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Julius Delahaije, the Chairman and CEO of SGA Security, has been in international security and related business for 35 years. He is keen to incorporate technology for maximum security efficiency. He speaks with HARRIET OGAYO on his illustrious career, his vision for the sector and what success means to him.
For three years, Julius Delahaije, read as Delahey, has been at the helm of one of the largest security solutions provider in East Africa, having taken over from the founder who passed on three years ago. Although most people associate security with guards and electric fences, Delahaije is keen to dispel that notion. For him, security goes way past muscle and with his passion for ICT; he is determined to take security in Africa to the next frontier.
Born in the Netherlands, Julius started his career in his early twenties at an electronics company: Phillips International. Having studied business economics and taxation law at university, his job was initially doing tax reports for the company and its business partners. His interests, even then, lay in international business.
“When I was in school, I already knew I wanted something that would allow me to travel since I love travelling. I was also curious about different cultures. When I was a student, I used to go on various exchange programmes because I wanted to experience how to relate with different people,” he reminisces.
After three years, he moved on to a joint venture between AT&T and Phillips where he was thrust into the world of telecommunications. The nature of his job would allow him to travel to the US, Europe, South Africa and Asia. Always eager to learn, he quickly picked up on business practices that stood out in successful ventures.
It was here that Julius says his interest in ICT piqued as he moved from his finance role and started getting more involved in the technological side of the business. He also got a chance to be part of a management development programme. He credits his bosses for mentoring him although he insists that growth in any company calls for self-initiative.
“You have to know where you want to go and be ambitious. It starts within but undoubtedly everyone needs guidance. No one can succeed alone,” he notes.
As the market opened up for private companies, he got a chance to work at another joint venture in the same industry as the fifth employee. Through team effort, they were able to grow the company into a multinational with 70 companies and more than 50,00 employees, something he regards as one of the biggest milestones of his career. As time went by, he got promoted to Chief Finance Officer then later CEO of the group of companies.
When the Group split up and was sold, Julius saw this as an opportunity to try his hand at entrepreneurship, and with a few other people, established a privately-owned telecommunications venture, Linxtelecom and Linxdatacentre in 2000. As the CEO and co-owner of the firm, he mainly advised on data centre solutions as well as ICT security for Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
This also served to build his managerial skills. The provision of high-tech data solutions, he says, was his link to the security sector as he regards data security as among the most important elements of the industry.
“I got really interested in security as I was able to understand the scope of the security sector from our assignments and how technology and security could merge to create security solutions. It went beyond just securing the data centres physically but also providing cyber security,” he says.
Four years ago, his job assignments brought him to East Africa, particularly Kenya, where he met the founder of SGA Security, Edmond van Tongeren, popularly referred to as EVT. Having travelled to Kenya once before on a leisure trip, he had fallen in love with the country and so he had no qualms about staying when he was appointed CEO of the security firm in January 2016.
“I love the people and the culture of Kenya and being here when Nairobi is emerging into a cosmopolitan in terms of technology and infrastructure is especially exciting for me,” says the security professional.
Among his key duties as the head of the firm, which provides security solutions in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda is to spearhead strategies that will take the security sector to the next level. According to Julius, technology and more so innovation are the elements that are key in the future of the sector, especially in an emerging market such as Kenya. In the wake of the horrific Dusit D2 terror attack in January, he urges stakeholders to take security more seriously and not shy away from investing in the sector.
“What happened was a big blow to the country, but it also brought out the gaps in the security sector. We can’t put a price on someone’s life but there are things we can do to make sure that we protect life as much as we can,” he says emphatically.
He also urges Kenyans to avoid relying on the government and play their part in averting cases of insecurity. “We need to be more alert and proactive with our security. It starts by simple practices like reporting suspicious behaviour or accepting to be searched when entering a public place.”
Julius encourages young people, especially, to look for opportunities in the security sector as by his admission, there is still a big market for security professionals in Kenya and the general SGA community. To him, passion, innovativeness and ambition are sure to make one succeed in the field.
“Given my experience in international business for over 30 years, I feel that I can be able to guide young people, which is why I like working with people who are ambitious and eager to learn,” says Julius.
He strongly advises on cultivating good work relationships, as at every level one has to deal with or manage people as well as learning more about the sector to keep abreast of the trends and how they can be incorporated into the regional security plan.
He is also quick to discredit notions of success that have been propagated through the years to the naïve ears of young people. “There is no such thing as overnight success. Be patient and willing to learn. You have to put in the hours and work well with other people. Success is more meaningful when it is shared,” he advises.
However, he still emphasises on the need to follow one’s interests as it is easier to succeed in something you love doing. “I don’t do things because I have to do them. I do what I’m supposed to do because I love what I’m doing, and this has made a huge difference in my career,” he attests.
Julius, who is passionate about innovations in the industry, opines that for someone to thrive in this industry, they need to question everything and work with facts as a mistake could endanger lives.
When not at work, you are sure to find Julius spending time at home with his family. Being nature enthusiasts, Julius, together with his wife and baby, live in Nairobi near Karura Forest.
“We love the sounds of nature. There’s something calming about them. We also just enjoy having monkeys play around in our backyard,” he shares smiling.
The couple, who also love to travel, have currently shelved their travel plans until their baby is older. “Since our mtoto came, we have taken to less strenuous activities, but we still enjoy being in nature. We also try to visit art centres whether galleries or open-air exhibitions because my wife and I also have a passion for art,” says the Dutchman whose wife is a photographer.
He, however, admits that for a man in his position, balance may be elusive, but one has to strive to ensure his family is not neglected.
For him, the value of family cannot be understated. “At the end of the day we only have our families to go back to,” he quips. He also shares that his family is his motivation.
To Julius, the ultimate marker of his success in the security sector is to make sure that as many people learn and gain valuable lessons from his experiences.