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Interview with Katharina Dalka CEO of StellarOne, strategic and investment advisory firm operating in EMEA

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Katharina Dalka the Founder and CEO of StellarOne, seasoned strategic and investment advisory firm based in London, UK with presence in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Highly specialized in the technology sector, she advises investors, tech companies and financial institutions on all aspects of potential investment and collaboration opportunities. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Katharina speaks about her career in finance and tech, StellarOne, investing and technology in Africa. Excerpts. 

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career-path into investment and technology?

Katharina: I am German born and raised and studied finance and competitive intelligence in Paris. However, I started my career as an IT project manager, managing post-merger integrations like the one of Air France and KLM – a very hands-on job. It’s only afterward that I integrated a boutique consulting company providing strategy consulting to IT companies and investors that invest into IT.

In this company I was fortunate to work with an amazing boss who gave me the leeway to found my own in-house corporate development practice that I built first in France, then in Germany and finally in the UK. By then I lived in London and  took on an internal role as Head of Corporate Development in a tech company before founding StellarOne. I have always navigated between Tech and Finance, and likewise between operations and strategy – I can only advise on one if I know the other.

 

Alaba: What inspired you to launch StellarOne?

Katharina: I come from a family of entrepreneurs and felt the entrepreneurial fever for quite a while. It simply was time and I went for it. I knew I would bring something to the table with the unique approach of combining deep knowledge of Tech, Strategy and Corporate Finance skills. Also, it’s a highly male dominated environment, more women need to enter the space. It was an opportunity to contribute to do something I care much about. It was and still is challenging, however I must say that, beyond that, I receive the most amazing support from my male colleagues and friends.

 

Alaba: As an investment and strategy advisory firm in tech, what is StellarOne’s unique offering?

Katharina: First of all there is the knowledge of both operations and strategy/finance. I believe that it is important to know both, no point to provide high-fly advisory if it is not practicable. The StellarOne team is equally diverse in terms of competencies and background.

Furthermore, we emphasize on human relations and intercultural differences. The technical part of a deal is complicated but can be mastered. No deal is ever made if people don’t get along. It is important to manage energies in a deal, it’s not a one- off thing, people need to work together once the deal is signed. Also, what is offensive in one culture, is not in another – that can lead to a lot of misunderstanding during negotiations. Intercultural knowledge is something particularly important in cross-border deals, an area we specialized in.

 

Alaba: Who is the typical StellarOne Client?

Katharina: Either it is an investor who invests in a technology company. We accompany them from the target search, to the negotiation and the post investment enhancement. Or it is a technology firm, seeking for strategy advice, or wanting us to accompany a transaction. We are about to officially launch an offering for Financial and Public institutions in Africa that wish to work with tech companies. There are amazing opportunities, but a lot of gaps to fill. So, please stay tuned.

 

Alaba: Kindly share some of the investment advice you have made and the impact?

Katharina: Our projects are strictly confidential, so I won’t communicate any details or names. However I can say that we recently advised a specialized tech investor on a post investment enhancement project. The work took place over several months and redefined the entire corporate strategy leading to an important increase in growth.

 

Alaba: As an investment and strategy professional in tech, what are some of the challenges you face?

Katharina: StellarOne is very specialized and we provide custom advice. Every project is different, every client is different. This requires constant intellectual agility, depending on where we work. There are also geopolitical aspects to be taken into account. The most challenging part in my job is certainly the negotiation part though, it’s unpredictable.

 

Alaba: Women in technology are still in the minority. How are you encouraging and supporting other women to come be part of the ecosystem?

Katharina: First of all, I am leading by example. I want other ladies to see that both finance and tech are not reserved for men. I experience quite some adversity and I also encourage women to become knowledgeable, train and educate themselves. In a male-dominated environment, we need to be 3 times as competent until we can equal it out. Education is power.

 

Alaba: What is your view on the growth of investing and technology in Africa?

Katharina: It is a market of opportunities, with huge growth potential provided the entrepreneurs have the right accompaniment. Africa is a continent and doing business in Kenya is not like doing business in Ivory Coast. It requires people that know the business environment “on the ground” and can support the entrepreneurs in their growth. The continent is “leapfrogging” a lot of technology developments that more mature markets like Europe and the US went through before getting to where they are right now. This is accelerating the growth speed and innovation – for example, mobile money as we know it is an African innovation.

 

Alaba: If you weren’t in the technology industry, what else might you be doing?

Katharina: Most likely an architect or a musician.

 

Alaba: Where do you see yourself and StellarOne in the next 5 years?

Katharina: Always striving for excellence, supporting our clients in their growth, with a competent, skillful, diverse team operating in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. At that point in time we will consider the US market, too. 

 

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give professionals who may be less experienced in this area?

Katharina: Be prepared to have stamina, it’s a hard job but it is extremely rewarding intellectually. Educate yourself – so many great free resources out there. And network as much as you can.

Visit StellarOne

 

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Corporate Executive

Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care

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Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)

Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.

Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:

“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.

“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.

“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”

Overcoming Adversities

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”

Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:

  • The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
  • Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
  • Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
  • Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.

“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.

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“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.

“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.

“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.

Redefining Excellence

The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.

The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.

The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.

Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za

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Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria

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Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)

Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in  Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the  world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria. 

Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the  company’s business. 

Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon  chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.  

With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with  the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.

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IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa

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IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan

Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?

Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.

Its vision is  – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.

Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. 

We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.

Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?

Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.

Major recent contributions include:

  • We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
  • We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
  • We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.

Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?

Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary.  An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship. 

Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.

Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.

Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?

Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.

The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business.  In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.

In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.

In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.

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Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?

Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.

Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?

Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.

Alaba:  Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?

Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.

Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?

Parmi: I have received many accolades including:

  • Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
  • Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
  • Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
  • Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.

However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.

In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter

  1. Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
  2. Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Watch IoDSA HERE

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