Being in the right place at the right time

Vodacom CTO Andries Delport credits his rise to the top to hard work and being in the right place at the right time when the cellular industry took off in South Africa.

Delport had a love for science and technology from an early age, which informed his decision to study engineering.

After completing his electronic engineering degree, he started a job at an AECI chemical plant in Sasolburg where he earned R1,250 per month.

He soon moved to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as a project manager on telecommunication systems.

“Most of what I did in the first few years related to HF predictions and modelling for long distance HF communications,” said Delport.

His big break came when he was afforded an opportunity to work for Vodacom in June 1996 as a manager for radio planning in Johannesburg.

He made the most of this opportunity and worked “harder and smarter than the guy next to me, oftentimes right around the clock”.

After a series of promotions, he became general manager for operations in December 1998, where he was responsible for radio planning, optimisation, and budgeting.

Former Vodacom CEOs Alan Knott-Craig and Pieter Uys saw Delport’s potential, and he became Vodacom CTO in November 2010.

Being an executive has many benefits, but Delport said there are moments where he misses being more operationally involved.

“As an example, in the early years of Vodacom, we got into our cars on a daily basis to drive the network looking for dropped calls so that we could fix them,” said Delport.

“In my first year at Vodacom, I travelled over 70,000km, largely because of network testing.”

Delport’s proudest moments

Delport said he has “proud moments every day” as he sees how the Vodacom technology team “continues to evolve and remains a force to be reckoned with”.

“My individual team members can hold their own anywhere in the world – as a team they are formidable,” he said.

Under Delport, Vodacom achieved many firsts, which included:

  • The first operator to launch 3G in South Africa in 2004, against popular sentiment that said there was no business case for 3G.
  • The first operator to launch LTE in South Africa in 2012. This was done without additional spectrum, which made it difficult.

Delport also values the numerous awards Vodacom has received over the years, which include the MyBroadband Best Mobile Network Award in 2017 and African Brand Index’s #1 Telecommunications Company in South Africa.

The stress of a network going down

Delport said he was lucky to have not personally caused their network to go down, but their was a case where it happened on his watch .

“The last network outage was in 2011 and was due to multiple failures in the network rather than a technical error.”

“I remember 30 June 2011 very clearly, it was a Thursday and the entire network went down around midday,” said Delport.

“I was supposed to fly down to the Durban July. Because I was so worried about the network, I cancelled my flight and drove down to Durban instead so that I could be in constant contact with the recovery team should another failure occur.”

“Needless to say, we have made the network far more resilient since then, applying the lessons learned from that particular experience.”


Delport’s tech and business choices

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Linux, Windows, or macOS?

Windows 10.

Which smartphone do you use?

iPhone X.

Which laptop do you use?

Microsoft Surface Book 2.

What is the best gadget you have ever bought?

I have a number of cool gadgets, but my Garmin Fenix 5X fitness watch is probably the best. It keeps me focused on some semblance of fitness for myself.

What is the worst gadget you have ever bought?

My first Apple Watch because of the limited battery life.

What Internet connection do you have at home?

Vodacom Fibre.

For gaming: PC, PS4, or Xbox?

PC.

What is the best investment you have ever made?

I bought some Naspers shares at R1,675 a share.

What is the worst investment you have ever made?

I have made some poor investments. It is best that I don’t mention them by name.

What is the best business or IT book you have ever read?

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and “Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.


Now read: Reshaad Sha’s stellar rise to the top

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Being in the right place at the right time