Once an avocado seller, Jason English now leads two companies – as Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech and CEO at Al Laith Group. The South African entrepreneur may appear like one among many business leaders from a distance, but a closer look reveals him as the iconic leader that he is. Step by step, Jason has built a very successful career and an exemplary record of achievements. And he has done that without emulating others. Throughout his career, he has been known to be authentic and someone who is striving to make a difference. One of Jason’s personal goals is to transform people’s lives by building businesses that create growth opportunities.
Jason’s leadership style is a combination of doing to others what he found great and not doing to others what he did not like having done to him. His clear vision, goals, and true leadership qualities have put him on the path for even greater achievements in the future.
Founding CG Tech and Helming Al Laith
Jason has been a mover and a shaker all his life. Even when he was a young child, he demonstrated that trait. He picked avocados from the trees and then sold them to people on the street and sold old clothes at the local markets. “I don’t know what inspired me to do so,” Jason says. “I think it was the value my parents taught me that in order to buy the things I wanted, I had to work to make money or sell the things I no longer wanted.”
But becoming an entrepreneur was not part of Jason’s career plan until he grew frustrated with his company’s leadership and decided to exit the corporate space. “Growing up in a corporate career, spanning 15 years, which was an amazing journey, I never thought I would leave. So, the story of why I left was more a case of poor leadership than a Geronimo moment,” he says.
Jason likes to push the boundaries of what is possible and swim upstream when everyone else swims down. During his corporate journey, when he realized that the leadership under whom he was working was no longer swimming in the same direction as him, he decided to make his move and follow his own vision, beliefs, and values. This ultimately led to the birth of CG Tech, an owner-managed investment group that provides strategic management oversight and deploys innovation to its underlying companies.
In December of 2019, Jason came to Dubai as the then CEO of Al Laith was retiring. His original plan was to take a look at the company’s business and determine what kind of CEO was required to take over, but a few weeks later, he was at the helm of Al Laith. “Covid broke four weeks later, and so myself, together with my family, just never went home,” says Jason. “So technically speaking, I hold two roles.”
As Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech, Jason’s main focus is to standardize their way of thinking about their ecosystem across all their group companies and deploy innovation into the heart of the businesses. From annual strategies to engagements, processes, and systems, it is really about improving, he says, adding that this allows the businesses to move resources from one part of the group to another quite easily, with limited disruption. It also allows them to make the best use of their skunkworx team.
Jason has a more hands-on role at Al Laith. He engages with the office staff and holds meetings with the management team, including 1-on-1 discussions with each member to solve departmental challenges. Jason’s responsibilities also include engaging with clients and project visits.
Al Laith and its Services
Al Laith’s business has two main operations: rental and sales of industrial plant and temporary infrastructure; and EPC Services – Engineering, Procurement, and Construction of temporary structures.
The company’s product line includes demountable structures, cabins and toilets, shaded solutions, onsite transport, powered access machinery, mast climbing equipment, automation & fabrication, and a host of other products. Al Laith builds some of the largest and most iconic temporary structures, and even the smallest of structures, for local and international clients in the Middle East, such as concert roofs or stages, a grandstand, a VIP marquee substructure, and temporary warehouse.
In addition, Al Laith also offers a “unique variety” of access solutions. For example, scaffolding, powered access machines, scissors, lifts, and mast climbers. Jason points out that their equipment is IOT connected and can provide analytics, which helps select a more optimized solution for their clients.
For Al Laith, people’s safety is of paramount importance. Their bespoke solutions are designed and engineered by a highly skilled team of engineers and CAD designers. They also make sure that the build time is not compromised, quality is maintained, and build costs are optimized. The company also provides repair and servicing services for machinery, plant, and equipment. Additionally, it offers a fully accredited training centre for PASMA and IPAF and courses onsite or at client premises.
Innovation at CG Tech
Jason highlights that innovation sits at the heart of everything CG Tech and Al Laith does. “We have access to the latest technology and products under development and trial and roll out those technologies which offer value to each project,” he says. “Al Laith uses the latest in IoT systems and visualized rendering and animation to enhance the value offered to the clients.”
The company is also constantly looking at new products and services that add value to its clients. “With additive manufacturing becoming mainstream and advancement in technology innovations occurring at speed, we hope to play in some interesting spaces soon,” adds Jason.
He, however, does share the opinion that innovation is not only technology-driven. “Innovation comes in many forms,” Jason says, adding that improvement in a process is also innovation.
Tech companies usually develop software and then try to “shove it down the throat of companies” in a one-size-fits-all strategy, while some companies, when they encounter a problem, try to find solutions without knowledge of the tech space. CG Tech follows a different approach.
“At CG Tech, we have established a blend of experience within our traditional companies and a group of tech experts within our skunkworx business. Collectively, by working together, they develop solutions that actually solve real-world problems or come up with innovative ways of improving processes,” Jason says. “This combination has enabled our traditional companies to grow exponentially. So, technology and innovation play an extremely important role in how we think about the business.”
Life before CG Tech
Jason started working at the young age of 16. Whether it was serving pizzas at the local steakhouse, Chinese at the local restaurant, or selling avocados on the street, he was always working. In 1996, Jason joined the South African police force as a paramedic, which made him learn many hard but real lessons about the power of choice, teams, and processes.
After his stint in the South African police force, Jason joined an international Oil & Gas services company. He gradually moved from a junior engineer role to the global development director position. In 2012, Jason left the corporate world and began his own entrepreneurial journey with a company called Prommac, and two years later, in 2014, had a group of private investors join him. “This sparked the beginning of a journey to build an international group,” says Jason.
