Playing the long game - Stanley Vorsatz (MBA)

UCT GSB PRESS OFFICE - 25 March 2019

It was while doing his MBA that Stanley Vorsatz began to understand his strengths and weaknesses more clearly, a lesson worth the cost of admission itself. Now he’s putting that learning to good use in his own company.

Stanley Vorsatz can recall how, as far back as his technikon studies in the mid-1990s, he and his friends would sit around talking about how, one day, they would start and run their own flourishing technology businesses.

But Stanley is the cautious type – by his own admission, he is risk-averse – so the dream was put on the back burner. But he put to good use the 20-plus years between his IT studies at the then Peninsula Technikon and starting, in 2018, his own consultancy, Seraph Cyber Security.

It started with two years as analyst developer at South African Airways working on the airline’s Voyager system; then five years as senior developer at Old Mutual; a couple of years as project manager and solutions architect at smaller software companies; then another three more years at Old Mutual in different capacities, including infrastructure manager and head of development practice.

At that point, despite his admiration for that company’s institutional culture, he found that he had hit a career ceiling and chose to move to a role that will help him earn his stripes as a serious IT leader; first Sanlam Private Investments as head of IT, then to PSG Konsult LTD as group chief information officer – a career aspiration and milestone. He also threw in an MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) along the way.

The uncharted waters at, especially, PSG, which specialised in wealth, asset management and insurance, truly tested his ability to learn quickly and adapt. The company was experiencing a boom, and the team that Stanley managed grew from around 40 when he began there in 2014, to around double that by the time he left at the start of 2018. His primary job had been to provide technology leadership and put in place scalable structures and processes that would enable the company’s aggressive growth strategy, a demanding task. “It was intense and the long hours were a given, but rewarding” Stanley recalls.

By disposition a calm type, he was able to bring a much-needed cool head to the table, often serving as the voice of reason between his team and his superiors and helping to keep things moving forward. “Which meant that I had to internalise a lot of stuff, and deal with it later.”

This happened to be something that he had had to confront just before joining PSG, while doing the part-time modular MBA at the UCT GSB. Amongst the many benefits he derived from the degree, it was the school’s focus on leadership and self-understanding that stood out for him.

From uncharacteristically blowing up at a classmate – by his count, one of only four times in his life he had lost his cool – he learnt that, as the eternal optimist, he often overextended himself, promising more than the 24 hours in the day would allow. He learnt to focus more on the things that matter – and to do those well. And, most invaluably, he was taught to be more self-aware and to understand the triggers by the occasional workplace anxiety and self-doubt. “Learning that was worth the money in itself,” Stanley says laughing, “because it’s something that’s going to help me in every aspect of my life.”

The MBA also helped him recognise that he wanted to do more with his career, “that I wasn’t living up to my full potential”.

That inspired not just the move to PSG, but also – at long last – the founding of his own business. Seraph is a cyber security consultancy that, for now, focuses on helping SMMEs protect their data. Practically, The MBA also prepared Stanley for the difficult first year as a business owner. “A lot of the skills I learnt at the GSB have now been internalised, specifically the softer skills that often determine whether people want to do business with you or not, such as listening, really trying to understand the other person and grasping how the current challenge fits into the bigger picture”.

Running his own business has anxieties and challenges of its own, but also some unforeseen rewards. He now gets to spend more time with his wife and three young children when it really matters, which has changed their relationship for the better, Stanley says.

He may have been playing the long game, but Stanley is confident that he has built a strong platform on which his business can indeed now flourish. There is still a lot to be learnt, he knows, as he pursues the life of an entrepreneur.

“One of the lessons that stuck with me from the business school was that a business plan is important, but you can’t only rely on that,” he says. “Especially at the beginning, you have to pivot a lot. You have to be able to adapt.”

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