Local CEO Terry Billson Shares His Growth Mindset
Competitive industries and competitors who undercut on price mean that top-performing growth businesses need to be innovative and well-lead. A local entrepreneur shares how he's staying ahead of the game.
Player: Terry Billson
Genergy launched in 2012 and has seen continual growth since its inception. Operating across Southern Africa, Genergy designs, installs and maintains state-of-the-art renewable energy solutions for the commercial sector.
We chatted to CEO Terry Billson about what it takes to build a business that can scale – even in tough economic conditions.
Q. In what way is a scalable business essentially different from a business that cannot be scaled?
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Scalability is a function of the market place, and for a business to be able to increase its revenue with minimal incremental costs, you need a proven product and business model. From here you can scale up (or down) geographically and in terms of markets.
Q. In your own business, what fundamentals needed to be in place before you could scale?
Genergy deploys world-class technical solutions, but it’s not just about the technology we use, it’s our people too. So we needed to ensure our technical and engineering capabilities were en point before we scaled up our operations, and that we could still invest in our people and deliver the high-quality solutions, on-time for our customers.
As a leadership team, we had to ensure a thorough knowledge of the markets and eco-systems we operate in and those we wanted to expand into.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced while scaling your business?
To be prepared for growth, you need to scale up before the growth exists. When growth and scaling don’t coincide, the business finds itself sitting with high running costs with a disproportionate sales income. Or sales cannot be fulfilled because the employee-base and skillset cannot meet demand.
Q. What was the biggest lesson you learnt, and how has it impacted your business model?
There is no one ‘big’ lesson, but we experienced many lessons that we’ve needed to absorb and respond to.
- Costs. The costs involved in scaling-up are higher than expected, so be sure to have access to savings or factor in an extra 10% to cover unexpected expenses. On the subject of money, we also learnt that funding within the green energy/renewable sector is difficult to access, to date, the shareholders have funded the business and its growth.
- Talent. Finding the right talent for us to scale the business was challenging because the industry is new to South Africa. Such a new industry means fewer people with the relevant skill set, and people who have the right skills know their price and can come at a premium.
- Stick to your values. A bureaucratic environment and policymakers make the renewable energy sector and the investment in it tricky to navigate, which is why non-compliant competitors are undercutting professional and experienced renewable energy suppliers, giving the industry a bad reputation.
Q. How important is the mindset of the CEO in relation to a business’s ability to scale?
It’s essential, without vision or the right leadership, there will be no growth.
CEOs need to take ownership of their attitude and discard their egos. Having a growth mindset is about being open to admit you can and will fail.
How you see a difficult situation is what makes all the difference. Failing is a part of the learning process, and the more you get used to sitting with these experiences and growing from them, the more you will develop as a leader.
See yourself as being in a constant state of becoming and evolving. Everything that happens serves as a test to teach you what works and what doesn’t. You must be versatile and embrace change as something inevitable and beneficial.
You don’t have to be the best in everything, but curiosity and being open to learning new things will help you connect the dots and see the big picture as you scale up. It is crucial to understand how things fit together, so you see the opportunities for connections inside and outside of your company.
Q. What did you personally need to develop in order to have the ability to achieve scale in your organization?
As part of the leadership team, I spent time understanding the future of renewable energy locally and internationally, and the role of the green economy within South Africa and how it contributes commercially, environmentally and financially.
I also had to identify external challenges, emerging issues (such as energy costs, carbon taxes) and design strategies to manage them.