Syg­nia boss urges busi­ness to lead

Stop graft, says Wierzy­cka

The Star Early Edition - - COMPANIES - Di­neo Faku

SYG­NIA Group chief ex­ec­u­tive, Magda Wierzy­cka, used the launch the Har­vard Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for African Stud­ies to urge her peers to speak out against cor­rup­tion and busi­ness chief ex­ec­u­tives to play a stronger lead­er­ship role.

Speak­ing at the 2nd An­nual Ha­keem and Myma Belo-Osagie Dis­tin­guished African Busi­ness and En­trepreneur­ship Lec­ture held in Jo­han­nes­burg on Wed­nes­day, Wierzy­cka said chief ex­ec­u­tives should stop hid­ing be­hind busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“Busi­ness is hid­ing be­hind la­bels (busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tions) and very few are will­ing to stand up for change. Busi­ness lead­ers need to crit­i­cise gov­ern­ment if it is war­ranted. Peo­ple fol­low peo­ple not la­bels,” Wierzy­cka said dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion to mark the launch of the Har­vard Univer­sity of­fice in Jo­han­nes­burg.

Wierzy­cka told stu­dents, aca­demics and busi­ness peo­ple from African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ghana, Nige­ria, Kenya and South Africa, that busi­ness had a “hu­mon­gous” role to play in up­root­ing cor­rup­tion.

Her com­ments co­in­cide with re­ports of leaked e-mails al­leg­ing im­proper deal­ings in gov­ern­ment con­tracts and the de­ci­sion by the in­ter min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee of min­is­ters to fire Brian Molefe, Eskom chief ex­ec­u­tive af­ter he was con­tro­ver­sially re­in­stated by the power util­ity’s board.

Her big­gest crit­i­cism of busi­ness and South African so­ci­ety was com­pla­cency.

“A hand­ful of peo­ple are hold­ing 55 mil­lion South Africans to ran­som. Busi­ness has a role to play and so does ev­ery­body else,” she said.

Wierzy­cka is the founder of Syg­nia, which man­ages R159 bil­lion worth of as­sets on be­half of pen­sion funds. She is known for work­ing to­wards chang­ing the fi­nan­cial ser­vices by mak­ing them ac­ces­si­ble to or­di­nary South Africans. Her ca­reer in fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­cluded work­ing for Alexan­der Forbes and the Corona­tion Fund.

Wierzy­cka said that Africa needed to cre­ate jobs, but that busi­ness had nu­mer­ous stum­bling blocks. “There is lit­tle sup­port from gov­ern­ment for busi­ness. For ex­am­ple there are no tax breaks,” she said.

Sa­muel Men­sah, the Ghana­ian econ­o­mist who quit his job to start a fash­ion la­bel Kisua, was on the panel dis­cus­sion. He said that reg­u­la­tory un­cer­tainty was an im­ped­i­ment to the growth of busi­ness on the con­ti­nent. “En­trepreneur­ship in Africa is like drink­ing a soup that does not taste good,” he said.

The launch of the Har­vard Jo­han­nes­burg of­fice is a mile­stone for Africa and Jo­han­nes­burg. This is be­cause there were 3 300 Har­vard alumni in Africa and 1 000 of them are from South Africa.

Pro­fes­sor Alan Gar­ber Prevost from Har­vard said that the open­ing of the of­fice would be an op­por­tu­nity to in­crease col­lab­o­ra­tion with Africans and schol­arly in­sti­tu­tions.

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