What’s on my mind…

21 June 2005 Angelo Coppola

Worried about the negative sentiment towards business. There are three pressing issues, each representing a direct challenge, are what occupy his mind.

He was speaking at the Institute of Directors business update presentation in Johannesburg recently.

These are the abnormal socio-economic divide, secondly the transformation imperative, and finally the skills shortage.

The divide is huge. There are 4.2 million households that are classified as survivors, not consumers, who have not participated in the economic revival. There are two economies, and two conflicting and different world views.

The government is playing its role but the private sector has a role. Locally the basics are not enough. This is tantamount to an abdication.

“We must become involved. We do not lobby government enough, or engage proactively when searching for solutions to problems.

The government drive to involve international business people in a focus group shows that the government is waiting for the local business sector to prove itself.”

More time and effort is needed to educate people about what business can actually do. Talk shows don’t help. People who haven’t generated R1 of free don’t understand.

The transformation imperative is the second issue.

“Is it about grudging compliance, and the numbers game, or an understanding about the importance of harnessing the multi-facetted community? We have an obligation as those that have benefited from the past to assist those that suffered because of it,” asks Lamberti.

Progress above retribution is the norm, by those that have suffered. This is not satisfaction, as people revert to traditional social circles, and mindsets. The pretence of harmony hides the demand for redress, and the slow speed of transformation, will eventually boil over.

“The rate of change must be accelerated. If not speeded it the economy will fail. The message must be communicated, if the boards have embraced the transformation process. People must be hired who promote transformation and embody it.

“The speed issue must be driven by the directors of businesses.”

Thirdly the skills shortage is the most devastating legacy of apartheid. The middle management echelon is missing as people are promoted beyond their experience, or have left South Africa’s shores.

“It is difficult to find people who can lead business units and can rise to the challenge of entrepreneurial business demands. The skills shortage is at the heart of the problem and the remuneration challenge. Commentators don’t understand what the real issues. There is a difference between management and leadership.”

Lamberti says that the comment: “’They are not ready’, is the biggest lie. People need to believe in people and create the space for them to be developed and mentored. Under the right circumstances people can be fast tracked, but it does take time. Although there is a danger that the remuneration and poaching problem.”

On a board level Lamberti says that non executive directors also need time to obtain an insight into the business and the sector, before they can ask the difficult and insightful questions. “We can’t allow the skills shortage to prejudice the business, while on the other hand making up the numbers in BEE is also not the way to go.

“Business people and members of boards have a unique range of challenges, more so than their international compatriots, and a responsibility to society.”

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