ACHIEVER – SEPTEMBER – INNOVATIVE GROUP SOLUTIONS CEO ARNOUX MARÉ
Living Without Any Excuses
Lives of great men remind us, we can all make our lives sublime…
“Heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight, but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night,” quoted the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
One such great fellow is without any doubt Arnoux Maré, CEO of Innovative Group Solutions and MD of Innovative Staffing Solutions.
Innovative Group Solutions is an outsourcing service provider, acting as a holding company with four independently operating divisions: Innovative Staffing Solutions, Innovative Accounting Solutions, Innovative BEE Solutions, and Innovative PPE Solutions – with 17 subsidiaries in the group as a whole.
Each of these divisions has its own client base, and operates within in the transport, mining, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality, and retail sectors of the economy.
In South Africa, where many industries are affected by a workforce mostly driven by labour, policy and legislation, outsourcing can become a powerful and successful survival strategy to bolster competitive advantage and consolidate costs.
To put it in the right context against labour broking, outsourcing is when a company outsource certain functions and operations to an outside company on a permanent basis instead of having an inhouse department handling and managing them. Over the past decade, outsourcing has become a major trend globally, specifically in human resources and accounting.
All Innovative Staffing Solutions employees are permanently employed, but outsourced to contracted clients for a fixed rate and absorbs all additional labour costs. The only extra cost ever added on to the agreed rate with a client, is for overtime. It takes over and manages all costs pertaining to sick and annual leave, and absenteeism. None of these affect the client.
Arnoux Maré explains, “With Innovative Staffing Solutions as a workforce partner, business owners and entrepreneurs can concentrate all their efforts on growing their businesses. Acting as their proxy, we assume the same level of responsibility and accountability as they themselves would as the employer.”
All staff relations and human resource matters thus become the sole responsibility of Innovative Group Solutions that takes charge of vetting, assessing, training, administering trade unions, the bargaining council, provident fund, medical aid, Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and any employee disciplinary processes.
A fixed cost structure enables clients to budget far more accurately. But the biggest advantages for companies to outsource to Innovative Group Solutions are; flexibility, freeing up more time to invest in other areas of their business such as research and development; better growth and innovation; and clients are always ensured of skilled and proficient staff.
With Innovative Group Solutions as an operations partner, existing contracted companies have already experienced significant expansion, and reached far greater heights without having to toil with labour and accounting issues.
And while each person or company has their own ideas about the kind of heights they would like to achieve, in the context of Maré’s life, it means achieving incremental milestones and goals without really knowing what the final end would look like in 15 years time.
Because, for Maré, success is not measured by the heights he would have attained at a certain time in the future, but by becoming what he can be, who he needs to be, to overcome the various obstacles in achieving the smaller milestones along the journey of an even greater accomplishment.
And yet, he makes it all look so effortless, casual almost, as he continually draws courage and inspiration from his inherent capabilities which helped him to transform the company from a one-man venture in 2011, to a workforce of over 10,000 employees, and an annual turnover of R780 million in 2017.
Within just seven years of operation, Arnoux Maré become a multimillionaire, the winner of Best Outsourcing Service Provider in Africa, and CEO of the Year, Africa Leadership Awards 2017.
How Arnoux Maré did it with a big vision, strategic thinking, hard work and trust
In 2011 Arnoux Maré left the safety office of the corporate world with big dreams and a clear vision. “Being in corporate, I recognised a lot of things companies struggle with. But in a crowded environment, I was just a number and nobody would take me seriously. I wanted to be more,” he says.
He founded a labour and human resource consultancy, spending 12 hours on the road every day to find clients, who simply were not interested in his proposals at first. Canvassing for new business by day, studying right through the night, and not closing anyone for nine months, certainly require a huge amount of courage, perseverance and resilience, qualities instinctive to Maré.
But eventually, if you knock long and loud enough at the gate, you’re sure to wake up somebody, and little by little he got the deals by stop following industry trends, and doing what he intuitively thought was right.
It was tough growing a client base in the beginning. “You need to prove yourself in the market before people will trust you,” he says. “I needed to find my strengths and draw upon it.”
So he positioned himself as an expert in labour relations, labour law, labour procedures, legislation, and industrial relations. He did research on each of the South African labour laws, unpacked them, studied them, identified the problem areas, and figured out where the opportunities were.
Word of mouth brought more and more clients, and soon he hit the 20-million turnover mark with a well-established client base. It was then when he realised he’s going to make it.
“Today, we still have clients whom I initially recruited. This is an achievement I am exceptionally proud of, one you can only obtain if clients trust you.”
Trust is essential in business, but what’s more important is providing solutions. Companies spend vast amounts of time and money on hiring, managing and firing staff, and dealing with labour disputes, unrests and strikes.
