In the seventh edition of Conversations with Old Boys we chat to Samir Bhana, the Deputy Head Prefect from 1998. Samir, who lives in Ireland, graduated with a MBA from the London Business School, and is currently Sales Manager at Twitter’s European Headquarters in Dublin. Before moving overseas Samir had a successful career with SAB and ABI.
“What I love about Westville Boys’ High School is the way in which it is driven strongly by values: Values that speak to how to treat your classmates, how to conduct yourself in public, and how to be a valuable member of society.”
Biography of Samir Bhana in Brief
Leadership Deputy Head Prefect
School sport 1st team basketball
Junior School Carmel College
Qualifications BSc Electronic & Computer Engineering (Hons) (UCT)
MBA (London Business School)
Current Employment Sales Manager at Twitter
Previous Employment SAB & ABI for 9 years in various capacities including IT Architect, Area Manager & Regional Sales Manager
Conversations: Who was your favourite teacher at WBHS?
Nestor Pierides. I loved history and he had a way of bringing it to life, especially World War 2. He created entire worlds, taking us back to those times as if we were actually there. He did this largely through his own notes that he had created and passed on to us. It was my favourite subject to study for and I continue to be fascinated by history to this day.
Conversations: Was there an important life lesson that you learnt at Westville Boys’ High School?
I don’t think you realise what you’ve learned at a school like Westville Boys’ High School until after you leave. And looking back, I learned many things. The general discipline and rigour of how to do things came through from the overall approach that teachers at Westville gave in their day-to-day teachings. Elements of how to manage and motivate a team came through my time as a prefect. Most importantly, the value of “staying the course” and seeing through what you’ve started in a way that has a positive effect on those around has stayed with me to this day.
Conversations: Do you have a memorable moment on the sports field while at school that you would like to share with us?
It was in my matric year playing in the inter-house basketball tournament. I helped Wandsbeck win 9-0 in the final, scoring all 9 points from 3-pointers. It was great to have been part of that.
Conversations: Do you have a funny story from your school days that you would like to share with us?
We were in “Advanced Maths” with Mr Terry Nevin, an incomprehensible mathematical genius at the time. One of my classmates decided to pull out his Zippo lighter (unbeknownst to us) to refill the lighter fluid while sitting at the back of the class. Before we knew it, somehow the desk caught alight and some panic ensued. Mr Nevin, noticing the flames spouting from the desk, sat down at his own desk, rested his head in one hand and looked on disapprovingly as the fire was smothered. I had run out of the classroom to go get a fire extinguisher. By the time I got back Mr Nevin was back at the board writing formulas and everything had returned to normal. It was one of the funniest memories I have of school.
Conversations: What are your impressions of WBHS today?
It makes me incredibly proud to hear about what the school is busy with these days in terms of sports, academics and the community, the high standard it has maintained and the plaudits it continues to receive in South Africa and globally. Having Trevor Hall assume the position of headmaster was the best thing that could have happened in 1997. Under his leadership the school has clearly thrived. I am a very proud WBHS alumnus.
Conversations: What advice would you give to a primary school boy considering his high school options on why he should attend WBHS?
What I love about Westville Boys’ High School is the way in which it is driven strongly by values: Values that speak to how to treat your classmates, how to conduct yourself in public, and how to be a valuable member of society. If I had to make a choice all over again, Westville would still be number one for me.
Conversations: Describe for us what you do in your current job?
I manage a team of Account Executives and Account Managers who focus on the UK and Ireland market, helping companies and brands take advantage of the Twitter-promoted products that we offer across the globe. Being an early member of the manager team in Twitter Dublin, I have had the pleasure of helping to build the team into what it is today.
Conversations: What do you expect are Twitter’s growth prospects for the future?
I think the nature of the tech industry right now is extremely fluid and we’re only just at the beginning of what is possible, especially in the world of mobile. The next phase will be more and more contextual awareness within the technology we use so that it fades into the background, rather than having to be activated by us.
Conversations: What has been the most rewarding moment in your professional career?
I have had two jobs that have truly stretched me. The first was an Area Manager role for ABI in Bethlehem in the Free State. I turned around the performance of the team there from one of the worst in the company to one of the best, implementing several operating models that were then rolled out across the company. It was hugely satisfying to put in the hard work and reap the rewards. The second has been my role at Twitter, where I have learned an incalculable amount from an extremely strong management team in Dublin. It has been hugely rewarding to work for a company in this phase of growth, pre-IPO and post-IPO.
Conversations: What advice would you give to a person considering a career similar to yours?
What matters most in smaller companies, and especially in sales, is the willingness and ability to get things done. More than that, being able to manage large teams confidently is a critical skill that you have to learn by doing.
Conversations with Old Boys is a project of the Westville Boy’s High School Foundation, in partnership with the Westville Boys’ High School Old Boys’ Association