In 2012, a young and energetic engineer took over a small South African company called Prommac. Over the next 9 years, the business would go from humble beginnings in the oil and gas sector, to becoming a major player in the delivery of maintenance, projects, shutdown and drone solutions across Africa. Their success was driven in part by a crack team put together and led by Jason English, a South African entrepreneur with a unique purpose-driven approach to business, that helped transform Prommac from a small market player to the major powerhouse it is today.
A bright career
Jason English is a man that understands the importance of organisational culture in shaping, articulating and achieving the vision. With a varied yet stellar career over the past two decades, it may come as a surprise to discover English is just 43 years old, and although his accomplishments place him in a category well beyond his years, a desire to explore new and exciting opportunities plays a role in helping to explain his success.
In 2012, English left a steadfast executive career, deciding to acquire a majority share and take over the reins at Prommac. While he can appreciate the move now, at the time it was a decision full of uncertainty.
“There was a lot unknown at the beginning, and most people said it was a dicey move for me,” explains English, adding, “But I was really drawn to the opportunity Prommac presented, and more importantly what it could be.”
The rise of Prommac
As the CEO of Prommac, English began to instil his distinct vision within the team. One that relies on a solid company culture infused with the latest technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of people and their work. With Jason English at the helm, Prommac quickly discovered the importance of innovation, and investors began to take notice.
In 2014, Prommac became one of the first companies to be acquired by CG Tech. The newly formed group, led by chairman Niall Carroll, was particularly impressed by the leadership style of English, but it was a serendipitous encounter that first brought them together, meeting over an informal business lunch. Carroll attended in the traditional corporate suit and tie of an investment banker. English, on the other hand, showed up to the meeting in far less conventional business attire – a pair of work-stained overalls.
“It wasn’t a strong first impression,” recalls Carroll, adding, “But after an hour of lunch together, it was apparent that Jason had a passion for his work and a clear vision for Prommac and so we decided to make our first investment into Prommac.”
Building the portfolio
As the first official addition to the portfolio, Prommac would soon capitalise on the benefits of being part of a group. Around a similar time, Carroll had made investments of his own into a drone startup in London, and Prommac simultaneously became one of South Africa’s first registered drone operations, becoming an ideal testing ground for the application of drone technology in the oil and gas sector.
As the teams came together, looking for viable ways to improve client-based challenges that would add value and meaning to the way in which Prommac was operating, the unit formed the basis of what is today The Virtulab, a key innovation and technology enabler operating across the CG Tech group of companies.
And the value didn’t only flow in one direction. The Virtulab team was exposed to real on the ground challenges being faced by its partner companies, and they were able to rapidly prototype and develop compelling solutions. One such challenge was centralising the training of a distributed workforce.
The Virtulab team created a virtual avatar-based interface for Prommac employees to come together. The solution, labelled Virtuworx, is gaining popularity around the world by solving a far greater challenge than the one originally intended – the remote work phenomenon sweeping the world in the wake of the recent pandemic.
With a solid focus on growth, Prommac began to explore new ways to enrich its operations. Whether through drone technology, virtual reality or augmented technologies, the team worked tirelessly to optimise project management and onboarding systems. What once took four to five years to get an oil and gas engineer up to speed, now could be done in two years. Intricate details and photos needed for a project could easily and promptly be achieved with the use of a drone. The results were instantaneously beneficial and helped Prommac to not only win contracts, but also land repeat business.
“We might not have always been cheaper than our competitors,” explains English. “But we were able to offer better value. Delivering clients efficiency that in turn improved their bottom line.”
The strategy has proved lucrative, helping to turn Prommac into an enviable business generating more than R500 million (US $33 million) in revenue a year.
In 2018, Jason English relinquished the reins of Prommac to Dany de Barros, taking over the CEO role after three years as the company’s COO. The business continues to thrive, even in today’s uncertain climate of change, at its peak employing over 2,500 people.
As the team entered a new stage of partnership, Jason English moved on from an operational role in Prommac to become the Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech, a newly formed group company established in 2018, with the objective of providing strategic management oversight and innovative business enhancements to its subsidiaries, and imbuing them with his unique brand of corporate culture, or ‘Oros’. English explains he coined the term when he first acquired Prommac and goes on to explain it in ‘The Oros Effect’, the title of his upcoming book.
“I am in the fortunate position that I get to choose who I work with,” explains Carroll. “For me, seeing Jason’s energy and enthusiasm for what he does day in and day out was palpable. It only made sense to bring him into a more senior role at CG Tech and get his experience and vision infused throughout the entire portfolio.”
A bright new future
As the company enters a new stage of stability, with a solid financial position and dedicated workforce, now might be the time to once again hand over the reins of Prommac. With investment groups showing strong interest in the asset, where the company goes from here is anyone’s guess, but thanks to the leadership of visionaries like Jason English, Prommac looks set to continue its impressive course for the foreseeable future.
The collection of business within the CG Tech group allows us to share learnings and ideas with each other, sparking collective investments into research and development of new products and services which would not normally have been created.
The technology arm of the CG Tech group, The Virtulab, has allowed me to grow the reputation of Prommac as a digital business in a traditional industry, and we have been able to transform at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing these services.
As the youngest leader in the group, the collective knowledge of leadership has helped me grow personally by engaging with great business leaders who have been there, done that and have shared their experiences with me.
The CG Tech team has helped us raise capital and fund growth using the know how and experience of the collective group. The spread of skill sets between Accountants, M&A Experts, Operational Specialists, Metallurgy Specialists has helped me shape my business for the future.