It is often very difficult, but building authentic relationships with customers has been an abiding ethos for Chad Bartlett over the nearly 14 years he has spent with technology company Grove, a global provider of cybersecurity, custom software development and cloud computing, founded in 2005. Chad now serves as Grove’s Director of Partnerships, forming part of the company’s eight-strong leadership team, which has been instrumental in establishing the business as a global concern.
Over the course of his career Chad has seen the nature of sales changing in the face of technological advances, where consumers can now shop online, are increasingly hyper- informed, and have even more sophisticated consumer behaviours. He believes that in response to this, the practice of building relationships has had to change too. “These days I think of myself more as an influencer and a thought leader, in a way. I believe soft skills are more valuable than your industry knowledge in this new economy,” he says.
Chad describes his time at the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB), where he did the Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice (PGDip) over 2015 and 2016 (and which he passed with distinction), as a life-changing experience. It pushed me both mentally and emotionally and challenged why I was doing what I did every day. At the time, he’d been with Grove for 10 years, and had found himself at a personal and professional crossroads. His studies reinvigorated him, he says. “I really felt like I had climbed to the top of Table Mountain and could now see the bigger picture of life. My experience at the GSB allowed me to gain meaningful personal insights that highlighted just how much I still had to offer my customers, and that there was an unlimited opportunity for me to continue to learn and grow within the business.”
He went back to his job with new-found enthusiasm and a renewed commitment to the old school principles of building authentic and meaningful relationships with his customers. “It was an awakening of sorts for me, to the fact that business is not always about generating the sales or the revenue; it’s also about the real value you can deliver as a person. For me this value is not always about business value created. It’s about creating a meaningful personal life experience for all parties involved, from the customer to technology partners.”
This, Chad believes, stood him in good stead when Grove decided to make forays into other parts of Africa. “We wanted to be a global business but realised that we were missing a big opportunity in the rest of Africa,” he recalls. Now, only a few short years later, in addition to offices in London, Cape Town, and Johannesburg, Grove has an office in Nairobi. Most recently, Chad has been leading Grove’s expansion into the Indian Ocean region, with a special focus on Mauritius, and the company has seen excellent success there, securing business with the largest conglomerate across the region.
This expansion into Africa did not come without challenges and sharp learning curves for both Grove and Chad. There were logistical considerations – from language barriers to issues around payment currencies. “You also need to bring something new to the market otherwise you will not stand out from the other local partners,” he adds.
Chad believes it’s been a winning combination of old school engagement and high tech techniques that has driven Grove’s rapid expansion. Today Grove supports customers across 45 countries, with more than a dozen in Africa, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, and Nigeria to name a few.
On his LinkedIn profile, Chad confesses to his love of inspirational literature. But equally inspirational, he says, are the everyday opportunities of his job. “Although all my roles in Grove have been centred on relationship building, there has always, in each role, been something new and challenging for me to embrace, which has allowed me to continuously improve and stay humble. I think that’s what always keeps me hungry and motivated with each new day - just to experience something new, learn something new or meet someone new. Everyone, if we take the time to listen, has something to teach us so we can grow.