Howard Blake - from one-man start-up to multi-million conglomerate!
Howard formed Blake & Associates in 1990, with the vision of building a new generation value chain provider of contact centre services that is proudly South African. Seeing a gap in the market at the time, Howard started from humble beginnings and managed to, over the last 20 years, grow Blake & Associates into a highly successful international Business Process Outsource leader. Operating on three different continents, Blake & Associates employs a total of 3,000 people today.
Howard started out his career very differently though. Initially studying law and later joining the Attorney General's Office as an Attorney, he eventually got involved in debt collection. His entrepreneurial spirit got the better of him, and it was only a matter of time before he realized the massive opportunity for a full-time debt collection company in the marketplace. This was when the idea was born to start Blake & Associates. And since day one, Blake & Associates has literally struggled to keep up with demand.
Alhough technology played a large part in growing his business, it was his unfaltering entrepreneurial spirit that led to the longevity and success of Blake & Associates – perhaps one of the reasons why Howard was nominated in 2008 for the Ernest & Young 'Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year' Award.
Having not come from a very privileged upbringing, his philosophy has always been to build the business with sensitivity to those who have not had exposure to opportunity. Initially he only allowed the employment of unemployed school leavers who had met certain basic cognitive requirements. This philosophy has managed to secure employment for 7,000 people over a period of 13 years, most of whom were unskilled and unemployed when they started with Blake. Howard provided them with opportunities that nobody else was prepared to give them, and gave them skills that improved not only their living standards, but also those of their children and families. Most of these initally unskilled employees eventually migrated out of the business with new skills that allowed them interaction in more challenging environments which would provide them with better employment opportunities.
It has been Howard's commitment ever since to assist the unskilled school leaver market as much as he can. And he's enjoyed much personal satisfaction from this philosophy, having seen the effects first hand in his neighboring community, Phoenix. The amounts of hungry mouths that have been indirectly fed through this employment philosophy, and the number of families that were uplifted in the process, is truly inspiring.
Howard Blake has always been the personal driver for the success of his business. He has an unfaltering belief that things can always be done, not only differently, but also better. He's always refused to accept the current status quo as the best way of doing the job. This led to his philosophy of renewing his business strategy every 18 months – something that he still keeps to today.
He also believes in taking full responsibility for what happens in the business - the good and the bad – without looking at the team that implemented the decision. He's always accepted that ultimately the responsibility remains with him, and this is today still one of his keys to success.
This, together with his passion for delivering a top quality brand experience to his clients, is what has been driving his company to integrate unsurpassed levels of technological innovation, business practice and managerial skill with exceptionally high levels of service.
Blake & Associates is today one of the foremost Debt Collection and Call Centre Outsource leaders in South Africa, operating in industries as diverse as Banking, Retail, Insurance, Telecommunications, Health Care, Motor and e-Commerce, across as many as six different countries. Over the last 20 years, Howard Blake has created a truly South African success story - one that has no limitations. And with 16 new projects on the go, Howard has no intention of slowing down either. The future looks bright for Blake & Associates, and Howard believes he has only just begun the journey.
When Howard is not busy growing and expanding his company, or coming up with new business ideas and helping the community around him, he likes to keep things simple. He loves to simply relax at home with his children or to participate in motorsports, in fact he feels most at ease while behind the wheel of a car or a motorbike . He also enjoys reading non-fiction books on philosophy, when he can find the time. For a man who has achieved so much, free time is a luxury of course. But then, for Howard Blake, his work is his passion, ...which is his life.
Howard Blake is based at Blake & Associates' Head Office in Mount Edgecombe, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
For more information on Blake & Associates, please visit www.blake.co.za
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.