Victor Arnold’s philosophy of being “hard on targets, soft on people” is based on communication and teamwork.
Our culture connects us
If you ask Victor where he’s from, his reply will be “it’s a long story”. His wife will say “a lot of places”. If you press him, he’ll give the executive summary: his mother is Portuguese, his father German and he was born in Mozambique. The family moved to South Africa when he was a teenager.
Being from “a lot of places” has led Barloworld to send him to a lot of places. In his 15 years with the company Victor has lived and worked in five countries on two continents. His multicultural and multilingual background, with Portuguese, German, English and Afrikaans roots, has given him the opportunity to speak several languages. He has needed them all – and more – at one time or another in his career.
But it’s not only his cultural heritage that has sent Victor around the world for Barloworld. It’s also his passion for our brands, his ethics, his dedication to empowering his fellow employees, his commitment to teamwork not only to achieve goals but to improve the expertise and confidence of every individual in the team. Above all it is his conviction that communication is the answer to success, no matter what the challenges.
“Thinking back, I learned that language is only a small part of communication. The rest is understanding people, respecting them and their cultures and reaching out. I also learned that you can’t please everyone and that, despite your best efforts, some people will be predisposed to bias towards you, for whatever reason..”
One thing he makes a point of sharing with every new team and recruit is the importance of the Barloworld values – Integrity, Excellence, Teamwork and Commitment. In a diverse cultural environment, the values tie us together. He also shares his personal philosophy as a leader, “hard on targets, soft on people”.
Victor started with Barloworld Equipment as sales manager in Mozambique, just three years after we became the Cat dealer there. It was just post the civil war and conditions were tough. “Most of the employees were new to Barloworld, so it was important to build a team and communication was the top priority.”
When he became general manager, Victor would have a daily coffee meeting with the sales team and then another with the management team. “It was a lot of coffee but I love interacting with the teams. One learns so much from people every day.”
Within two years came Victor’s first move, to Malawi. From here he managed and travelled between the Malawian and Mozambican businesses. Malawi was a huge contrast – different language, milder climate, and it did not have the scars that the civil war had left in Mozambique.
The daily coffee meetings continued and a monthly braai was started to support team building and communication.
POP (Performance Ownership Programme), which later became EVC (Employee Value Creation), was launched within Barloworld when Victor was in Malawi. This centred on individuals and teams within the business creating value in all their daily activities, and receiving value in return.
This was right up Victor’s street and when the Equipment division ran its first IPM (Individual Perception Monitor), Malawi achieved the highest score. “I was extremely proud that the whole team recognised that we lived EVC in our business. It was not about ticking the box but doing the right things because they were good for the people, the business and our customers.”
After three years in Malawi, Victor was asked to set up a new strategy process for Barloworld Equipment, aligned with the group’s new approach, and moved to South Africa with his wife and two teenage daughters in early 2004. “It is a big change moving from a line management role to a staff /support role,” he admits. “In management you can direct people , but in a staff role you have to convince them it is the right thing and help them through the process.”
He adapted quickly due to his participative way of working. “I believe people will always perform better if they buy into the idea. My role included integrating our strategy process into the culture of the company. This was difficult as people were already dealing with operational pressures and now had to adapt to a structured, time-consuming strategy approach.”
During Victor’s first year in this position, he was selected to attend Barloworld’s first round of 6 SIGMA Black Belt training in Geneva, Switzerland.
Returning to South Africa, he eagerly added 6 SIGMA deployment champion to his strategy process planning role. “It meant I had a tool to help the teams implement strategy through a structured improvement process. I also got to work with some very talented and bright people and watched them grow through 6 SIGMA training, succeed in their own projects, and then move into more senior roles in the organisation.”
At the same time Victor was studying part time towards a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) through an American university in France. In addition to the academic aspects, he obtained other insights from working side by side with people from widely divergent cultures and beliefs. “We create our own barriers based on many things. But if you reach out to people they reach back, no matter what their race, faith or background.”
Shortly after his graduation in 2005, Victor accepted yet another new challenge, to combine the existing Rental Services and the General Construction (smaller Cat construction machines) businesses. “It was good to see pride and confidence returning along with the results, people learning from each other and fun and smiles at the POP award braais.”
Two years later he was packing his bags for Portugal as managing director of our Cat dealership there, Barloworld STET, which was experiencing some challenges. Victor was the first Barloworld employee to transfer from South Africa to Portugal.
“Although we spoke the same language, culturally we were very different. I was used to ‘The Barloworld Way’ from a southern African perspective and Portugal had its own company culture. .”
“I did frequent walkabouts in the offices and workshops and travelled regularly to the branches to meet people. I hoped that if we got talking I would not be seen as the Portuguese speaking alien, but as part of the team. We worked hard as the market dipped and managed to improve market share and productivity against the trend.”
In 2010 Barloworld created a focused power systems business as a global umbrella for its existing Cat Power dealerships in southern Africa, Russia and Iberia. Victor was appointed executive for strategy and also line-of-business in the critical oil and gas sector. It involved another move, this time to Madrid in Spain.
He had to recruit internationally to find the necessary oil and gas expertise, but experience had prepared him well to work with a diverse team including Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and English nationals. “We work hard, we get along well, we have fun, and we respect and accept our differences.”
“I am privileged that Barloworld has offered me so many opportunities to add value, for myself and for the group. Moving to another country can be stressful and disorientating. But ‘The Barloworld Way’ is to embrace the opportunity and to be curious, to explore, to respect and not to judge.”
“Unpack your bags physically and psychologically. Immerse in the culture and relate to people. Be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make wherever you go your home, and don’t look back, except to remember and use what you have learned before.”