A woman in Tech to watch out for
HALLMARKS OF A GOOD LEADER: COMMUNICATION, TRANSPARENCY AND PASSION
Head of sales and services at EasyBiz Technologies, Bridget du Toit, is passionate about making a difference in everything she does. Her no-nonsense approach and positive attitude have seen her grow from a KwaZulu-Natal science teacher to a high-powered executive with her finger on the pulse of South Africa’s fast evolving accounting software landscape.
Du Toit joined EasyBiz Technologies as business development manager in 2017, tasked with defining a way forward for the business. “With evolving smart and digital technology changing the face of accounting, my role was to establish where EasyBiz’s focus areas should be. I was also responsible for forming strategic alliances with partners we could collaborate with on our journey.”
With its strong ties to Intuit, EasyBiz was compelled to transition from offering desktop accounting solutions to cloud-focused solutions. This evolving focus saw Du Toit move into more of a sales and services oriented role in 2018.
She says operating in the online arena required a significant paradigm shift and training for everyone at EasyBiz. “The sales team had to transition from selling a desktop accounting package to a cloud-based product. People respond to change differently – my job was to manage the process. I also needed to help re-focus the business’s marketing efforts to entice accountants who are viewed as our gateway to becoming number one in the market.”
Du Toit was not daunted by the task. Her passion for making a difference emerged as a young girl growing up in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Early on in my life, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world. My vision was to do something that I felt would make South Africa a better place at the end of each day,” she says.
Armed with a bachelor of science degree from Natal University, du Toit decided she could make the most impact by teaching biology and science to school students. “There was a great need to get young people interested in the sciences in our country. I decided I was going to change South Africa one student at a time.”
She taught in KwaZulu-Natal for 10 years before meeting the man she was to marry. When he was offered a transfer to Gauteng, she followed, trading the sea in for the mine dumps of Benoni.
“I had changed provinces, so I thought: why not try something new? I applied for what I thought was the role as a trainer at a large accounting software vendor. It didn’t seem too far removed from teaching and I’d still be making a difference in peoples’ lives by teaching them new skills,” she explains.
She was, however, mistaken. “The job actually entailed selling training courses. On my first day at work, I was given a list of names and numbers and told to start selling. To this day, I have no idea how I got my signals so crossed,” she laughs.
Du Toit decided to make the best of the situation. “I have this attitude: always be filled with joy, otherwise what is the use of living. I started listening to everyone, enlisting the help of a few mentors, learning a few sales tips and eight months down the line I was promoted to manager of a small sales team.”
Du Toit soon learned the ropes of the entire business and was appointed sales director in 2004. “This was a listed company, bringing in billions. I was a young woman sitting on its executive board – learning, growing and loving my job.
“Even though I wasn’t teaching anymore, I felt I was still making a difference, because I was selling an accounting package that helped people run their businesses better. I don’t think I would have been as passionate if I was selling something that wasn’t so meaningful to businesses,” adds du Toit.
After 19 years at the company, she decided it was time for a change. “I always knew that Quickbooks was an excellent product that could do much better with the right marketing. When Gary Epstein, the MD or EasyBiz approached me, I knew I could make a difference, and remain true to my life’s philosophy.”
When du Toit made the move to EasyBiz two years ago, a few of her staff members followed her. “That was such a big compliment for me and I knew they could add value to the business,” she says.
Du Toit views herself as a leader rather than a boss. “I think I’m firm, but fair. I’m cognisant that the workplace has changed and that people (especially young parents) should be allowed to work flexible hours, as long as their outputs are achieved. I’m committed to training my people and if an employee asks me something, I will try and get back to them right away.
“I know that it is unfair when a manager doesn’t get back to you. Even if it’s a negative response, I’m not afraid to have an honest conversation with the person. I try and put myself in the other person’s shoes,” she adds.
She believes being a good leader is not necessarily difficult. “Leaders do, however, need to live with the consequences of their actions. I learnt from a former boss that while it is okay to take risks, good leaders need to be agile and own the outcomes of those risks. If they get it wrong, they need to acknowledge their mistakes and change direction.”
Du Toit says women play an important – although often underestimated – role in business. “Women bring empathy to the table. They are strong at people management and therefore good at achieving results.
I never preach about targets to my team. I make sure they know what they have to do, that they have all the tools they need to succeed and that I treat them with respect. This allows them to feel empowered and motivated to take care of the target themselves.”
Asked about the secret to managing change, du Toit says there is no magic recipe, but that transparency and constant communication are important. “My strategy is to meet with my team every Friday afternoon. We talk about industry trends, what was great about our week, what didn’t work and our fears. Then we make plans for the week ahead. I believe if you are transparent and communicate all the time, no-one can turn around and say “but I didn’t know or I’m too scared”.