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Dr. Yvonne Muthien – Group Executive, Corporate Affairs – MTN Group
Dr Yvonne Muthien is Group Executive: Corporate Affairs of MTN Group Ltd, a leading telecommunications company, with 9 companies operating in 10 countries. She was previously Director of the South African Democracy Education Trust, an oral historical project launched by President Thabo Mbeki.
She serves as Chairperson of the President's Advisory Council for National Orders, both under the current President and his precedessor, Nelson Mandela. She has also been a Board member for the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation and the transportation utility, Transnet.
Dr Muthien was the first woman Commissioner in the Public Service Commission from 1994-1997 and in 1993 she served as Commissioner on the body that established the new provincial boundaries for a democratic South Africa, during the Multi-Party Negotiations (CODESA).
She completed her D.Phil degree in Sociology and Politics at Oxford University in 1989, and holds a Masters degree from Northwestern University, USA, as well as a BA (Hons) cum laude from the University of the Western Cape.
Malcolm Hewitt—Developing Practical Leadership
It has come to be par for the course to think of bankers as people who have a deep preoccupation with red tape, spending a lot of time developing rules and implementing them. It is therefore refreshing to speak to a banker who puts much emphasis on keeping things simple as a key to developing practical leadership. Malcolm Hewitt says at the end of the day, a good business, organisation or country thrives on good leadership.
“Leadership is a critical component of the development process within a business or even a country. Leaders of note are those who are able to change the way things stand and chart a new path into the future.
“The world has seen a good number of such leaders. Nelson Mandela is an epitome of such leadership. He is a leader who is followed by people because he does not elevate himself above them, yet has achieved greatness in his humility and humanity. Ghandi was another leader who inspired people to action through simple yet effective solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges. JF Kennedy was also such a leader. So was Mother Teresa.”
Hewitt emphasised that in business, leadership has to reflect a senior positioning of the leader, without supremacy. “Leaders have to know their business. This does not necessarily mean that they should consider themselves above the staff. However their seniority and leadership position should be acknowledged if they are to succeed in creating dynamic organisations.”
One of the major paradoxes of leadership is that while people expect a leader to have a significant amount of self-confidence, they may be repelled by such a leader if a perception develops that he is veering towards arrogance. Therefore, good leadership calls for a happy equilibrium between a lack of cantankerous arrogance and a level of humility that may not allow a leader to be decisive.
Hewitt says leadership tends to be easier for people who are extroverts. Some people more than others and seem to have a permanent twinkle in the eye. Such people are at the centre of the party and people follow them because of the sheer force of their personality.
However, there has been people who are not exceptionally extrovert who have been successful leaders. Hewitt drew a parallel between Mandela and Mbeki, saying while Mbeki is less extrovert than Mandela, his ability to establish systems and policy, therefore leading from the front as a hands-on manager, is a strength that has been critical to his leadership style.
“I listened to Mbeki make the state of the nation address. He is very passionate about what he is delivering. You get the sense that he has a vision of how to change things for the better and that he is willing to marshal people behind him in reaching such goals. At the end of the day, each leader will have their own peculiarities and strengths.
Hewitt says at the end of the day, people would be inclined to appreciate a leader if they perceive him as having integrity and an ability to connect with people.
“The important thing is that people want to feel that a good person, a person of integrity, is leading them. They need to feel that he is genuine and that he is concerned about the needs of the broader populace. Of course, within a company that would mean being able to translate that into employee and broader organisatonal leadership.”
Hewitt says it is important to have an organisation that functions at an optimum level and at the same time, excites customers and staff so that they believe in the organisation and the products.
He added that it was an emphasis on simplifying the organisational message that led his organisation, Barclays, developing what they call the Five Cs. These are Customer, Community, Company, Colleagues, Control. He explained the rationale behind the cascade.
“Customers of Barclays Bank need to feel that it is a trustworthy organisation. That is why we are the best bank in Africa--our customers trust us. This a rule that maintains with every business. Securing the trust and belief of customers is key to success in any enterprise.
“The community is important to us because we believe there is a need to plough back to the people who support your business in one way or the other. It is fo this reason that community investment is one of our five Cs. Companies like Barclays can make a very significant contribution in terms of such social needs as education, HIV/AIDS and development.
“The company has to represent corporate integrity and consistency. Again, it is a rule that is of critical importance to all companies.
“Colleagues within the Bank represent a great asset. For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on looking after our colleagues, providing them with the required training and ensuring that there are opportunities for individual growth within the organisation. People want it simple and clear. They want engagement and communication. They need acknowledgement that says you have done well. Equally they need to know that there are things that need to be changed for the better. They want to feel energy, they need to feel excited about their daily working environment, the future. A good leader is able to create such an environment.
