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From Belgium to South Africa: an Insider View into the BrightWolves Story

Interview hosted by Richie Bryant

The South Africa branch of BrightWolves has officially launched!

There is no better way to get to know BrightWolves South Africa than by doing an interview with the team. Richie Bryant, Consultant at BrightWolves South Africa, recently sat down with the Country Manager, Domien Agten, and Operations Manager, Robyn Keet, to learn more about the new venture.

Welcome Robyn and Domien, let’s start this interview with some brief introductions.

Robyn: I grew up in Stellenbosch and moved to Belgium 3 years ago to do my Master’s degree at KU Leuven. After completing an internship at BrightWolves, I joined the company full-time a little over 1 year ago. I am also a proud South African!

Domien: And I am a proud Belgian! I grew up in the Limburg area, but have spent most of my adult life in Brussels. I joined the company not long after its inception 5 years ago. Over the last 9 months or so, I’ve been working with Robyn on the BrightWolves South Africa project.

Before diving deeper into BrightWolves going international, could you tell us more about the company?

Domien: BrightWolves is a young professional services firm that was founded in 2017. Our service offering has evolved quite a bit over time. Today, we help clients on various topics that we group into three distinct pillars: Business, Sustainability, and Digit - which covers digital and data-related engagements.

The common denominator in all three is that we are heavily biased towards action. We love to solve problems and think on a conceptual level, but what we really enjoy is bringing recommendations to life. Being boots on the ground and co-creating tangible impact. Hence, our slogan: from strategy to implementation.

Robyn, could you elaborate on the story of how and why South Africa has been chosen as the first expansion of BrightWolves?

Robyn: The story begins on a personal note. Due to Covid-19-related travel restrictions, I hadn’t seen my family in South Africa for about 2 years. I wanted to spend an extended period in the country, which presented an opportunity to find a project in South Africa. BrightWolves always tries to find a win-win situation. That is how I ended up doing a digital transformation project for a healthcare group in South Africa.

Secondly, as Domien mentioned, we have a bias towards action. We think very pragmatically about how we approach problem-solving, we also do not simply copy-paste frameworks or playbooks. Our skill set is therefore transferable internationally. This sparked the idea to explore South Africa as an expansion opportunity, in addition to the common thread of striving for a positive impact on society.

Lastly, we were drawn by the can-do mentality and the entrepreneurial spirit, aligning strongly with BrightWolves. We are optimistic that all of this will culminate into a recipe for success.

BrightWolves has seen remarkable growth in the years since its launch in 2017. Domien, you’ve been part of it since the start, how do you see this translating to the South African market?

Domien: We have a unique and differentiated value proposition in Europe, both towards our clients and our employees. That recipe has worked rather well for us, so I don’t believe in fundamentally changing that recipe. I’ll take our company values as an example: to me, they are universally pertinent.

However, I do believe in tailoring that recipe to a South African backdrop and focusing on where we can have the biggest impact.

From a client-engagement point of view, that means rendering top-end services that cater to South African challenges. We recognize that some of those challenges are similar to European ones, and some are not. We’re combining extensive experience from Europe with local expertise and know-how. It’s a synergy effect that is not to be underestimated: breakthrough ideas come when you look at problems from different angles. This setup allows us to really bring something to the market that others are not.

It's important not to change a winning formula. Robyn, do you see a strong connection between the European and South African branches going forward?

Robyn: We absolutely see the need to preserve those synergies. It’s important that the BrightWolves core values maintain across both offices while making sure we have a uniquely South African culture in the South Africa office. We are fortunate that we have phenomenal expertise across both locations, so I would say that our core strength is that we can approach clients with a global mindset. It is important to have a local workforce in South Africa and at the same time leverage the European expertise we have built up over the years. Going forward, this will work in the other direction as well, having thought leaders in both offices that can work across projects.

This is our differentiator: local presence and a global mindset.

Domien, what is it about South Africa that has drawn you to be a part of this project, and what do you perceive as being the main challenge?

Domien: I just find South Africa an unbelievably compelling place. It’s a place with breathtaking nature, rich history, and astonishing cultural diversity. And then there’s the people: South Africans have oftentimes been faced with extreme adversity, but never fail to remain upbeat and good-humoured. They are an extremely resilient and entrepreneurial crowd, and I find them incredibly inspiring!

Also, having worked and studied abroad in the past, I recognize the value of being exposed to different environments. South Africa is quite different to Belgium, I’m convinced that it will be a very enriching experience, both from a professional and personal perspective.

To me, the main challenge has been understanding South Africa’s medley of cultures, the social dynamics and how they cascade into the business environment. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this topic by reading books, listening to podcasts, and working on the ground, but I’ll admit it has been a very humbling experience!

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Robyn as a business partner who understands both worlds, a native South African that has spent a considerable amount of time in Europe. It puts her in a uniquely convenient position to educate me on said topic.

Robyn, the European office has a strong focus on environmental sustainability, can we expect something similar in South Africa? How will BrightWolves have a positive impact on society in South Africa?

Robyn: Yes, we will not lose focus on the environmental aspect of sustainability in South Africa. Especially as part of client engagements, we would like to keep that a key consideration in our recommendations.

We also really want to bring value to the social dimension of sustainability. From day 1, we want to make sure that our workforce is an accurate reflection of the amazing diversity of the country. We believe that having diversity in our way of thinking and representation will set BrightWolves up for success. We have ideas on how we can impact society, one of which is leveraging our in-house digital training platform to upskill in South Africa.

However, the most important will be to display true authenticity. By being boots on the ground in South Africa, we will be able to see where the need lies and where we can have the greatest value. This is how we envisage ourselves being authentic in our approach. We don’t want to come in with a European perspective saying how and where to have impact. This is also why we place such an emphasis on recruiting locally: to have a team that understands the dynamics of the environment in which we will operate.

Last but not least, how can people get in touch with BrightWolves in South Africa?

Robyn: You can visit our website or connect via LinkedIn. And we are always open for an informal coffee chat. So, feel free to reach out to either Domien or myself.

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