Leverage Digital Tools in Traditional Sectors: a Tech CEO’s Key to Growth

Jan 11, 2021 | Business Insights

Jason English/ Al Laith

Discover how South Africa-born Multinational Holding Company, CG Tech, is using digital technology to drive growth in traditional sectors like Oil & Gas, Construction and Events.

This article will take about 3 minutes to read

As far as global and varied experience goes, tech entrepreneur, author, and business magnate Jason English has it in spades. At only 43, the native South African has worked in over 5 industries, launched and grown companies on multiple continents, and penned a novel on his business ethos called “The OROS effect”.

In 2014, English joined forces with partners Andrew Jackson and Niall Carroll under the banner CG Holdings and in 2018 rebranded to CG Tech. The purpose of the firm is to hold shares in a number of operating companies owned and managed directly by its partners. Through the combined funding and experience of the partners, which now includes Joseph Zinyana, David Cummins, Dany De Barros, Donal Moloy and, Max Corfield, CG Tech is able to accelerate the growth of these companies, often using the experiences from one to benefit another. CG Tech is currently operating in several locations across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and has carried out work in the US and Australia. 

With its holdings spanning the oil & gas, events & construction, film and, software technology sectors, the firm has faced both positive and negative effects of the record-breaking impacts caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. While software technology has seen exponential growth, the events industry has been hard hit. The cancellation of conferences and events around the world has left a gaping hole in local economies totaling over $1.1 billion. 

Likewise, oil & gas saw massive declines as lockdown protocols brought the world to a standstill. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported a drastic drop in demand for oil in 2020 as sales declined by approximately 90,000 barrels instead of increasing by over 800,000 barrels, as was estimated by the IEA in 2019. 

However, despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, the CG Tech group has, on the whole, managed to withstand economic pressures and, in some cases, even driven growth. How? English points to 4 basic principles:

1 – Sustain the business at all costs 

2 – Do as little damage as possible to employees in the process

3 – Do as little damage to communities as possible in the process

4 – Emerge stronger by innovating and training

Changing the Game

One of the holding’s largest companies is Al Laith. Established in 1995 and acquired by CG Holdings in 2016, Al Laith is based in the United Arab Emirates and represents approximately 40% of CG Techs group revenues.

The company provides design, engineering, project management, and technical solutions to projects across a multitude of industries, including a significant play in the events and construction sector. Al Laith supplies venues and organizations with equipment such as scaffolding, powered access machines, concert stages, grandstands, temporary site infrastructure , and more.

But Al Laith has also been developing a digital side. Fueled by The Virtulab, CG Tech’s innovation incubator which deploys Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, drone technologies and develops virtual software solutions. Al Laith has been developing a suite of innovative solutions that align with the future realities of physical events as well as the dominant rise of remote work and virtual events.

“We saw that the pandemic situation – compounded by technological advancement – was going to have an impact, not only on our business of today but on our business in the future,” shared English. 

We needed to be prepared to ask ourselves some challenging questions about what our events business will mean in a world where physical events are increasingly complemented by virtual experiences, and how we could adopt technology to be more efficient and offer a wider range of offerings to the markets.”

Making Digital Work for Analog Companies

The trick came in finding ways to leverage digital technologies and platforms in ways that could continue to drive growth in industries that are based offline. That’s where The Virtulab comes in. 

The Virtulab leverages the latest digital innovations in virtual reality and augmented reality, machine learning, and drone technology to create value for analog industries in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the UAE, and around the world. In doing so, it offers a range of “digital solutions to analog problems” across CG’s portfolio of companies.

And CG hasn’t only used these solutions for Al Laith. Prommac, CG Tech’s Oil & Gas company based in South Africa, has repurposed The Virtulab’s drone technology to increase the efficiency of its infrastructure inspections. Furthermore, the company has leveraged virtual avatar-based experiences through its Virtuworx platform, which helps the company train its petrochemical engineers. In this way, training can be done efficiently, thoroughly, and safely during the course of daily activities but also finds a critical place in pandemic times. 

Another digital tool CG Tech has leveraged? Digital networks.

The Power of the Network

English currently holds leadership positions in a number of the Young Presidents Organisation’s (YPO) Business Networks, and is an active member of Opportunity Network as well as the Global Entrepreneurship & Innovation Network. He believes strongly in digital platforms as a way of fostering global business throughout the pandemic and into the new normal.  

“There’s been a poor focus on digital networks in the business world, but that’s now changing,” explained English.

English has engaged both acquisition and investment deals through connections on Opportunity Network. Regarding one acquisition he sourced through a connection on the network, English shared the following: 

The opportunity to invest in a thermal scanning company in Australia appeared on the platform, and while I wasn’t actively targeting this type of business, it was a perfect match for our company.

“As a new market and service for us, we thought we could leverage their geography to offer our maintenance construction expertise to the Australian market, and also bring their skill sets back to our suite of services in South Africa, giving us a potential competitive edge.”

In addition, English uses the platform as a trend monitoring tool.

The platform provides a lot of insight into potential trends, new technologies, and the latest breakthroughs,” he explained. “It’s not just a one-stop-shop where you just post a deal when you have one. Opportunity Network can help you stay in the know and discover avenues for growth that you may not have considered. If you’re not in that deal flow, you might miss a hidden opportunity.” 

One point in case is an investment he made into a beverage company which appeared on the platform. “I happened to see this health drink concept that touched my value and belief system, and so I decided to invest early on. Had it not been for the network, I would have never known about the opportunity.”

Jason English

Jason English

Co Founder & Chief Eco System Officer at CG Tech Holding

After serving as a member of the South African Police Services and a qualified paramedic, Jason English earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and worked for 15 years at Kentz Engineers & Constructors. In 2012, English became the CEO of Prommac and earned a project management qualification as well as a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). English has spoken at and attended seminars around the world, and is one of few South African born leaders to be selected as part of the Peter Diamandis mastermind of 250 exponential entrepreneurs.

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