Karen Eicker: Navigating Entrepreneurship and Empowerment

Africa's 10 Most Empowering Business Leaders to Follow in 2024

Karen Eicker, the Managing Director at Apex Information Systems, developed a keen interest in digital communications early in her career. As a graduate of the Wits School of Architecture & Planning, her background is rooted in corporate architecture, and she has been a prolific contributor to South Africa’s leading publications on the built environment and infrastructure for the past two decades. In recognition of her exceptional work, she received the SAPOA Property Feature Journalist of the Year award in 2010.

Karen is part of a generation of women entrepreneurs who have had to navigate their paths in a patriarchal society. She strives to inspire younger women to stand up for themselves, trust their capabilities, create the space they need, and, when necessary, challenge the prevailing norms.

As an entrepreneur, Karen acknowledges the support and kindness she has received from others who believed in her, provided opportunities, and generously shared their time, energy, and wisdom. She is committed to paying this kindness forward, particularly to the women she has the privilege of working with.

Karen’s contributions extend beyond the entrepreneurial sphere and include serving as Commissary General of the 25th International Union of Architects World Congress, UIA2014 Durban. In recognition of her significant contributions to this event, she was honored with a President’s Certificate of Meritorious Service by the South African Institute of Architects.

Innovating Communication for Diverse Sectors

Apex Information Systems was established to fill a void in the market, focusing on providing communication and specialized web development services primarily to professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, and the built environment. Over time, the company’s clientele has expanded to encompass a broad spectrum of diverse sectors, with nature conservation being a significant addition.

“We mostly work with clients who are innovators and thought leaders in their respective fields. I am constantly inspired by their insights and different approaches to addressing some of the built and natural environments’ complex challenges. Every day is a learning opportunity.”

Led by Karen, the team at Apex Information Systems possesses the ability to combine innovation, technical expertise, production capabilities, and an unwavering commitment to realizing their clients’ visions. They excel in creating customized communication campaigns that effectively and efficiently target their clients’ intended audiences. Their comprehensive services encompass strategic reviews and consultations, brand development and management, web development, multimedia content creation, writing and editing, as well as digital marketing.

Boundaries, Balance, and Building Apex Information Systems

Throughout her career, Karen has encountered situations where she was expected to shoulder an excessive workload and a weighty burden of responsibility. With maturity came the realization that she needed to carve out space for herself, not just in terms of time but also in preserving her energy. “Initiating Apex Information Systems was a part of this transformative process,” she says. “Part of my motivation was to create a workspace that would support my overall well-being. The ability to work in a bright, comfortable environment with easy access to nature and wholesome food has become a daily source of joy for me.”

Karen has experienced moments of isolation and endured highly stressful periods independently. “I view these experiences as key moments of growth along my career path,” she says. “They have taught me the importance of asserting myself, setting boundaries, honing my communication skills, and cultivating collaborative relationships with others.”

From Architecture to Leadership and Transformation

Reflecting on her journey, Karen recalls, “Studying architecture required intense focus and unwavering determination. Subsequently, leveraging this knowledge to launch a new career as a writer was a pivotal step that eventually led to where I am now. It has been an immensely rewarding journey.”

Among the significant highlights along the way, she mentions her leadership of a dedicated and resource-constrained team, primarily consisting of exceptional women. Together, they achieved a remarkable success in successfully organizing and executing the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress, held in Durban in August 2014. This accomplishment stands out as a testament to their collective effort and dedication.

Karen explains that a drive to effect positive change remains at the core of her daily motivation. “I have always had a strong desire to challenge established systems. Almost every project I have undertaken has been fueled by a deep-seated aspiration to raise awareness of how things can be transformed to the benefit of both people and the planet.”

In her current role, Karen focuses primarily on client liaison, business development, and project management. The sectors in which she works demand a distinctive skill set for communicating technical information and intricate concepts in a manner that resonates with a wider audience. As a result, she maintains a rigorous approach to ensuring that decisions and deliverables are aligned with her clients’ unique visions and objectives.

People, Openness, and Empowerment

Karen’s leadership philosophy is grounded in principles of openness, collaboration, and recognition of hard work. She strives to set a positive example and provide opportunities and guidance where needed. She understands that even the smallest expression of interest or encouragement, or a seemingly minor intervention, can have a significant impact on someone else’s life.

For Karen, people are at the heart of her business’s success. She invests time in identifying the right individuals with the skills required to meet her clients’ needs and ensures they understand the value she places on their expertise. She takes great pride in cultivating enduring relationships with long-term clients and colleagues, relationships founded on mutual respect and integrity.

She strongly believes in leveraging each person’s individual strengths. Team members are entrusted with substantial responsibilities but are also given support and the freedom to execute tasks in their unique way. She wholeheartedly supports remote work and flexible hours and actively promotes self-care among her team.

Yoga, Resilience, and Women’s Empowerment

Karen’s daily routine commences with 15 to 45 minutes of yoga, a non-negotiable part of her day. She regards yoga as the cornerstone of maintaining a composed and positive mindset, even in the face of the most challenging circumstances.

“Building a business demands qualities like courage, resilience, and self-discipline, along with the ability to maintain composure under pressure,” she observes. “These attributes are developed over time and require daily practice.”

Her motivation is fueled by intellectually stimulating work in a sector where the landscape is constantly evolving. Karen also draws inspiration from the women she collaborates with, be they clients, colleagues, or friends. These women, like her, are committed to building something of significance and must strike a balance between personal well-being, family responsibilities, and work demands. She has cultivated fulfilling relationships with several female clients, engaging in mutual support during difficult times, celebrating each other’s accomplishments, and sharing in one another’s successes.

Philosophy of Success

For Karen, success encompasses any action undertaken with enthusiasm, leading to a sense of fulfillment and overall well-being, irrespective of whether it attains the intended outcome. She says, “I believe that doing something that is meaningful to you is the foundation for a fulfilled and successful work life. Do what you’re passionate about and work won’t feel like a chore. For me, this involves raising awareness and fostering discussions around creating sustainable and regenerative systems for future generations and nature to thrive.”

Empowering Advice for Aspiring Women Leaders

Karen’s advice to aspiring women leaders is invaluable. She encourages them not to be afraid of asking questions, emphasizing that what might appear as a simple or even silly question at first can often lead to new insights and perspectives, benefiting both the questioner and the person providing the response.

Karen also underscores the importance of mentorship throughout her own career. “Having mentors who were genuinely committed to helping me achieve my full potential has given me the confidence and open-mindedness to venture into uncertain territories. I strongly urge aspiring women leaders to seek help and guidance when needed, whether from a colleague, friend, or a business coach.” She points out that many successful businesswomen have encountered similar challenges, and that knowledge and practical solutions are available when required. The support is there; it’s a matter of reaching out and making use of it.