THE LEADING EDGE | SHELL SOUTH AFRICA
by Andrew Ngozo
Africa’s Place at the World Economic Table
The African continent is one that is blessed across many facets. On the one hand are the vast natural resources that are abounding on the continent. Bonang Mohale, Chairman of Shell South Africa (Pty) Ltd, explores these opportunities and tackles the aspect of Africa’s leadership. According to him, nurturing future leaders starts now and is the only certain way to beat the triple threat of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
There have been talks of the emergence of a new type of African leader since the beginning of this century. What do you think are the characteristics of this new leader?
The issue of African leadership assumes greater significance in this day and age when so many of us dare to hope that joy and peace will prevail. Management is about the efficiency and effectiveness in climbing up the corporate ladder of success. . By definition, it is self-centred and so, , to me, African leadership is about being
genuinely obsessed about the development of others.Therefore I believe that anybody who feels called upon to lead is a leader. In that respect we view leadership from three angles: context, direction setting and organisational capability. What makes the African manager unique is that they do not seek to be assimilated into the classical management cadre but they purposefully set out to also define, describe and shape the type of leader that they want to be. This is a progressive leader who is a change agent concerned with the simultaneous political, social and economic transformation. They have to understand the difference between an empowered entity and one that is transformed. In business this is a leader that has a very different and unique relationship with power. We define success as a progressive realisation of a worthy ideal; we will know that we are successful when we produce embarrassingly good result at work whilst still married to our original partners, investing time in our communities and still acknowledge our spirituality. “If we don’t think for ourselves, we place our future in the hands of others. It is up to us to create our own new world.”
What are your perspectives regarding the high numbers of young people on the continent and how they can be absorbed into the workplace for example?
Indeed, there are more young people in the world today than there are old. What this means is that we have to pay particular focus to how we groom these future leaders for the here and now. We need to use these young people to address the stubbornly high levels of unemployment which then lead to inequality and poverty. Hence we take solace from the five mega global trends which are driving business - the concept of a finite earth, the changing demographics, a world driven by technology, the shifts in power mostly from the West to the East and lastly the notion of financial repression where most governments the world over are looking for more income from increasingly fewer people and are finding more innovative ways to collect revenue. Young men learn by looking at the back of the heads of their fathers.
Do you think that between the power shifts you have mentioned is an Africa that is creating its own identity on the side-lines?
It would be folly for the Chinese, Japanese and Indians to conduct business in a manner that is not typically Chinese, Japanese or Indian. So why is it funny when Africans express themselves in a manner that is uniquely African? So our mores and business ethos especially in corporate South Africa ought to reflect that we are deeply embedded in the continent of Africa and our challenges and solutions are uniquely African. Hence we need to be engaging, interacting and interfacing in a manner that is also uniquely African. For example events like Marikana demonstrate an angry community that continues to wallow in the self-perpetuating vicious cycle of abject poverty as huge corporates continues to thrive. It is then incumbent upon us as African managers to have a different empathy and to restore the self-esteem and the dignity of such communities. As we address such challenges we need to address them in our own unique axiomatic expression and our own idiom. This is only possible when you are genuinely rooted in Africa and understand how these employees have been brought up as well as the events that have led up to this growing inequality rather than just being preoccupied with optimising profits. I suppose then that the focus should shift to the sustainability of the business in the long term rather than short term gain. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that has NEDLAC, a institutionalised structure with business on the one hand; government on the other as well as labour and civil society at the other end. This is a structure that tries to define and describe a role for all social partners in growing this economic pie.
Africa is on the cusp of great opportunity in areas such as agriculture. What are your perspectives on this given that many executives say we must be wary of ending last in our own race for economic opportunities on our own continent?
This resonates with how history has treated us in the past. For instance, South Africa missed out on the big commodity boom because we were not organised and did not for example have enough wagons to transport coal to China where it was needed the most. That created some of our worthy competitors like Colombia for instance. Presently we are in the woes of a shale gas revolution where the North America became a net exporter of energy driven mostly by shale gas in 2010. In South Africa we have been talking since 2008! This is a country that is blessed with the fifth largest gas reserves in the world. The very same scenario where we are losing out to countries such as Brazil is playing out in the agricultural sector. If Africa, a continent which has the most arable land with good climatic conditions in the world utilises all the natural resources at its disposal, it has the ability to take its rightful place at the world economic agenda and become the economic powerhouse of the 21st Century. To achieve this we need to ensure that Africa is internationally competitive; driving economic growth by among others, energy opportunities. Lastly it is about the continent attracting its fair share of foreign direct investment. This will be possible if we are a stable continent with regulatory certainty that optimally utilises all its 1.1 billion talent.
The best management lessons for me include the fact that all we are seized with as leaders is the constant management of both uncertainty and ambiguity. The question that we ought to be constantly asking is “What’s missing?” In the final analysis, this is about helping our people to better listen, because people are our greatest asset.