History in the making – MagmaTec turns 10!

Posted by batman on Feb 27th, 2010
Feb 27

Original article posted by MagmaTec
Magmatec's 10th anniversary

A little over 10 years ago, members of the then Southern Life EB IT department underwent some anxious moments when it was announced that Southern Life was being “merged with” (or more correctly “taken over by”) Momentum Life. Some of the drivers at play in this regard were that Momentum had a relatively small EB operation, and were not in a position to take on the much larger EB book of Southern. The decision had however been taken that the merged Momentum EB head office was to be in Gauteng. Our EB IT staff were desperately needed up there, but not many (none!) were prepared to make the move from Cape Town. As in all mergers, the biggest question for our staff was “what will happen to me”.

Fortunately for us, Momentum had an entrepreneurial culture, which was open to entrepreneurial behaviour and risk taking. So when the idea of the Southern EB IT shop starting a company by itself was mooted, they accepted this as a win / win proposition, which would provide the new Momentum EB entity with protection regarding the maintenance of the Southern Legacy systems. Consequently, MagmaTec came into being on 01 November 1998! As a new business, it was started with a lot of idealism and enthusiasm, a contract to support these legacy Southern systems, and not much else in the form of business experience or further opportunities. The journey had however begun… Some highlights over the years included:

  • Early on, we had no structure, open salaries, and lots of lengthy debates over every decision – we took a few days of meetings to choose a name, and our first new person recruited (Vanessa) required a company vote for approval!
  • We had lots of “sessions” (at The Range in Tokai) facilitated by Helene Smit, with the purpose of getting everyone`s emotions and values incorporated in the new “MagmaTec culture”. Many of the cultural factors that emerged in those early years have in fact stood the test of time, and are still very much part of MagmaTec today.
  • Although we were primarily a mainframe shop at that point, we did have a few “new age techies” in our midst (eg Steve, Bruce) who actually knew how to “program for PC`s” as we called it back then. They did an investigation as to whether our future should lie more in the Java or the Microsoft worlds. History tells us what they decided!
  • We had no clue as to what services we actually offered, and basically tendered for any IT work that we could come across (any technology, any industry). We did a web site for Future Growth, a financial calculator called “Lighthouse”, and a few other small things that cost us money but didn`t go anywhere.
  • We did a lot of work for a company called Limon (now sadly demised), based in Jhb – so LOTS of stressful travelling was done by Brian, Shafiq and Cathy Kleyn, who became local residents in the Morningside City Lodge for months on end.
  • We looked hard for an office to rent, couldn`t find anything suitable and eventually took the risk of buying the offices at Greenford.
  • We then did a catering system for Fedics, and a survey system for Netcare, both of which in fact are still being used in one form or another, despite not being worked on for many years!
  • It slowly dawned on us that we always struggled to get new business, and we needed a marketing specialist. Brian emerged from the technical woodwork to start a drive in marketing strategy. Eventually (with the help of a consultant) – we got the idea that the one area we could in fact compete was – you would never guess – Employee Benefits IT! This insight had taken us a few short years (we were quick learners you see :). Once we focused on “EB IT”, the company growth started.
  • Growth meant many more talented people joining us, and making their individual marks on our fledgling company in different ways. Middle management layers started to appear, our “Finance” and “HR” functions began to get more formal, and in general, we became more structured and organized.
  • Once we started to reach our peak in our local EB IT clients, we decided to spread our wings into the broader financial services market, and also to Johannesburg… and this is where we are today.

On the one hand, it feels like we started the company just the other day, and it is difficult to believe that 10 years have already passed. On the other hand, we have grown and learned so much during this time, as we faced one challenge after the other, that it seems like a VERY long time since we started. But overall, I for one can say that although there have been some difficult moments (and there still are many challenges we are grappling with), the consistent reason that I have stayed at MagmaTec, is that all the people involved have made the journey a very special one. I wouldn`t wish to face the challenges of competing in today`s very competitive markets, and dealing with ever increasing demands from clients, with any other group of people!

I would like to end off by saying a big THANK-YOU to all the staff who have been with us along the way, regardless of how long they have been at MagmaTec. Our collective efforts have resulted in us being able to move from a small start up, to a professional mid-size IT company, and credit in this regard is due to each and every person who played a role. Apparently only a very small percentage of start-ups make it through to 10 years, and I think we can all be justifiably proud to be one of them.

Now to the challenges of the next 10 years!

Stuart Phillips – Managing Director

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