In 2015, Jason and his partners hired a COO; soon after that, they bought a 50 percent stake in a Dubai-based Oil & Gas company, with the aim to expand their footprint in the Middle East. In 2016, they also started a drone company based out of London, acquired an electrical company in South Africa, and later, the same year, acquired Al Laith.
“In 2018, we did a merger with New Age Engineering in South Africa and established CG Tech as a holding group company,” Jason says. “We also set out to formalize our group of companies, and I became the Chief Ecosystem Officer at CG Tech.” “In 2020 we continued our expansion plans into the UK and partnered with Serious to create Serious International which engineers, procures and constructs film studios for major film productions.”
The Oros Effect
Jason, who has written the book “The Oros Effect,” has a distinctive leadership style. He promotes openness and creativity in order to engineer value. “My Oros are my ideals and values, and the key to success lies in being able to effectively transfer this Oros to every member of my team, and for them to transfer the Oros to theirs,” Jason explains. “This unique ecosystem promotes mutual collaboration and development, and a collective sharing of success.”
The Oros Effect allows leaders to decentralize their decision-making processes within their teams, such that decisions the teams take mimic those that Jason would make regardless of whether he is in the room or not. “Those that can successfully transfer their Oros onto their teams can expect strong company culture, increased productivity, and natural integrity to quickly follow,” says Jason.
Achievements and Definition of Success
Jason has a long list of achievements to his name, including becoming a helicopter pilot at 34 years, but says his highlight was flying in a fighter jet in 2019. When it comes to his family life, the father in him is proud of raising three awesome children. but says he still has a lot to do to become the father he wants to be.
In his business life, Jason has always cherished the growth of those around him. He recalls a general worker who went on to become a Senior Project Manager and a clerk whose career growth enabled her to purchase a car and a property.
In 2017, Jason and his team won the service provider of the year award, beating over 2,000 service providers. “I remember that being a special moment in my life which almost validated my dire commitment to them as a client,” he says. “Also, seeing how we have grown our group of companies from 2012, where we started in a garage with 3 people, to a team of over 4,000 worldwide now, is something that I look back on and feel proud to be part of.”
If Jason has to pick only one achievement of his that he is most proud of, he would choose the one that made him the most emotional — sponsoring the South African robotics team at the world championship. He says that walking out on stage to collect a gold medal in front of 192 countries in a packed 20,000-seater stadium, with the team after nobody believed in them was a moment he will never forget.
“Watching the transformation of a group of young kids and how they inspired those around them thanks to the support we gave them was overwhelming,” Jason adds. “It was also a moment that truly helped me understand the power of impact investing.”
The very successful Jason has a unique definition of success. He does not define it in terms of the money one has or the people one impacts. Success, for him, means a balance between freedom, meaning and wealth which ultimately leads to fulfilment. “I and many others will never find our own success without fulfilment,” he says.
He explains that a person can have all the wealth in the world, but if they have no sense of meaning in their life and are so busy working that they have no freedom to enjoy their wealth, they will likely feel like a failure. Likewise, if a person is a social worker doing great for communities but has no freedom because of their work and no money to experience a somewhat normal life with their friends, they will feel like a failure. “So, finding harmony between the three is what I believe brings about success for each person,” says Jason.
“When I feel like I am fulfilled, then I feel like I am successful,” says Jason.
Challenges Require Generic Response
Like most successful leaders, Jason, too, has encountered challenges. Preparation and scenario planning are the key to handling and facing them, he says, and therefore, he is constantly analyzing the business from various angles and looking at it from a risk perspective. For example, if this happens, then how will he respond? What will be his next move? After his analysis, Jason prepares at least two alternative plans for each scenario. “Of course, it is not possible to predict or plan for everything, but challenges are usually generic and therefore can usually have a generic response,” he says.
Jason explains that people-based risk management requires succession planning, process-based risk management requires simple yet effective procedures and systems, a catastrophic event, financial impact event, safety incident – many of these can be planned around so that someone does not get left dumbfounded in such a situation. “Remaining calm helps navigate challenges and working through a systematic response or approach to understanding a challenge is the key,” adds Jason.
Business and Personal Goals
Al Laith has an asset pool in excess of AED250m, which makes the management of a fleet of plant and equipment complex. So, one of the company’s key goals is to improve the logistics and management of assets within the group such that they have live, interactive dashboard systems that can track and share stock availability and locations in real time.
Another key goal is to create succession planning across all key positions. “We have already embarked on this journey and have done well so far. Building depth is fundamental to enable us to expand geographically and we have gone from 500 to 1000 personnel in the past 2 years,” Jason says.
Third goal is to sort out their document management system.
Jason points out that as businesses evolve and data becomes abundant, filing, sorting, and managing data is vital. The company moved its business to Google Workspace in 2020 and have been implementing filing management systems since, but sorting and moving 27 years of data has its challenges, so this will be a major focal point for Jason and his team.
As a leader, Jason’s personal goal, along with helping transform people’s lives through the building of businesses that create opportunities for growth, is to leverage business success to make a positive impact on the communities in which they operate and to become a better father to his three children and a better husband to his loving wife by making time to celebrate special moments.
Message to Aspiring Business Leaders
“Just be authentic” is Jason’s message to aspiring business leaders. “Every leader has their own style, so don’t force people to follow it.”
Instead of imitating others, he suggests that leaders should rally those whose vision, beliefs, and values – Your Oros – align with theirs and go on a journey with them. “You will spend less time dealing with internal opposition and can focus on the future,” says Jason.
“And when you get to the top of your ladder, never forget where you came from. Remaining humble is a key quality to success,” he adds. “Never rise so high that others have to help bring you down.”