Innovative Staffing Solutions helps companies, SMEs and entrepreneurs find solutions to their unique challenges, resulting in saving costs and time. Maré and executive teams assume all responsibility and accountability with unparalleled human resources and industrial relations expertise. “Our exceptional growth is a demonstration of the satisfaction our clients experience,” says Maré.
Into each life some rain must fall
In his new book Flourish, author Martin Seligman says, “Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life.” The meaningful life, according to Seligman, involves ‘belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than yourself’.
So, when you clearly understand your purpose in life like Arnoux, you’re able to align your values with your efforts, allowing you to make significant contributions important to yourself, your family and the community in which you operate.
Your purpose and values then become the driving forces to help overcome the obstacles at your feet, and sustain the man you become along the way. But sometimes the greatest obstacles are not in front of you, but within you, often having to shun ghosts from the past.
Arnoux’s childhood was tough, growing up poor with a lot of adversity, and horrible experiences, “What I’ve learned from an early age was, you can’t depend on anyone else. No one will help. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and stop making excuses. Help yourself.”
Internal instincts to survive drove him forward: his values of loyalty, honesty, and hard work, nudging him through every day. But with a baby on the way the same time he just started the business, Arnoux knew he had to do better.
He ended up building something big and great. “I just wanted to build a company, and it became a corporate. I just wanted to earn a decent living, and I became a millionaire.”
People told Arnoux he was arrogant in his pursuit when passing the 20-million mark and setting an even much higher target, “Which is true. I’m very arrogant, I know. But it’s one of my most successful traits and got me where I am now.”
People judge you by what you’ve already done, while you judge yourself by what you feel capable of doing. Arnoux feels capable of moving mountains and already proved he can do it when he exceeded R780-million. Although the company achieved this laudable turnover in just a short time, Arnoux has no sense of slowing down or stopping.
He persistently focuses on selling solutions (not services), continuously asking: “What’s important to me? What’s important to us? What’s important to our clients? What’s important to our employees? What’s important to the country?”
What’s important to South Africa and what it needs
South Africa has an abundance of low and semi-skilled workers, who, at times, can be a challenge to manage. And skilled workers and those in managerial positions, are in high demand but short supply and expensive to retain. Staffing a business can therefore be time-consuming, taxing, demanding and often wearisome.
Key to Maré’s business success is his ability to keep abreast of industry trends and harness innovation to stay relevant in a fast paced world. “Many businesses fail when they don’t heed the warning signs, whether it’s technology that’s changing the landscape, or new legislation that threatens to upend the norm. It’s imperative to be on top of everything all the time.”
For example, recent amendments to the Labour Relations Act dictate that clients of labour brokers have to hire contractors who earn below R205,433 annually after three months. A drawn-out battle over the right interpretation of the section has seen unions and labour brokers battling it out in several courts.
While the ruling brings about much needed stability for some, others are not sure whether they will retain their jobs in future. “If these workers were employed by Innovative Staffing Solutions they would not have been in this situation, and be secured of a full time positioned without any risks,” says Maré.
Retrenchment is inevitable in South Africa, but thus far, Innovative Solutions Group did not retrench one single soul, or experienced any incident of labour unrest, despite the huge number of people in its employ.
“I’m not saying we’ll never have to retrench, but we have all systems in place to prevent this from happening. With always researching and analysing, we know what’s happening in all industries, and closely monitor markets, determining trends to ensure all employees and clients are safeguarded against any change or upheaval.”
In South Africa everything is governed around relationships. “We are trusted by government, organised labour, and suppliers. We have highly-skilled and qualified contract managers who improve on any targets set in a service level agreement.”
“Contract managers are on call 24/7 and always available to resolve any issue. While the industry standard is that an employee query be addressed within five days, we insist on doing so within 24 hours.”
What’s important to Businesses and what they need
“Business in South Africa today has become an intricate science and art that requires a host of specialists that no small business owner can afford or ignore. We can assume responsibility for all that,” promises Maré. “We ensure staff are vetted and trained, proficient and matched to clients’ specific business needs.”
By outsourcing finance and accounting processes to Innovative Accounting Solutions, companies have found they can access financial resources and best practices otherwise beyond their reach.
“We assist clients in developing better benchmark and baseline financial processes to help the company meet all its regulatory requirements. Simplifying and standardising financial and accounting processes are key characteristics of well-run companies,” says Maré.
Outsourcing will also allow businesses to share any associated risks, thereby reducing mental burden, and finding a formula for risk against return. This increases inhouse efficiency and productivity, workplace quality, and high value products and services. It helps to build strong brand equity and reputation, and eliminates the need for investment in infrastructure, thereby contributing to the bottom-line.
