Niall Carroll, Chairman of CG Tech
by Digital Nod
Experience is an extraordinary teacher, particularly in the world of investment, and a powerful tool that drives successful investors. Recognising past results as the guide to drive future success is a recipe that many investors rely on. But experience may only be part of the equation. As leaders look towards a future where sustainability reigns supreme, the “move fast and break things” motto, made famous by Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, seems to be falling out of fashion. Today’s investors are taking experience and mixing in future impact to power long-term goals that go beyond just lining the pockets of shareholders.
For investors, the idea of driving profit sustainability isn’t new. Niall Carroll, the Chairman of CG Tech has built a mantra in disruption with long-term goals for many years. With a career spanning more than three decades, Carroll has the experience but also crucially understands the importance of impact and how investing affects the larger ecosystem. It’s a philosophy the South African entrepreneur has honed from his time in investment banking to then running Royal Bafokeng Holdings in the early 2000s, the latter experience cementing his philosophy that what is good for the community can also be good for the company.
In person, Carroll is the opposite of the archetypal brash, fast-talking investment banker. Rather, he is understated and analytical, reflecting his formative career in the 1990’s as an equity analyst at a leading Johannesburg stockbroker.
In the early 2000’s at the request of Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, king of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, Niall Carroll took up the role of founder CEO at Royal Bafokeng Holdings (RBH), a community-based investment company. RBN had previously settled a decades-long dispute with Impala Platinum, the world’s second-largest platinum producer – over 80% of global platinum reserves are in South Africa, with a significant portion under Bafokeng land. After years of the Bafokeng land being mined without the community receiving a reasonable share of the mining income, leaders from both sides were able to come together and resolve their issues in the late 1990’s through a royalty arrangement. But the settlement was unsatisfactory in a number of respects and the relationship continued to be tense, with resentments and mistrust on both sides.
By 2007, Carroll found himself brokering a new deal between the two entities that saw RBH’s royalty stake convert into equity in Impala Platinum. This ensured that the community received a fairer share of the mining company’s profits, greater influence in the boardroom, and co-funding of joint social impact projects through the creation of the Impala Bafokeng Trust. The landmark agreement saw RBH become the single largest shareholder in the world’s second-largest platinum producer.
But for Carroll, that was only part of the brief. He also needed to help diversify the RBH portfolio, ensuring mining wasn’t their only source of revenue.
“A key objective of RBH was to expand the portfolio beyond just mining,” recalls Carroll. “It was important to diversify RBH to safeguard the stability of returns well into the future.”
During his eight-year tenure at RBH, Carroll led the team that diversified the Bafokeng portfolio from 98 percent mining to less than 50 percent, while growing assets to over $4 billion USD. Notably, this diversification and growth was achieved without having to sell any platinum assets.
When he left RBH in 2012, Niall Carroll was ready to use his skills and knowledge honed during this time to establish his own investment holding company. Alongside business partner Andrew Jackson, CG Tech was born with a focus on investing where others might not always see the potential.
“Traditional industries like oil and gas maintenance, construction and events services might not seem cutting edge, but by infusing them with technology and creating links between each other in unique ways, you have a greater chance of adding value and disrupting not just a competitor, but an entire industry,” explains Carroll.
With an ecosystem approach, the CG Tech group is currently operating in 13 locations worldwide, with eight operating companies and over 3,000 employees. Owner-operators of the subsidiaries sit on the CG Tech shareholder group, creating an environment that promotes openness and transparency.
“While we impose no requirement on our companies to work together, there are significant benefits in unforced collaboration,” says Niall Carroll. “As the owner-managers develop and celebrate examples of collaboration, the wider team has become much better in recognising synergies and creating solutions that are then employed across the entire portfolio.”
It’s an approach that places greater value on the collective than the individual. As Carroll explains, he’s more interested in creating a group that grows consistently over time, rather than risking it all on the next single unicorn company – a ‘multiple eggs in the basket’ approach to investing that is proving its worth in the market.
A vital part of CG Tech’s success has been The Virtulab, a digital solutions company based in the UK that’s providing technology solutions to help transform the group. From a virtual reality platform that allowed teams to connect in meaningful ways during the pandemic, to drone-enabled visualisation that’s redefining building and maintenance services utilised by oil and gas engineers as well as those building sound stages for film and television.
Sustainability is the method to CG Tech’s madness. Building something that lasts and investing in opportunities that have the potential to power other key parts of the group’s ecosystem.
A decade after helping the Royal Bafokeng Nation realise its vision of inter-generational sustainability, Niall Carroll continues drawing on the lessons of the importance of community to drive future success.