Leadership Spotlight: Darren Franks, MD Middle East & Africa, Eutopia

1. Tell us about your company and role

Eutopia is a boutique executive search firm focusing on the Telecoms and Technology sectors, predominately in emerging markets. We have 3 offices – London, Dubai and most recently Cape Town.

I joined Eutopia at its inception (2001) and am now Eutopia’s Managing Director for Middle East and Africa. I began my career recruiting consulting experts to the likes of Atos, Infosys Technologies, Cognizant and Deloitte before heading up Eutopia’s Middle East office for 6 years where my clients expanded to Sovereign Wealth Funds, Telecoms Operators, VAS organizations and OEM’s. I remain very much hands-on and I’m ultimately responsible for delivering world class staffing programmes to many of our Tier One customers. My current role includes Global Business Development and management of Eutopia’s MEA practice. I’m married with 2 young children and moved to Cape Town in 2013 to launch our new office.

2.       What, in your view, is the best thing about running a business in Cape Town?

The calibre of people – the talent pool in Cape Town is fantastic, the people we have interviewed (either for ourselves or for our clients) have been fantastic, people appear to be driven, career focused and eager to better themselves. The South African red is also pretty good.

3.       What areas do you think need to be improved to enhance the business environment in Cape Town?

I believe there are three key aspects. Firstly, more of a federal issue but it took me over 12 months to obtain a work permit and that in itself proved very problematic. Whilst I certainly understand the need to reduce the unemployment figures, I believe the work permit process needs addressing, especially for people like me who are looking to open a business, employ local people and, ultimately, contribute to the economy.

Secondly, broadband connectivity is essential for the growth of the economy and will allow Cape Town to compete on a more equal basis with other cities.

Finally, connectivity (in terms of easy access) to other African cities needs improving. I know of two businesses who were looking to set up regional HQ’s on the continent and whilst they preferred Cape Town as a location, the lack (and price) of flights to and from other African countries ended up forcing their hands and setting up their HQ in Johannesburg.

4.       How would you describe Cape Town’s business community?

As the majority of our business is in Sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve not been exposed to that many businesses here in Cape Town (other than those with interests in SSA). That said, from the people I have met via ACT and some clients, it’s certainly a close knit community and one that’s eager to help SME’s like ours. We have plans to extend our service portfolio to organizations in South Africa later this year so I will be better placed to Comment on this in  12 months time.

5.       Accelerate Cape Town is committed to developing a long-term vision and future strategy for the region, and Vision 2030 described the business vision for the region in 2009.  What would you say are currently the most important parts of “Vision 2030” for the city and region?

If I were asked this 10 months ago before arriving in Cape Town I would have unequivocally said safety and security. However, having lived here for almost a year, I can honestly say that I feel very safe and have not encountered a single issue so far. Being asked the same question now, my response would be the Global African Gateway. I think it is imperative that Cape Town positions itself as THE gateway to Sub Saharan Africa – however, without the improvement in connectivity from Cape Town International to other key African cities this is going to be a huge challenge.

6.       For how long have you lived in Cape Town? 10 months

7.       What is your favourite place to visit in Cape Town? Any of the vineyards – after 6 years in the Middle East, I’m like a kid in a candy shop!

8.       How would you describe your ideal Saturday afternoon in the city? Lunch at my favourite restaurant (Savoy Cabbage) followed by a few cocktails at Shimmy Beach Club and then off to Grand West Casino (another vice that I couldn’t enjoy whilst in the Middle East!). In reality though, with two young children, its more likely to be a long walk round Kirstenbosch Gardens, followed by an early dinner at Primi Piatti, Once the kids are in bed, lighting the Braai and opening a bottle of Warwick First Lady.

9.       What would you choose as a tag line for Cape Town (as a business city)?   #livedreamwork

10.      Whom do you most admire in the business world? I would have to say Ashish Thakker, CEO of the Mara Group. He built his empire from selling a single computer to a family friend in Uganda and is now Africa’s youngest billionaire. What’s more, he’s one of the most down to earth, approachable and inspirational figures I’ve had the honour of getting to know – both on a business and personal level.

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