Sygnia boss urges business to lead
Stop graft, says Wierzycka
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.