A toothless lobby
Instead of advancing black managers, the body complains when white executives are appointed, writes Victor Dlamini
The Black Management Forum (BMF) has come out swinging strongly against MTN’s decision to hire Rob Shuter as its new CEO. BMF president Mncane Mthunzi said it sent MTN chair Phuthuma Nhleko a list of potential CEOs. What should worry the BMF is that Nhleko didn’t even bother to reply to its letter. Perhaps this incident should force the BMF to ask itself why its voice matters so little.
Given the BMF’s mission to promote the appointment of black managers and drive transformation, you would imagine that Nhleko would naturally be an ally. Instead of rushing to castigate MTN for what the BMF calls “the lack of thoughtfulness in dealing with matters of succession”, the real question is why the BMF is reduced to writing letters to executives it should have direct contact with.
The body seems to regard itself as a kind of deployment committee for black professionals. The reality is that today’s corporate environment is tough and companies like MTN know that, to remain competitive, they have to attract the world’s best talent. The BMF should appreciate that, in its formative years, MTN was aggressively pro-transformation and continues to have a significantly high head count of black executives. Sometimes I get the sense that the BMF is no more than a debating society that likes to blame others for its own failures. Of course, South African corporates have resisted transformation gallantly. But MTN is not one of them.
More importantly, Nhleko has proven time and again that he knows how to pick outstanding leaders. Perhaps his one great lapse was Sifiso Dabengwa, and the BMF should ask itself where it was when MTN lost its way under him. Did they write him a letter with suggestions on how to fix MTN, or get out of its quagmire in Nigeria? It cannot be that the BMF raises its voice only when a new CEO is needed.
In focusing so narrowly on this one appointment, the BMF reinforces the perception that its most significant contribution to the corporate calender is its gala dinner at which big speeches are made. It is time the BMF admitted that few top executives take them seriously.
Another question it should ask itself is, how much has it contributed measurably to the development of fine managerial talent? What are the programmes it runs, visibly and loudly, to harness talent? The BMF runs the risk of being reduced to issuing media releases of disappointment when white executives take key posts.
Mthunzi should focus on ensuring he has the ear of Nhleko, a powerful corporate leader. Then the BMF would have an insider’s view as to what drives the decisions that go into making the top hires.
Mthunzi says MTN demonstrated exemplary leadership by successively having black CEOs. He should tell us how many corporates he has lobbied to radically transform their executives, and who actually came to the party.
One also cannot escape the observation that many previous BMF presidents have mostly used the position to advance their own careers.
Perhaps the greatest indictment of the BMF is that most black managers in corporate South Africa and parastatals have risen to influential positions because of their own skills and acumen rather than from a BMF lobby.
Dlamini writes in a social observer