Chatting to Asher Bohbot almost makes you want to give up whatever job you have and apply to join EOH instead.
It’s not that he’s offering more money or better perks than anybody else; it’s that this CEO really seems to care about his staff. Bohbot loves his work but cherishes his personal life, and he tries to ensure that his employees have the time and the means to enjoy theirs too. He wants his staff to share his attitude that work is an important part of life, but being able to enjoy your private time and your relationships with others is what really counts.
Such an attitude explains why he’s been selected as the IT Personality of the Year.
Bohbot grew up in Israel as the child of Moroccan immigrants, and qualified as an industrial engineer. He arrived in South Africa in 1980 on a holiday, and somehow never went home.
He was already an experienced businessman of 46 when he founded EOH in 1998. Today, the company has an annual turnover of about R3 billion and represents brands including Wonderware, F5, HP, IBM, Oracle and CA.
He chats readily and is charmingly enthusiastic, but at heart he’s a cautious, conservative character who applies logic, rather than emotions, to everything. It’s a trait that has served him well, letting EOH survive the dot-com boom while hundreds of less cautious CEOs egotistically led their businesses into rash expansions and a messy end.
Acquisitions have always been part of the EOH growth strategy, and over the years, the company has learned how to do them more successfully. But Bohbot won’t buy any business that isn’t fundamentally sound.
The most recent acquisition came in July this year with the R130,5 million purchase of TSS Managed Services, a subsidiary of Tactical Software Systems that specialises in public sector contracts.
“One of the principles that govern our activities is not to deal with misery and negative stuff. You can’t deal with misery and go home happy, and we have our lives to lead. That’s why we buy good businesses rather than those that need a turn-around,” he says.
“The propensity for a good business to do better is much greater than the propensity of a bad business to do better. The likelihood of a bad business doing worse is high, and the likelihood of a good business doing better is also high. People think if it’s so bad it can only get better, but that’s a horrible saying. If you are struggling, everybody is miserable and you have bad references by customers, so why should it get better? That’s why if a business isn’t healthy and strong and the people aren’t happy, we won’t buy it.”
Happiness at work is one of the goals he wants to help all his staff achieve. Shareholders no doubt want him to achieve massive profits, since EOH is a listed company, but for Bohbot that’s secondary to creating a vibrant, vigorous entity.
It’s too simple and shallow to set a target of reaching a certain turnover by a certain year, he argues. “I don’t think you can build an organisation that way. Numbers are crucial and that’s the yardstick we are measured by, especially being a public company where the numbers are there for everybody to see, but you don’t build a business with the mathematics in mind. It’s crucial, but not the most important. It’s extremely dangerous to set numerical goals because life has its own agenda,” he says.
“My view is that the organisation needs to have a way of life, a value system and a culture. That’s what we typically call the fluffy, soft stuff, but it isn’t fluffy at all, it’s crucial, especially if you want to grow the business.”
Maintaining a friendly, all-in-it-together attitude is difficult when a corporation employs 3 400 people as EOH does. “The challenge is to keep the spirit and stimulation and excitement happening across the organisation when you have new people joining you all the time through recruitment or acquisitions,” Bohbot says. Keeping people happy, excited and eager to get to work even when they are part of a large organisation are challenges that money and maths cannot resolve. “You have to bring a new dimension to it, and it’s to do with the environment and how we treat each other and seeing what excites people.”
Bohbot says EOH spends a lot of time defining how it is structured, what type of people it wants to attract, what type of people it doesn’t want, and how its employees are rewarded. “Money is a factor, but it’s only one of the elements. What roles and responsibilities people are given, how much they are empowered to make their own decisions and how much risk the company is prepared to take in doing that all add up to a complex set of variables,” he says.
Giving people the space to develop personally is a major reason why EOH is constantly seeking growth. “It’s important to manage the growth of the business so it’s exciting enough for the investment community and also exciting enough for our own people so there is space for them to grow and develop. A stagnant business doesn’t have any space to grow for anybody,” he says.
“Growth creates opportunities for the people who are here and it lets us bring new blood into the business to enhance who we are.”