by Staff Reporter

Arnoux Maré: inspiring an innovative approach to business

Everybody loves an inspiring rags-to-riches story, epitomised by the dynamic founder and CEO of Innovative Solutions Group

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Everybody loves an inspiring rags-to-riches story, epitomised by the dynamic founder and CEO of Innovative Solutions Group™, Arnoux Maré, who took R500 and turned it into close to a R1 billion-a-year business. This serial entrepreneur was also awarded CEO of the Year at the Africa Leadership Awards in 2017.

In the last four years, Maré’s company’s turnover has rocketed from R32 million to close to a billion in the areas of staff outsourcing, finance, administration, taxation, accounting and auditing, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) and personal protective equipment.

Maré’s first venture in Innovative Solutions Group™, Innovative Staffing Solutions, is close to his heart, with the self-confessed ‘people’s person’ thriving on engaging with others and finding solutions to some of corporate South Africa’s human resource deficiencies. He likes to people-watch, as human nature fascinates him, and determines how he applies that knowledge to better understand the working environment and all its intricacies.

However, it was not always impressive profits for Maré, who started his company from scratch. “I founded the business with an idea, a laptop and R500. My first step was to look for clients and sell my idea to them. It was tough; people don’t believe in the new kid on the block. They always want to work with somebody who’s known or more established in business. I struggled to get clients for almost nine months. The first retainer I signed was for R780 a month and the business grew from there,” he explains.

Having worked in the corporate sector in marketing and human resources, Maré knew that starting and managing his own business was better suited to his character.

“I always believed I was a better Manager than an employee. The corporate world is very numbers driven. You’re a number in the company, so even if you have a great idea—if you have somebody above you, they could easily take credit for your idea. I just got tired of that and building other people’s businesses when I knew I could do it for myself. That’s when I decided to go on my own, a move that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” admits the no-nonsense Maré.

“But, I am a go-getter who doesn’t believe in ‘enough’ or ‘too much’. Everything I do is based on that concept. My focus is on building and then building some more,” he adds.

Finding the right solution

This building process has seen Innovative Solutions Group™ develop into an empire, growing from a purely staffing-focused business into a massive operation incorporating 22 subsidiaries.

Maré explains, “We offer more than just services. We’re a group of companies under the Innovative Solutions Group™ umbrella. Each company has a clientele of its own, its own management team and its own staff. For example, Innovative Staffing Solutions is a staff outsourcing firm; Innovative Accounting Services, an auditing and accounting operation; and Innovative BEE Solutions, which helps companies to solve their BEE issues.

“We’ve built the entire group by identifying gaps in the market. So, we started with the staff outsourcing operation and then noticed that accounting had become very expensive. This led to the acquisition of an accounting firm and then a BEE firm to help clients address their BEE status. Then, we discovered that PPE and protective wear was very expensive, so we bought a PPE wholesaler with an international production line. Every company we acquire complements the other companies in the group,” Maré says.

“We’ve started several new companies in accordance with our clients’ and group’s needs. The most recent is Innovative Marketing Solutions, the branding and printing side of our group, which is doing really well,” he adds.

Why outsource?

Outsourcing has become a strategic differentiator in the modern working world.

“Outsourcing is critical for conducting business effectively in today’s fast-paced world. Our entire group is built on the idea that businesses should concentrate on their core operations and put their staffing and other non-core business functions into the hands of the experts. This allows the business to grow faster and reduces costs.

“Business owners are wary of outsourcing because they tend to be emotionally attached to their companies. While this is understandable, it is not the best way to run a business. Why try to do everything yourself when there are others who can handle certain functions more effectively on your behalf?” notes Maré.

A BEE visionary

With transformation high on South Africa’s political and economic agenda, Maré started Innovative BEE Solutions to assist companies to comply with B-BBEE regulations and enhancing their business efficiency through improved scorecard ratings. Innovative BEE Solutions’ goal is to help educate clients on how to affordably integrate B-BBEE policies, social responsibility initiatives and enterprise development into their strategic visions and operations.

“When I purchased the BEE company, I changed the way it looks at business. It had a mechanical approach, leaving little room for innovation. The first thing I did was employ one of the top BEE minds in South Africa. Now, we have developed systems to help businesses actually save costs while achieving their BEE goals. Our latest initiative is to transform our BEE business from a consultation operation into a verification centre so that we can conduct the verification process too,” explains Maré.

Leadership essentials

Maré goes on to talk about the state of leadership in South Africa and the health of the economy in general, at a time when the business community appears to be in damage control mode.

“I don’t think our country is in such a dire state. We’re actually doing well for a developing country, particularly compared to many other developing countries.

