You might not be familiar with the name Niall Carroll. Still, as a highly successful South African businessman and a shrewd investor, Carroll has been involved in shaking up established industries for decades. Carroll has cultivated a distinguished career. This is all by identifying opportunities and solving problems, plying his trade with Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, and the Royal Bafokeng Nation.
After 25 years of analyzing and operating in financial markets, both as an advisor and CEO, Carroll took a leap of faith and co-founded and funded his own company. Putting his skills to the test and pursuing a new mission, CG Tech, an investment holding company with operations in South Africa, the Middle East, the UK, Ireland, and Norway, was launch in 2014. Today, Carroll and his partners have built a diverse portfolio with thriving investments powered by innovation. But don’t be fooled by his success. A corporate high-flyer’s journey to creating and executing his own vision was not an easy one, but the simple way has never really appealed to someone like Carroll.
Carroll began his career as a chartered accountant, serving articles at Deloitte after graduating from the University of Cape Town. Soon he was given the opportunity to work as an equity analyst for one of South Africa’s most prominent stockbroking firms, Ivor Jones, Roy & Co (IJR). It was here that Carroll soon came to the realization that he could add value to clients. This is allByh combining his financial skills, a love of writing, and his natural curiosity to learn more about how the world works.
“As an equity analyst, my job was to analyze companies and develop an investment thesis or story. Based on that story’s quality, big institutional investors decided whether or not to give orders to IJR, which generated broking commissions for the firm. It was a competitive business as large institutions were receiving research reports from many analysts, and each analyst had to try to find a way to cut through the noise and add value to clients’ thinking. I enjoyed the challenge and quickly figured out that I was probably a better writer than an accountant,” laughs Carroll.
Developing a keen interest through his research and writing, Carroll became skilled at analyzing and understanding investments. This is within the greater context of financial markets, macroeconomics, and trends. It was during this time that Carroll began to recognize the importance of analytical rigor. This was by focusing on both the bottom-up detail as well as retaining a top-down global perspective. This dual perspective remains an important influence on his thinking to this day.
In 1995, IJR was acquired by Deutsche Bank. With the IJR equity research team rated as one of the top two SA franchises at the time, Carroll and his colleagues were soon speaking to institutional clients around the world. This is a period Carroll remembers fondly.
“It was a tremendously exciting time in my career. [Nelson] Mandela was the new President-elect. There was a huge amount of global interest in the New South Africa story. We were effectively salesmen for South Africa Incorporated. We regularly traveled to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, and Frankfurt to see the world’s largest asset management companies and hedge funds. I had a wonderful group of colleagues and clients. The experience gave me tremendous exposure to a wide range of perspectives,” says Carroll.
Carroll’s next career move was to run the corporate advisory side of Deutsche Bank’s SA business. This is where he worked with a wide range of organizations, including the Royal Bafokeng Nation. After a few years, Carroll was asked by the King of the Royal Bafokeng Nation to start a community-owned investment company. In which, this became Royal Bafokeng Holdings. The initiative was a great success, especially with Carroll and his team building a diversified portfolio that grew to over $4 billion. It was producing double the growth rate of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway over the same five-year period.
It was also during this time that Carroll and his team were able to negotiate successfully. Also, they could execute a landmark deal between the Royal Bafokeng Nation and Impala Platinum. Building on a number of previous initiatives, the 2007 transaction resulted in RBH becoming the single largest shareholder in the world’s second-largest platinum producer.
“By reframing the relationship between the two parties, we were able to not only bring financial gain to RBH, but we were also able to reset a low trust, at times acrimonious relationship to a much healthier one. It allowed both sides to move on from the conflicts of the past and recognize the value that could be created by working together in the future,” explains Carroll.
His eight years building RBH and working with the Bafokeng community had a profound impact on Carroll. It helped him to understand more deeply the drivers and values of social capitalism. Moving away from narrowly defined financial goals, Carroll sought to re-define long-term purpose. This is within the context of his own career. Manifesting his focus to create a purpose and vision that doesn’t just benefit investors but also can truly serve and uplift all stakeholders associated with a company.
In late 2012, Carroll found himself at a career crossroads and moved to London. Weighing up his options, it was clear now was the time to establish a path of his own. Partnering with Andrew Jackson, CG Tech was of creation in 2014. This is with a distinct purpose and vision that soon set it apart. Over the past seven years, the group has successfully acquired and grown a portfolio of engineering, project management, and services businesses through developing a unique ecosystem that sees the owner-managers of their investee companies operate in partnership to manage the entire CG Tech group.
It’s a proven effective method, establishing an environment of openness and clarity between the different companies within the group. Each company has its own unique context and set of opportunities, so there is no “one size fits all” approach. Nevertheless, synergies are of recognition. People share technologies and create new ventures to promote productivity and establish an effective company culture across the board.
“When we’re looking at a potential investment, we are not that fussed about the industry. It’s more about the values and people in the actual business. We thrive in partnerships with owner-managers who are investing their own time and money into building their company. Although, who remain curious and keen to grow personally. Owners with this mindset are passionate about their own businesses. However, are also open to new ideas and ready to engage with the group as a whole. The owners come from diverse backgrounds and are very different personalities, but we are all bound by a shared sense of purpose and an overlapping set of values and common vision,” says Carroll.
It is a business blueprint that is serving CG Tech well. From interests in the oil and gas industry, like South Africa’s Prommac, to Al Laith, an engineering, project management, and contracting services company in the UAE, the CG Tech group thrives on infiltrating established industries and fuelling them with the latest disruptive technologies.
The Virtulab is another CG Tech company that really came into its own during the last twelve months. Many businesses came to a halt as a result of the pandemic. The Virtulab team recognized their unique position to solve an emerging challenge—that challenge being how to address some of the problems with remote work. The team was already utilizing a virtual platform to remotely train oil and gas engineers were quickly reimagined, and the Virtuworx platform was rolled out at record speed.
This purpose-driven approach to business, especially during disruption, is a key feature of Carroll’s leadership style. Alongside CG Tech’s Chief Ecosystem Officer Jason English, the last year has seen Carroll take a more hands-on approach within the group. This is ensuring they didn’t just survive but thrive during a time of intense uncertainty.
“We’ve had to make a lot of changes in the last year. But at the core was an understanding that we needed to take care of our people. Your teams are what will get you through difficult times. Ensuring they felt supported was the main objective. Keeping our purpose and staying aligned with our vision is what ultimately powered us through,” explains Carroll.
Today, CG Tech’s Chairman is as equally comfortable on back-to-back Zoom calls as he is doing VR demos. It can go the same for talking about Middle East engineering projects. For its latest venture, Serious International, the group is entering into the world of sound stages. They have met completion its first project. The construction in less than three months of two high spec sound stages. These stages are currently being of use by one of the world’s leading action movie franchises. Once again, Carroll and his colleagues are entering a new industry. They are planning how best to deploy an array of technologies to innovate, disrupt and thrive.
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.