Voices From The Pod: James Champion, General Manager – South Africa

At Zeelo, we encourage a culture where people work smart, move fast, and work together. Over the next few months, we are going to hear from some of our amazing team who are driving our success
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Thank you for joining us today, James – let’s start with a few words about yourself, and your role here at Zeelo.

Thanks, Jack. Personally, I’m a big family man – I’m a new father to two boys, Caleb who is 3 and Charlie who is 5 months old and husband to Christine – we’ve been married for 11 years this coming March! I’m a huge sports fan, particularly Rugby and Golf, and often give our English counterparts a hard time about the Springboks beating England in the Rugby World Cup Final 2019!

On the work front, I am the GM of Zeelo here in South Africa, mainly responsible for the growth and strategy of the SA business. My other responsibilities include owning and managing the P&L of the region, developing and maintaining relationships with our key clients and looking after all business administrative aspects involved in running the SA entity.

Can you share with us how Zeelo SA was born?

I will give you the short version! Zeelo SA was actually the brainchild of Andrews. Andrew had a new years resolution back in 2013 to write down a business idea each Sunday evening. His first idea was to launch a bus service for our local rugby team’s fans where they could hop on a bus, have a few drinks with friends and not need to worry about traffic or parking hassles when attending the game – “The Rugga Bus” was born. After a few weeks, Andrew asked me to join him – we both held full-time jobs and The Rugga Bus was very much a sideline “hustle”, and if anything just an excuse to head to the game each weekend. After running The Rugga Bus for 5 years, in 2018 we were approached by Zeelo UK who was offering a similar type of service for the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham hotspurs and Saracens to name a few – the difference being that their services were backed with smart technology and customer service. A deal was struck, and the Zeelo SA journey began…

What does a typical day look like for James at Zeelo (if such a thing exists)?

It doesn’t! This role really keeps me on my toes and no two days are ever the same! I am, however, a huge advocate of being in the office every day. Zeelo has adopted a Hybrid working model, but I believe that there is such value in in-person collaboration so I try to set an example by being in the office every day.

How would you say the market in South Africa differs from that of the United Kingdom?

In terms of the differences between the SA and UK/USA markets – there are many and I could be here all day listing them for you. One key difference is that in South Africa, our riders don’t book trips themselves – Zeelo auto-books all riders based on their shift schedules which are provided to us by their managers. Another difference is that in South Africa, we predominantly collect riders from their homes as opposed to bus stops like the UK and USA markets. What I can say though is that despite all the differences,  we have the same vision across all regions – the provision of safe, sustainable commuting services for workers travelling to and from work each day.

What would you say is the biggest benefit to businesses in South Africa that Zeelo can provide?

There are a number of benefits, but I will single out what I feel is the more important. Sadly, public transport in South Africa is extremely unsafe. Here at Zeelo, employee safety is at our core. By using Zeelo, companies can rest assured that their employees are getting to and from work safely each and every day. This in turn has a knock-on effect on their well-being and naturally boosts productivity whilst eliminating lateness and absenteeism.

What gets you most excited about the future of Zeelo and what has been your proudest moment in the business so far?

Cue a cliche quote… On a serious note though, I genuinely believe that Zeelo can make a massive difference in people’s lives, and in South Africa as a whole. Imagine a world where you don’t need to worry about whether you will get to work safely, or on time. I am really excited for Zeelo to become a household name in SA (we are almost there) and for more companies to start using our services as an employee attraction and retention tool.

I don’t have a proudest moment per se – I am proud of the overall growth of our business over the last 4 years, and the difference we have made in people’s lives by sustainably getting them to and from work safely each day. We now transport over 1000 employees each day, and we are just getting started!

What is the biggest barrier you are facing within your role at the moment?

Passenger transport in South Africa is complex. The minibus taxi industry dominates the commuting market, and as a whole can be quite volatile. I would say this, coupled with the general economic landscape in South Africa is the biggest barrier – but in saying that this also means that there is loads of opportunity to make a real difference in society.

If you had the opportunity to brag to a friend about Zeelo, what would you say?

I always brag about Zeelo! If I were to brag, again, I would say that we are the first company in the world to provide fully carbon-neutral commuting services and that we provide these services to over 100,000 employees across SA, the UK and the USA each and every day! If that isn’t something to brag about, I don’t know what is!

And finally as a close, so that everyone doesn’t think you are a workaholic! What are your favourite hobbies and activities outside of work?

I am a really keen golfer, although I don’t get too much time to play anymore. I love a “braai” (South African barbeque) with friends and family and always have the TV on in the background with sport on the go.

Thank you James for your time and thank you for all you do here at Zeelo!

We will continue sharing some of our inspiring team members with you this year. Keep your eyes open for our next employee spotlight next month! Make sure you are following us here and on LinkedIn and Twitter as we continue to celebrate our team.

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