“Good leadership is critical for success—whether it’s for the country or a company. A good leader is somebody who leads by example. Take Innovative Staffing Solutions, for example, I made sure I spent time doing every job in the business to get an intimate understanding of each role, from contract management and payroll, to recruitment and industrial relations. This has helped me to manage my people more effectively, because I understand the challenges they face.

“You can’t just dictate. You need to listen and you need to lead with love. Yes, there’s a time to be strict and to follow the rules, but in my opinion, good leaders build their people up rather than break them down. I’m always looking for ways to improve the work environment for my employees.

“One example is a one-of-a-kind medical aid through Discovery to ensure our employees get world-class medical care at a reduced cost. I also incentivise a lot. When employing a good leader, I always look for someone who has a broad range of knowledge and the personality to influence people in a positive way,” he says.

Economic growth in a stagnant economy

There has been a lot of talk about tough economic times and how businesses are finding it difficult to create new opportunities or find innovative ways to expand their operations.

For Maré, however, opportunity always knocks.

“I will say—and people don’t like it when I say this—there’s no such thing as a bad economy, because businesses will always need service providers to survive. The trick is to place yourself as the service provider of choice rather than worry about the economic woes of the country. If you can do that, you will always be in business.

“That’s what we’ve done. Through good business principles and ethics, we have positioned ourselves as the go-to guys in our industry. In these fluctuating economic times, we have experienced some of the best growth ever. We’re doubling our turnover year on year. People tend to make too many excuses: they had a bad year because of the country’s economic or political turmoil. They don’t think: just work harder and market more, get yourself out there, change something, become a bit more cost-effective. If they did this, they would actually build the company. I’m not a person for excuses. We have pushed through and will always continue to do so,” Maré says.

A competitive streak

Maré is known to be fiercely competitive and highly goal-centred, setting performance targets that need to be met. Does his initial vision for his group of companies mirror the success he’s achieved?

“I’ve done well, but I could have done a lot of things differently. Looking back, if I had done certain things differently and mitigated some risks a bit better, we would have been triple the size we are now.

“I don’t think I’m competitive, I just have this primal need to be the best at whatever I do. I might be in Cape Town for a business trip or a short vacation to clear my head, but while I’m there, I can’t help looking for new answers or contemplating better ways to conduct business. I always tell myself, ‘You are responsible for thousands of people’—because statistics suggest that for every person who is employed in South Africa, 11 people benefit. That means more than 110 000 people rely on my company,” he explains.

The role of technology

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our doorstep and technology placing new demands on the human resources sector, Maré outlines the role of technology in his sphere, which is very much service-oriented.

“We’re not highly invested in technology yet, but this will change soon. Technology is halving the size of the world. Thirty years ago, no one thought you could go onto a computer, pose a question and somebody in France would have the answer. It was impossible. While technology can definitely streamline business processes and makes our lives easier, we should never forget about the human side of things—and understand that technology is only as good as the people using it,” he explains.

Status reputation management

Maré mentions his latest project, which does not form part of Innovative Solutions Group™, is a PR partnership with the well-known marketer, Madelain Roscher, and her latest brainchild, Status Reputation Management. Status provides reputation management services for statesmen, captains of industry and high-net-worth individuals.

“Madelain’s contacts and vast experience mean Status Reputation Management can make a real difference to its clients’ lives, especially in a world where transparency is becoming increasingly important,” says Maré.

Mentors

Maré concludes by highlighting some of the inspirational figures who have helped him achieve the success he’s enjoyed, including his dear mother, who passed her keen eye for business onto him.

“My mother passed away when I was 18. She was the only family I had, and we were never rich, but we had what we needed. I never wore branded clothing and couldn’t enjoy the school trips my friends went on but, I learnt some valuable lessons from my mother.

“She had an exceptional entrepreneurial mind and started a small cell phone shop with a desk and a landline in Polokwane when I was in Grade 10.

“She didn’t have the money to carry stock, so customers would come in, order their contract and then she would say, ‘Okay, it’s approved, come and fetch your phone tomorrow.’ She would then quickly make the payment, have everything couriered to her and be ready for her customer the next day.

“She really started on the back foot. That taught me that I could achieve anything and that I didn’t have to start with millions. If I had started this company with millions, we would have taken over the world by now. I gained so much value from learning from someone like my mother.

“Today, people inspire me on a daily basis. I find intelligence exceptionally attractive. So, if I speak to somebody, no matter what they do, I find inspiration from their stories.

“A lot of people look at the Steve Jobs and the Richard Branson’s of the world and say they’re inspiring, but we should look closer to home. Look at the person who went from being a gangster in a drug ring, to becoming a manager, even if it’s for a small company. That is truly remarkable,” concludes the insightful entrepreneur.

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