Josef Langerman’s unbreakable love affair with technology and computers started back when he was a lanky preteenager. When his father bought him a Commodore 64 computer and an IBM XT in the 80s, the first seeds for a long-lasting career in technology and innovation were planted. Josef went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree with majors in Computer Science and Informatics. Fast forward decades later and he is now the Head of Technology Strategy, Architecture and Transformation at Standard Bank Group.
With the mammoth task of building networks for the largest bank on the continent, Josef always strives to not only make Standard Bank Africa’s leading digital bank but also make a lasting impact on the continent’s IT landscape. He’s “responsible for the transformation of Standard Bank Group into a high-velocity customer-centric organisation. This entails changing the ways of working as well as establishing the culture and industry communities that will enable this large-scale transformation,” he shares. With such a transformational vision, it’s no wonder Josef is a sought-after speaker on organisational transformation in his native South Africa and abroad.
While Josef boasts a glowing career characterised by senior IT positions in some of South Africa’s big companies, you’d be mistaken to think he’s only about machines. As a leader, the 47-year-old computer whiz is invested in people. With 100 people currently reporting to his structure, he gets a deep sense of purpose from developing talent and seeing his mentees grow in their careers. Speaking passionately about investing in people, he says, “It’s the only thing that matters. You cannot do big organisational change if you don’t build relationships with people. And that’s very hard for technical people because we always think it is how clever we are, how well we work, our specialist knowledge.” He adds: “The team runs guilds and coaching circles to help with personal and business evolution. As the world changes, so does the dynamic of how we do our work. People find themselves working in diverse teams, with diverse skills, where they must take direction from a variety of stakeholders.
So, how does one stay relevant and effective as a leader? For Josef, it’s all about talking to people and not being obsessed with details. “Being very detail-oriented is incredibly important early in your career. Subject matter expertise is what gets you promoted, but later in your career, when you start to manage diverse teams, you can’t be the expert anymore. Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to be the SME on everything and they end up neglecting a really important part of their job, which is building relationships,” he explains.
One of the defining moments that helped shape Josef into a leader and executive he is today came in 2014 when he, along with other Standard Bank executives, took a leadership trip to Silicon Valley. While he learnt a lot from Google, Microsoft and McKinsey, his greatest enlightenment came from Facebook. His biggest take-home from the social giant was that culture matters. The company’s culture left him in so much awe that he aptly describes his experience there as “freedom.”
That one simple yet powerful word has come to describe more than his experience at Facebook, it now embodies his qualities and ways of working as a leader. Freedom to experiment and try out new things. Freedom for his mentees to grow and define their career paths.