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Updated 24 Sep 2020

How Howard Blake runs a R350 million company like a start-up

Even though Howard Blake’s company – simply called Blake Holdings – has been around for 26 years, he hasn’t become complacent.  He believes in disrupting one’s own operation whenever possible.

Monique Verduyn, 07 April 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Large companies can become stagnant and fearful of innovation. The solution often lies in maintaining that start-up mind-set and not being afraid to disrupt your own operation.

“Risk has become a dirty word in the business world, something we all take great pains to avoid,” says Howard Blake. The problem is that many enterprises take an extreme approach to minimising risk, pigeonholing themselves in the process.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the benefits of constantly moving out of your comfort zone and taking calculated risks. Rejecting the status quo is one of the main reasons that Blake Holdings has grown from a one-man show to a R350-million business over the course of 26 years.”

Of course, this statement shouldn’t suggest that Blake wants companies to act recklessly. Instead, he wants businesses to have a healthy relationship with risk.

“It’s all about calculated risk,” says Blake. “It’s about having the courage to take the plunge when a real opportunity presents itself.”

Related: Adrian Gore – The disrupter

Think like a start-up

For Blake, the secret lies in thinking like a start-up. By keeping things small (and cheap) when implementing something very innovative, large operations can mitigate much of the risk involved.

“You’ll often find that your biggest opposition is internal when trying to launch a very innovative product. There is often a lot of push-back from management,” says Blake. “If you want to prevent this, you need to act like an agile start-up.”

When Blake recently launched a new venture called The Virtual Agent – a realty solutions company that has emerged from the company’s experience in database services – the business was bootstrapped and kept on a very tight deadline.

“We brought The Virtual Agent to market very quickly. It was an industry ripe for disruption, and we acted decisively. The venture broke even five months after we came up with the concept. That’s the speed at which you need to operate, even within a large organisation,” says Blake.

Back to the drawing board

Blake also believes that you need to re-evaluate the fundamental assumption of your operation on a regular basis.

“We approach it like an airplane teardown,” says Blake. “We take everything apart and critically evaluate every aspect of the business on a regular basis. We used to do it every 18 months, but even that is not often enough these days. Things are changing too quickly, so we now do it every six months.”

Related: The big business mentality of Grow Consulting



  • Don’t fear risk, but don’t act foolishly either. The secret lies in taking calculated risks
  • Act like a start-up. Afraid that the board won’t greenlight a project? Try finding ways of keeping things lean and cost-effective. Bootstrap as much as possible
  • Never become complacent. Critically evaluate even the most fundamental assumptions within your operation. 
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Monique Verduyn

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