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Updated 30 Sep 2020

Sirdar aims to be great by being unapologetically bad

By trying to be great at too many things, Sirdar Group realised that it was losing its competitive edge. Its solution was to cut down on services. 

GG van Rooyen, 09 May 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Sirdar Group made a name for itself in the area of governance for private companies. In other words, it put together boards for private organisations.

Related: Vincent Magwenya of Magna Carta: How to tell your business story


Diversifying is not always a great idea. In some instances, it can cause a business to lose focus. The last thing you want to be is an organisation that is merely ‘okay’ at several things.

Carl -Bates -Sirdar

Pretty soon, however, Sirdar started diversifying into other areas. It started to offer legal services, and was also in the process of putting together an accounting service.

Unapologetically bad

But then something happened that made Sirdar Global CEO Carl Bates rethink this approach. “I attended a talk by Professor Frances Frei of the Harvard Business School, and during the talk she mentioned the fact that trying to be do too many things was a recipe for disaster.”

Professor Frei’s argument was that it was impossible to be great at everything. Instead, you tend to simply end up being ‘okay’ at a bunch of things, which is not how you gain a competitive advantage in business.

“She had a great comment,” says Bates. “She said that, in order to be truly great at one thing, you need to be willing to be unapologetically bad at other things.”

Her statement really resonated with Bates. He suddenly realised that Sirdar would never be truly great at legal or accounting services – those were not services that the company focused on. Its core focus was governance.

Related: Your financial adviser: Identifying and avoiding risks along the ‘road of life’

“We decided to do away with our legal and accounting services,” says Bates. “It was a great decision, because it freed us up to focus on what we were truly great at. It also allowed us to develop greater partnerships with other companies, since our service offerings no longer overlapped with theirs. Having a clear focus has reinvigorated the business.” 


  • Ask yourself: What is your business truly great at? Where does it enjoy the greatest competitive advantage? Find your niche and own it.
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GG van Rooyen

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