With in-depth research, careful analysis of processes, and well-thought-out structures put in place, Innovative Solutions Group helps clients ensure nothing goes wrong. “This gives clients the freedom to continue operations unhindered. We also assist clients to look at better production and planning, considering what’s the best for the company, then execute identified solutions with discipline and attention.”
What’s important to Employees and what they need
For most employees job security and stability are the most important aspects of life. When they are employed by Innovative Staff Solutions, they are assured of permanent employment, even when economy slumps or when industry and labour legislations change.
Maré assures, “We infiltrate a specific industry, ensuring we have multiple clients operating within that industry, to be able to shuffle employees between clients without any risk of them not having employment when a client terminates a contract.”
“Should an employee’s contract be terminated by a client for any reason, the employee is still employed by Innovative Staff Solutions and is simply redeployed onto another contract. This ensures sustainable employment, and workplace stability with continued security and peace of mind for workers and their families.”
When there’s no employment opportunities available within the specific sector, or an employee’s current skill-set not matching the opportunity, Innovative Staffing Solutions trains them for three months in training centres where they shadow competent and experienced employees to upskill with proper guidance and instruction.
The company also offers perks not previously available to employees, such as cash advances and loans. Emotional stability of employees is also very important. “Work hour flexibility is offered to employees who need downtime for family demands or other commitments.”
Being accountable for over 10,000 employees is a huge responsibility. “There’s a lot of people’s lives at stake, completely living off this company, which is why I can never stop. It’s my job to ensure they can improve and build upon their lives. I will always look for new and better opportunities for them so they, in turn, can take care of their own families.”
By the end of 2019 Maré reckons the company will have more than 15,000 employees on payroll, “But I’m pretty sure we’ll break that projection by 5000 more.”
What’s important to Communities and what they need
“We are closely involved in the communities in which our staff members live, and believe the best use of any discretionary money at this point, lies in education and skills development,” confirms Maré.
Maré believes South Africa’s unemployment issue is a result of shortage of skills. “”In some instances, corporate South Africa is unable to fill positions with adequately skilled people.” He suggests companies could outsource their skills requirements to Innovative Staffing Solutions which can then source and train the right people.
In regards to addressing poverty, “There are few things in life that can be more satisfying than participating in a venture which keeps thousands of learners at school,” says Mare. “We can’t address poverty in its entirety, but we can help to address one of the root causes of the poverty trap, education.”
A great part of the company’s CSI activity, is empowering and educating the youth and women on issues of empowerment and self-respect, with the objective to move more people from poverty to sustainability.
What Innovative Solutions Group executive management needs
A hands on CEO if it wants to remain at the current peak and still grow. But Maré is not rattled. “I constantly have my finger on the pulse and know exactly what’s going on with management and all teams within the business – at any moment, at any stage, in any division, with any system or process.”
“I’m always available and constantly controlling, planning and mitigating risk. That’s why I always place double targets, one for the company and one for myself.”
The team does not measure themselves against any competition. “I don’t care what the rest of the market is doing,” says Maré. “I just make sure we are on top of the business and industry at all times and do what we set out to do.”
To ensure the entire company is always on top, requires a firm approach. Maré is a straightforward and direct leader who makes no excuses, and don’t want to hear excuses either.
“I hate excuses. I value and respect people with strength. I love people who are brave and who want to be better, who want to get things done.”
“I have no filter. I say a lot that’s not acceptable because people hate the truth. I challenge every status quo, as that’s my personality, even if lands me in trouble. At least I do it smartly,” he smiles.
The greatest firmness is sometimes the greatest mercy, as the company surely thrives. Even though well-deserved, the executive team does not milk the cow, and capital for operations and employees always comes first. Its finances and expansion plans are strategised to the point, two years ahead.
“We maintain a balanced lifestyle and while I do love luxury, I always look at the company’s wellbeing first. But, if you work hard, you need to reward yourself. And how do you measure your own success if you don’t live your success? That’s why I treat and reward myself to sports cars and Rolex watches. But what I value most, is time with my family; children and fiance.”
Ambition is such a powerful passion, that however high you reach you are never satisfied
Ambition is what makes humans strive harder to improve and acquire better and bigger things, do more, be more… expansion and expression are thus what all ambitious humans strive for.
Sometimes expansion comes through the money, luxury, playthings, status and power. But sometimes, expression manifests through growth and personal achievement, which in turn bring fulfillment.
“That’s why I will always strive to do better and achieve more – and will never stop. I’m curious. I want to see how things work. I want to know how to solve more problems and where to provide more solutions, and establish mutually beneficial relationships, for the company, for our clients, for our employees, for the communities, and the country.”
“Nothing is more important to me, than what I do here and now,” Maré concludes with a manly heart.