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Michael Jordaan: “Innovation is not a fad”

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South African bank FNB recently announced that CEO Michael Jordaan would step down as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and take up the position of Chairman at social media platform Mxit. ITNewsAfrica spoke to Jordaan about his tenure at FNB and what exactly his new role would entail.

Former CEO of FNB Michael Jordaan  (image: file)
Former CEO of FNB Michael Jordaan (Image source: File)

* Looking back at your tenure at FNB, is there anything that you would have done differently?

It’s less a question of doing it differently but more a question of doing everything faster. The rate of change in the world is increasing at a rapid rate. Innovation is not a fad but has become a business survival strategy.

* With other messaging applications such as 2Go and WhatsApp gaining momentum, how will you be instrumental in keeping Mxit relevant in this fast-paced industry?

It is true that messaging apps are proliferating. Mxit has to differentiate by being chat-based, which is a different emotional experience from functional messaging, by being hyper-local and relevant for the youth in emerging markets.

* FNB has always been seen as a pioneer in the South African banking market. What sort of framework have you laid down for Jacques Celliers to continue with FNB’s strategy?

Jacques and his team will develop their own framework building on the strong momentum that exists in the business already. Innovation will continue as will expansion to the rest of Africa. Jacques has coined a phrase “sortedoutness” which speaks to ensuring that all the basics are sound.

* As the newly-appointed chairman of Mxit, what exactly will your role entail?

It is a non-executive role so the main requirements are signing off on strategy and setting up the CEO for success. I am basically at the disposal of the team to add value where I can without interfering operationally.

* Banking and social messaging are very different markets. How will you be able to draw on your knowledge and expertise from FNB, and incorporate that into Mxit?

At a certain level business becomes more generic. Essentially one has to leverage technology to create a great user experience and then attract more customers. One could argue that Mxit is a more “fun” business than banking and of course it helps that it is free.

* What long-term strategy does Mxit have for the South African market?

To grow the user base of 6,5m and to be relevant not only for chat which is the core of Mxit but also games, education, social outreach and other locally relevant applications.

* What projects has Mxit been working on that users can expect to see in the future?

A more elegant user interface across more than 3000 feature phones and the launch of Apps for smartphones, which is admittedly a year or two overdue.

* You said that you have been watching Mxit with interest for several years now. What attracted you to Mxit in the first place?

My family is based in Stellenbosch and I know the team well. We can all be proud of this South African startup. I was attracted by the potential of the business to scale across the rest of Africa and India where hundreds of millions of feature phones will still dominate the mobile chat scene for a couple of years. And Mxit reach is doing great things for education, for example offering the maths curriculum on mobile phones, with education being an area where SA needs to do much better.

* Will you still have some involvement with FNB, or have you completely distanced yourself?

I remain fully available to the teams from FNB and Firstrand for any advice and input that they ask for. At the same time I need to stand back now and provide space for the new management team.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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