A tooth­less lobby

In­stead of ad­vanc­ing black man­agers, the body com­plains when white ex­ec­u­tives are ap­pointed, writes Vic­tor Dlamini

CityPress - - Business -

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

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