“Also in relation to colleagues, it is important to reward good talent and hard work. Naturally, when it comes to talent, there are two ways of securing it—one can advertise and therefore be in line to secure talent that has been developed by other companies. Some companies go so far as to actively head hunt—some would say poach, talent from other organisations. The second way of securing talent is to develop such talent from within one’s organisation. At the end of the day, there has to be good synergy between the talent that a company secures and the operational system and philosophy it propounds. Out of the combination of good talent and good organisational systems, it is possible to produce outstanding leadership that can assist an organisation to grow and become more profitable. Overall, if colleagues are motivated to deliver their best within the organisation, it will translate into good service for customers. That, in turn, will result in good returns for the organisation.”
“Lastly, control is of critical importance because one needs to have the requisite systems within a banking environment. That contributes to the development of an organisation that has the trust of its customers and other businesses.”
Hewitt says Barclays sees Africa is a continent that has excellent growth prospects. “We have been in Africa for a hundred years now. We have gone through some tough times. In most cases we stayed through such tough times. There was a time when we had to leave Uganda unceremoniously. A similar thing happened in Tanzania. Now we are back in those two countries.”
However, coming back to South Africa after a leaving the country in 1986 was a critical milestone for the company. The move, which came after Barclays was lobbied by the pro-sanctions movement, saw Barclays sell the bank. It was renamed First National, which is currently a Barclays opposition. Hewitt will not comment elaborately on the matter, except to say “sometimes you have to make difficult decisions in business”.
Barclays has concluded the process of buying into ABSA Bank, a process that was drawn out, with signals flashing red and green at regular intervals, with newspaper reports at some stage indicating the deal may be off. Hewitt says he is pleased that the process has been completed.
“One thing that has become clear to us is that South Africa is a key to doing business on the continent. For this reason, making our re-entry into the country was one of the most critical periods of our existence on the continent. The process of buying into ABSA Bank was one of the most exciting business projects that we have ever embarked on in Africa and we look forward to this unfolding.”
Clearly, all of this, leadership is and will continue to be crucial. Hewitt says the conference gives the broad range of speakers an opportunity to contribute to overall leadership on the continent.
CHIEF ADE—MOULDING AFRICAN ENTERPRENEURIAL TALENT
Business development on the continent of Africa will be a key component of growth and development through all the regions. While there has been a surge of entrepreneurial activity on the continent, with increased inter-country and inter-regional trade, there are clear indications that there is much room for entrepreneurial development.
Chief Ade, a speaker at the conference, will address the issue of developing entrepreneurial talent. Ade emphasized that in all spheres of life, including community, business and politics, leadership plays an important role.
“Countries that have come to enjoy a great degree of stability and economic growth tend to be endowed with good leadership. At a business level as well, it stands to reason that the success that has typified the most prominent corporations internationally is attributable to good leadership.
“Within the African continent, there has been some lack of good leadership and this has hampered our drive as a people to free ourselves from poverty.
“At a political level, it has to be said that the one factor that has seen Africa lag behind and remain mired in poverty and war has been the tendency of leaders to look after their own interests at the expense of those of the nation. This has, in many cases, resulted in dictators who hoard large amounts of money that belongs to the nation, going so far as to put these in some foreign accounts. In many cases, such amounts have been so huge that they and their children could not be able to consume the funds within their lifetimes.”
With this reality in mind, Ade says one of the greatest challenges facing Africa is to develop a leadership corps that is not entangled in corrupt practices. For the electorate, this means voting for quality leadership. He added that at a broader, constitutional level, there is a need to put in place safeguards that will ensure that there is no rigging of elections so that the leadership that is in place in any given African country reflects the will of the people.
Within the African continent, another problem that has accompanied a lack of good political leadership has been a lack of entrepreneurial leadership. This hjas resulted in low economic growth across the continent. Ade says this is a problem that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“A nation or continent that simply consumes what others create, further burdened by a select few who use their privilege to loot money and live in obscenely wealthy conditions, without generating wealth themselves, faces a serious challenge in the quest for development and growth.
“For this reason, it is of great importance to develop an entrepreneurial class on the continent and ensure that they are armed with all the tools that are required within the framework of modern enterprise. A lot of emphasis has to be placed on improving systems, using effective technology and creative ways of doing business. The reality is that with the ‘global’ village being a reality, the only way to achieve survival at a continental and national level is ensuring that we keep up with international trends.
“Grooming effective interpreneurial leadership is going to be a critical component of the thrust towards developing the continent. This means developing a strong small to medium business base and ensuring that these have the capacity to create employment and wealth.”
Ade says it is on this basis that he will be speaking on the dynamics of starting and growing a business through good leadership.
“I believe that there are a lot of people who have the potential to start and develop businesses, but they are always waiting until they have enough money, until the right opportunity comes along or until they are in the right frame of mind to start. This is the wrong way of going about it. Business entails a great deal of risk. Of course, this has to be within reasonable levels. But it is important to emphasise that at some stage, starting a business entails taking the plunge,” he said.