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Sibongile Vilakazi | 4 October 2023

ORGANISATIONS go through their own natural cycles and changes where key decisions, such as who leads the organisation, are made in the interest of the organisation.

These are always important decisions for the organisation as they determine the direction and posture both inside among staff members and outside to external stakeholders.

One always assumes that based on all probabilities and calculations, the decision is always taken in the best interest of the organisation.

When it comes to state owned entities, the decision must also take national interests into cognisance. The decision ought not to only be in the best interest of the organisation but it must also drive specific national agendas.

One of the national agendas for South Africa that is supposed to be a non-negotiable is the transformation of socio-economic dynamics and opportunity distribution to reflect the population of the country.

This is all forms of economic opportunities including decisions about who leads at the helm of both public and private entities. These decisions send a message that the country is on track in implementing its own interests and agendas to the benefit of all citizens.

You can therefore imagine the concern when on the same day two big public entities made announcements on leadership changes that seem to be regressing the agenda of transformation.

On September 29 2023 the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) announced that Mr David Jarvis will be the interim chief executive officer (CEO) with effect from October 1, 2023, following the announcement on March 3, 2023, that Mr Tshokolo Nchoncho was stepping down as CEO.

The IDC reported that the process of identifying Mr. Nchoncho’s successor was under way and to allow for a seamless transition. Mr Jarvis, who’s been with the organisation since 2013 and been in executive management since 2015 as Divisional Executive for Strategy, would take the role of acting interim CEO.

While we were still following the IDC announcement, Transnet announced that both the CEO, Portia Derby, and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Nonkululeko Dlamini, resigned, leaving the entity rudderless as the two most senior positions immediately became vacant although both executives would be available for the handover.

Ms Derby has been under increasing pressure from industry bodies to resign after what was seen as worsening operational performance under her watch.

To manage the potential instability, the board appointed Michelle Phillips as CEO on an acting basis until the process of identifying the next CEO is concluded. Ms Phillips is the current CEO of Transnet Pipelines and has been with the organisation for 21 years.

At face value the decisions are reasonable and are in the best interest of the organisation. However, in the case of the IDC, being a white male, the decision on Mr Jarvis communicates that on the national agenda of ensuring that the senior echelons of public entities in particular are transformed, there may be a relaxed view in the board of the IDC on who leads the IDC.

Transformation may be negotiable when it is supposed to be a non-negotiable. This may not be true of course but it’s an impression nonetheless and impressions may be reality to onlookers.

The issue at Transnet is even more troublesome when we consider black women leadership.

It appears that Portia Derby was brought in to Transnet with a clear mandate to turn around the ailing entity, yet she was not given the support and opportunity to do what she was brought in to do.

The turnaround strategy that the board had approved included significant actions and milestones that could not possibly take a year or even three years to achieve.

The issues of corruption and its impact on productivity at Transnet are well documented and slow procurement processes in the public sector would have meant that all initiatives that required procurement would have at least needed a year before those initiatives were implemented.

Therefore, the pressure put on Ms Derby to magically improve performance was unwarranted and creates the impression that she was never brought in to succeed and turn around the entity.

It appears she was set up and it’s understandable that she eventually decided after three years at the helm that it was too exhausting and resigned.

This case is worrisome if as a nation we claim that we want positions at top management to reflect the demographics of the country and we value women leadership.

Without the necessary supportive environment, transformation efforts will remain lip service. It’s important to back our transformation intent and agenda as a country with tangible actions.

Otherwise, what has happened to Ms Derby has sent the message that women should fear such positions because they are simply a trap.

In actual fact, women leaders are not wanted. Why would despondency not set in after this?

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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