Christina Watson Dreams Big on behalf of South African Education
Via Afrika is a leading publisher of quality educational textbooks and related material for South Africa and southern African countries. Established more than 60 years ago, the company publishes materials to meet the needs of learners from early childhood development up to Grade 12 and FET (vocational) Levels two-to-four, as well as Adult Education learners in both print and electronic formats.
With an eye to the future, Via Afrika has recently prioritised the development of digital learning tools suited to South Africa’s education sector, signaling a commitment to the overall continuous improvement strategy of the company.
In this months ‘Who’s the Boss’ Q&A though, we take a look at the continuous improvement of the woman currently entrusted with the task of overseeing Via Afrika’s ongoing rise; Christina Watson.
- Who are you? Where were you born?
My name is Christina Watson & I was born in Gauteng, South Africa.
- Where were you educated and what qualifications do you have?
I have a degree in languages, history and education. This equipped me well to grow through the ranks in educational publishing. I also have an MBA which gave me the all-important overview and insight into what is required to be successful in business.
- Tell us about your career and how you got to your current position?
After a few months as a teacher, of which I enjoyed every moment, I was offered the opportunity to join an educational publishing house. The majority of my career in educational publishing, with a spell elsewhere here and there, has been spent working for Via Afrika Publishers where I am now currently CEO.
- What influence did your parents have on your career choices?
My father died when I was 10 years old. My mother was the most dedicated person I have ever encountered. She was a grade three teacher and a number of her learners kept in contact with her up to her death at 85. She really made a difference in people’s lives. That inspired me.
- Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
My first boss in educational publishing, Estie van der Lingen. She did not accept second best. Ever. Today, at 75, she is still my mentor and friend.
- What does success mean to you?
Making a positive difference in whatever I am doing.
- What motivates you?
As an industry as a whole, educational publishing motivates me. It allows me the opportunity to bring all my childhood dreams together. I can learn from past best practices and apply them in the workplace, I can nurture and guide employees, I can ensure that all human rights are being protected in a spirit of fairness and I can build bridges between people and between learners and their future. What more can one want?
- What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
Willingness to take risks, not accepting anything but the best from people, trusting your instincts, hard work, caring for your customers, and to do what you say you will.
- What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
You can do more damage taking forever to make a decision than by making the wrong decision.
- What was the worst?
You have to listen to me!
- What do you do in your free time?
I love reading, and recently bought a Jeep so now I am testing its limits (and mine).
- What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Dare to dream big and accept that failure often is part of the road to success.
- What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
Not doing anything.
- What would you like your epitaph to be?
It will have to be a figurative one, perhaps; “She cared.”
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.