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Josh Souchon has had an incredible career filled with what some may call luck. Spend a few minutes with Josh and you’ll quickly learn that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet. And luck doesn’t just happen to you, you create it – by taking risks, embracing change, believing in yourself, and persevering.

To understand how Josh ended up where he is – CIO of Sasfin and recipient of the Digital Innovation Award and the IT Project of the Year Award 2023 by CIO South Africa, you need to know where he started. Josh was born in KwaZulu-Natal and went to school at St George’s College in Harare, Zimbabwe. He won a scholarship to study engineering in London at Imperial College, and did his dissertation on mechanical aids for paraplegics. It was then that he decided to pursue medicine, returning to South Africa to study. In his fourth year, he chose to go back to engineering and joined Anglo American. A decision he says he made with his wife, who had her own career in Johannesburg.

At Anglo American, Josh was sent to the Bindura Nickel Corporation in Zimbabwe. During his time there, he received an opportunity to pivot into technology at De Beers. While working at De Beers, another opportunity arose, this time to join a start-up between WoolTru and DataTec at a company called Affinity Logic. Later, he was offered a position in financial services for the first time, joining a joint venture between Capital One in the United States and Nedbank in South Africa. “That was my first inroad into financial services, leveraging off my technology experience,” he explains.

After seven years at Nedbank, Josh wanted a change and made the decision to head overseas. He got a job at a trading company called Trafigura in Geneva, Switzerland and spent time working on projects across 35 countries. A year and a bit later, he found himself in London being interviewed at Investec to run technology for corporate and institutional banking based in Johannesburg. He called his wife who was in Geneva and asked if she was happy to return to South Africa. “She said, ‘yes’. The girls finished school on Friday and we flew out of Geneva and I started work on Monday,” Josh shares matter-of-factly.

Josh spent almost five years at Investec and then joined Standard Bank. Two years later, in 2016, he was about to go to Qatar when the opportunity arose to join Sasfin, and the rest he says is history.

While it’s clear that Josh embraces change, he explains that all these career changes were carefully considered. “The fast was the execution, not the planning and the deciding.” He also stresses that each decision he made was made with his wife, “often I’m the catalyst of the change, but it’s done in collaboration, not in isolation”.

“Take that leap of faith and then persevere with the decision. Far too many people give up too soon in the process.”

When it comes to making decisions, Josh believes that not making a decision is a decision, and often the wrong one in hindsight. “It’s about reflecting deeply on what it is that you want to do, making sure you seek counsel with those around you. My wife is a big part of that process for me.” Finally, Josh says that you need to believe in yourself, “take that leap of faith and then persevere with the decision. Far too many people give up too soon in the process.”

It’s this mindset which has made Josh a natural change-driven CIO and one that earned him two awards from CIO South Africa – the Digital Innovation Award and the IT Project of the Year Award. Awards, he says, are incredibly meaningful because of the peer and industry recognition they hold. “The way CIO South Africa works is that you can’t nominate yourself, you’re nominated by others within the industry. You go through a complex interview process with chairmans and chief executives of different boards within South Africa, and out of that comes the award. For me, making the nomination list for South Africa was in itself a massive achievement and recognition of what I’ve achieved in my career.”

Josh will be the first to tell you that his success was not achieved alone, but in collaboration with others. As a leader, he follows the philosophy of servant leadership to help foster a culture of collaboration within his teams. “It’s knowing when to lead from the front, when to lead from the pack, and when to push from behind,” he shares. In addition, he adds that asking the right questions is critical. “Understanding that I know what I want to achieve, but those around me will often have better ideas or ideas just as good as mine. The reason for asking, as opposed to telling, is that you get to grow, they get to grow, and they take ownership because it is their idea”.

“The reason for asking, as opposed to telling, is that you get to grow, they get to grow, and they take ownership because it is their idea.”

Josh is a firm advocate of mentoring and helping the next generation grow South Africa. He contributes to this through Sasfin’s IT Graduate Programme, a three-year programme in which graduates get in-depth work experience to allow them to add value to South Africa through financial services.

In addition, he’s involved with Sasfin’s Leadership and Development Programme as well as the Digital Coaching Programme that enable people to build and develop themselves with the help of mentors and coaches. When mentoring, Josh stresses the importance of making the time and putting in the effort of mentoring someone and allowing them to grow and flourish. From the mentees’ perspective, Josh says it’s important to be open to learning and growing. You need to be prepared to expose yourself, open your soul, and go through the process.

One of Josh’s proudest achievements at Sasfin is how COVID-19 was handled. “We pivoted from everybody being in the office to everybody working from home without dropping a trade or a deal in the process,” he says. “That was a huge achievement to take all 800 people and take them from working on desktops and laptops to allocating everybody a laptop, making sure that those who didn’t have Wi-Fi at home had access to data, and pivoting literally within a matter of weeks.”

Aside from being passionate about his work, Josh has a passion for travelling and reading business books.

He lists his favourite places as South Africa for its diversity and people, Switzerland for its natural beauty, Ireland for its people, and France for the French joie de vivre.

The book that most profoundly impacted him was The Founder’s Mentality by Chris Zook and James Allen, which he received from Roland Sassoon on his retirement. The biggest lesson he took was the habit of founders at the start of every week to clear the obstacles that could be preventing the organisation from succeeding. He explains how he’s implemented this habit, “every Monday at 10:00, my team meets and any obstacles that need to be addressed to allow delivery are dealt with. In the early days when I started that, I had a long, long list of problems that I had to deal with, and by Tuesday I’d done all of them. Now, nine times out of ten, it’s just a check in.”

As for the one lesson he would share with others starting out, Josh says it’s simple – “You need to believe in yourself and trust in people who see your potential. Take that leap of faith”

Watch his video interview here:

About the Author

Elisheva Gilbert
Chief Marketing Officer, Sasfin Holdings limited

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