people at the right time for maximum productivity.”

“Trying times like these,” he clarifies, “does require that we examine our subsidiaries strategically to determine their core focus into the future. Yet while the current economy is a key factor that influences a number of decisions, at the same time we want to determine where Namibia as a country is going and align our focus accordingly. The Frans Indongo Group is, after all, not here to make a quick profit. We are here for a legacy, to shape today so that our children and their children can own tomorrow.”

Watch this space

According to Jeremy, the Group is looking forward to a number of exciting initiatives and developments over the next few months. “I cannot go into the specifics,” he smiles, “but suffice to say that I am excited about the prospect of leading and being part of the team that will roll out these investments in future.”

Another aspect of the job that has Jeremy excited is the prospect of working with the various subsidiaries to assess the present situation and then explore how things can be done more efficiently and productively in future. “It is like standing on one the bank of a river, looking over the waters to the opposite shore. The side we are on is the current reality. The other side is the desired reality. With the right team and the right understanding of where we are and the right focus of where we are going, we can build the right bridge to get us from current to desired. And that building process is always exciting.”

The man behind the job

When asked to describe the man behind the position, Jeremy is quick to reply. “I am a family man – a husband and a father of two. The little ones keep us pretty busy,” he confides. “A lot of our time is simply family-focussed.”

The Chief Operations and Commercial Officer also has an adventurous, spontaneous side. “There was a BMW ad a while ago that said, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” That struck a chord with me. I made myself a promise there and then that every year I would do something new and extraordinary. Last year I went skydiving. This year I am climbing Kilimanjaro. The year after that, for my 40th, I am dreaming of the Inca trails in Peru. Yes, all these things cost money. But my motto has always been: do not buy things, buy experiences. That is my advice. Make memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.”

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