Meet the Boss: Steven Isaacson, CEO, Kevro Holdings

Steven Isaacson

1. What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

When you are running a sizable organisation with many business units, in different geographies across Africa, and a large number of employees, even when the overall business is directionally positive, there is always something to worry about that’s keeping you up at night. Interestingly, I do believe that sleeping on a problem often helps the brain come up with the ideal solution.

2. Name three traits required to survive in this role.

  • Vision: As CEO you have to dictate the future of the company, constantly exploring, and taking risks but never compromising the overall business
  • Realistic optimism: You need to be able to remain curious and grounded at the same time
  • Effective communication: You need to be able to communicate in a way that’s easily understandable so that effective action can be taken

3. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

People think as CEO you have the authority, and power to do as you please, but in reality, you are more accountable than anyone else to ultimately deliver the business. Your responsibility is not just to shareholders, but your management team and your employees.

4. What has had the greatest impact on your career?

In my twenties, I was fortunate to get a position working directly for an extremely successful global entrepreneur. He taught me the key business principles that still guide me today. He was also a genius at trusting his gut to help make smart decisions. As CEO you can’t over-analyse the situation; you need to be agile when making decisions, and you have to learn to trust your gut.

5. Tell us about the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Very early in my career my late dad taught me that your reputation is everything, always act ethically and establish a culture in which your team members do the same.

6. The top reason for your professional success?

Grit, determination, passion and drive, with a little luck and a lot of gratitude.

7. How do you relax?

I’m a big proponent of a balance between work and play. I enjoy quality family time, as well as running and cycling. As a Jew I observe the Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, where you refrain from work activities, you don’t drive or use any electronic devices. You engage in restful activities to honour the day. People think it’s really strange, but in today’s fast-paced world, it’s quite liberating to be able to switch off your phone and spend quality time with your family and friends.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I try to be at the office around 8am. By the time I get in, I’ve already spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the day ahead. I also run most mornings, which is my thinking time. I often blue-sky strategise or I’m dissecting and trying to understand the drivers of my business.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

Why would you want to work for us? Their response usually helps me understand if they’ll be a good culture fit for our business. I leave the technical questions to the smart guys in the room. I just want to make sure we’re hiring nice, passionate people who’ll fit our dynamic culture.

10. The biggest perk of your job?

I get to work with people far smarter than myself who are constantly teaching me new things and challenging me to be the best that I can be. In turn, as CEO I get the opportunity of growing others and bringing out the full potential of our employees. Watching people grow and develop within our company, is the most rewarding part of my job.

Steven Isaacson is CEO of South Africa-based Kevro Holdings, a value-add supplier of corporate and promotional apparel, and other brandable products. Kevro owns several well-known brands, including BARRON.