Africa's top ‘Corporate Teams'
The most intriguing question is not so much whether teams are important in business, as whether there is a distinctive African approach to collaboration from which other nations can learn. One person who thinks so is Hilton Mer, Executive Chairman of Stuttafords, the 150 year-old department store, which survived as a family concern until the present century.
Mer, who has many years’ experience at the helm of major retail and distribution businesses in South Africa, including Metcash and Super Group, was brought in last year to turn round the group. “My style is an inclusive one,” he says. “I think it is vital to get the input of the operational people though it is my job at the end of the day to translate that into strategy. Only one person can be in charge,” he says, echoing Shuttleworth, “but that person needs to be sensitive to how decisions affect the people who face the customers.”
Mer identifies three essentials for successful team building at a senior level. Firstly, the skills must be in place – “There’s no time to teach them to tie their shoelaces!” Secondly, empower them – “Nothing is more demoralising than constant second-guessing.” And finally, make them accountable – “They have to deliver on their undertakings or accept consequences.” By this last one, he doesn’t mean sacking people. However, team management should be subject to monitoring, assessment and mentoring if necessary.
While Stuttafords is a midsized business in African terms, SAP is huge. Ashley Boag returned to Africa as SAP’s COO, responsible for operations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. For him too, leadership is inseparable from collaborative working. “Leadership creates the environment for success: it is a behavioural thing though, not always something you can teach. For me it is very much that we set very clear goals.” Or as Mer puts it: “The job of senior CEOs is to make sure all the soldiers are fighting the same enemy!”
Given the complexity of African markets and corporations like SAP, their cultural diversity needs to be at the forefront of thinking, and this, Boag believes, is what makes team working different from the US for example, where standard methodology reigns, to put it crudely. “There is a distinct African ‘feel’,” he says. “Not only that, convergence has not come so far that we can afford to ignore cultural difference: we need to be very sensitive to it and adapt accordingly.”
Successful team management stimulates innovation, says Boag. “I have a current project and of course have included people with specialist knowledge. But I also try to involve people from completely different areas. You’d be surprised how often someone comes in from outside and asks questions that people with specialist interests miss!”
Bringing fresh talent into teams allows people to test themselves and try things they wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to. His is a case in point. “Working on projects gave me a chance to step from a FD role into the operational side of the business. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to join those teams the leadership might never have realised that I would be effective in operations and pretty good at what I do now! I haven’t had a financial role for years.”
You can’t win a football match or achieve a business project without teamwork. This was proved when Konkola Deep Mine Project was sinking Africa’s deepest shafts at the world’s deepest copper mine in Zambia. “KDMP is an African company; the majority of the ownership is in the hands of an Indian company, which is nevertheless listed on the LSE; one of the major contractors is from South Africa and the other from China; most of the large equipment and machinery comes from Germany, France and other European countries. To get all these working together and get a product at the end was a challenge!” says General Manager, Raj Kulkarni.
Acute language and cultural differences had to be overcome, he says. However, that is typical of Africa, and Africans have had to develop a lot of flexibility. As Boag says: “Internationally we have been successful in leveraging diversity at SAP. You can bring a strong set of skills together and it needn’t slow you down.”
5 Minutes With PwC's Amanda Line on Digital Leadership
1. Define digital leadership, and what it means to be a digital leader?
Leadership has always required a specialised set of skills, such as curiosity, empathy, and decisive action. In today’s world, there is an urgent need for a new type of leader – one who has a digital mindset and has the skills to drive transformation. With the ever-expanding spectrum of new technologies, we need a new wave of digital leaders who not only understand the application of intelligent technologies in the workplace, but also know how to enable and empower their teams - and that comes from frequent upskilling. Digital leaders are represented across numerous sectors and industries, with a common goal to drive a culture of innovation and transformation.
2. What do you believe are the essential traits of a digital leader?
Knowledge of digital and data literacy is a given essential to have a strong command of the future economy. In my opinion, what’s even more important are human-centric skills. It is the soft skills such as communication, resilience, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurial thinking that are pivotal in this new-age digital world.
Despite the demand for future skillsets, we’re currently facing the biggest skills shortage of our lifetime. PwC’s Middle East CEO survey highlighted that 80% of CEOs believe that a shortage of skills in the workforce is one of the key threats to their organisation’s growth prospects.
Part of our drive at PwC’s Academy Middle East in leading the upskilling revolution in the region is to facilitate lasting change. We deliver innovative and practical training, that includes both digital and soft skills components, for individuals and organisations across industries to create a truly future-ready workforce in the Middle East.
3. How have these traits changed since the outbreak of COVID-19, or have they remained the same but their significance has grown?
Prior to the pandemic, the World Economic Forum set an ambitious target to upskill one billion people by 2030. This was initiated to tackle the 75 million jobs expected to be displaced by automation and AI by 2022. Since Covid-19, the window of opportunity to reskill has become shorter in the newly constrained labour market.
The way we live, work and learn has changed drastically, placing digital technologies at the forefront. The pace of change has accelerated the need for upskilling and reskilling. In many organisations and economies, this crisis has highlighted the discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for jobs in the digital world.
4. What was the role of a digital leader when the initial outbreak happened?
The need for digital leadership was brought to the forefront by the pandemic. With the huge transition to work from home (WFH), strong leadership has helped guide and steady employees, and ensure continued productivity. Leaders who understand the application of technologies in the workplace have been able to create new drivers for success, including streamlining operational systems, mindful connection of their employees and improved agility in the workplace.
5. How has that role evolved and what are the next steps for digital leaders going forward in 2021 and beyond?
Eighty-four percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalise working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. This is a very significant change towards a digital future. Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and having digital skills is no longer a ‘good to have’, it is critical to business success. Leaders and employees alike must adapt to a cycle of constant learning and upskilling to remain competitive.
6. How do these roles mentioned compare to pre-COVID?
Digital leaders were in demand before the pandemic, but now there is an additional urgency for a pipeline of talent with the skills to implement new technologies in the workplace. In order to create sustainable success, digital technologies must be adopted as a core business strategy – and upskilling is key. In 2020, PwC’s Academy introduced a number of qualifications in the region to support training for the digital economy, including the region’s first qualification for AI, the Certified Artificial Intelligence Practitioner (CAIP).
7. Whilst the initial strategy for digital leaders was to survive the outbreak, what is the strategy for digital leaders as they look to thrive going forward?
We will see more sophisticated technologies being integrated into the workplace, driven by digital leaders. To support these transformations, we will need to close the existing skills gap, and ensure that younger generations are prepared for the future workplace.
Young professionals will need huge investment in education and skills development. This requires a collaborative effort from governments, private organisations and education providers. In the Middle East for example, PwC’s Academy is working with the regional governments to upskill the national talent for future leadership roles. We also work with the private and public sector for upskilling solutions in finance, tax, HR, marketing, leadership and management, graduate development, digital transformation to name a few. It is this multi
faceted approach to upskilling that will help our region to thrive.