Khalid Ab­dulla: hum­ble leader hon­oured with SA’s Fu­ture Maker award

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Wes­ley Diphoko

SOUTH Africa’s top em­pow­ered chief ex­ec­u­tive, Khalid Ab­dulla, is one of a se­lect few busi­ness lead­ers to­tally ded­i­cated to mak­ing the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP) a re­al­ity.

His drive to help elim­i­nate poverty, em­pow­er­ing oth­ers and re­duce in­equal­ity by 2030, has earned him and his com­pany, nu­mer­ous awards in the process, in­clud­ing the re­cent Fu­ture Mak­ers – Driver for Change Award, which was be­stowed upon him at the in­au­gu­ral Vision 2030 awards last week.

Khalid Ab­dulla is the group chief ex­ec­u­tive of the di­ver­si­fied JSE-listed African Eq­uity Em­pow­ermenet In­vest­men­sts (AEEI), South Africa’s largest black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment group.

The Vision 2030 awards fol­lowed the coun­try’s first Vision 2030 sum­mit, which drew to­gether a host of top busi­ness and gov­ern­ment lead­ers, to ex­pe­dite the re­al­i­sa­tion of the NDP as a South African pri­or­ity, not only a gov­ern­ment plan.

The ground-break­ing awards recog­nise the achieve­ments and suc­cess sto­ries of or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als that are demon­strat­ing ex­cep­tional growth and achieve­ments in line with the NDP. They are a re­minder of where we have come from and what still needs to be done, to en­sure South Africa at­tains its de­sire of a strong and in­clu­sive eco­nomic free­dom.


Busi­ness Re­port spent some time with Ab­dulla, to get to know the man who is mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to­wards real­is­ing a bet­ter South Africa.

He is cur­rently the leader of one of the most trans­formed com­pa­nies in South Africa, AEEI. AEEI has in­ter­ests in var­i­ous sec­tors. Its op­er­a­tional in­vest­ments in­clude food & fish­ing, tech­nol­ogy, health, events and tourism as well as an re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D) divi­sion.

It also holds strate­gic in­vest­men­sts in blue chip com­pa­nies such as Bri­tish Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, Syg­nia South Africa, Saab Grin­tek De­fence and Pioneer Foods. All of these sec­tors em­ploy or im­pact sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of South Africans, and are crit­i­cal to­wards achiev­ing the 2030 vision.

The NDP stresses the need for the econ­omy to be trans­formed and Ab­dulla has been a quiet ad­vo­cate of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion within AEEI, with a strong fo­cus on gov­er­nance and a num­ber of ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing en­abling women and youth em­pow­er­ment, within the com­pany.

His ef­forts in this re­gard were recog­nised through an Oliver Em­pow­er­ment Award for the top most em­pow­ered busi­ness leader of the year 2017, adding to an al­ready im­pres­sive ar­ray of in­di­vid­ual awards, as well as recog­ni­tion for the com­pany un­der his ex­pert helms­man­ship.

Ab­dulla be­lieves that busi­ness lead­ers should not just talk about trans­for­ma­tion, but they should im­ple­ment it. Clearly this is the case at AEEI.

At the awards cer­e­mony, Ab­dulla was highly ac­knowl­edged for not only talk­ing about na­tion build­ing, but ac­tu­ally im­ple­ment­ing plans through­out the coun­try to en­sure that he and AEEI are not just talk­ing about na­tion build­ing, but in fact, are im­ple­ment­ing their plans to ef­fect a more pos­i­tive na­tion in South Africa.

This is aligned with the NDP and is run­ning con­cur­rently with it, al­though AEEI op­er­ates at its own pace.

Be­yond his peo­ple-cen­tric ap­proach to busi­ness, Ab­dulla is a strong ad­vo­cate for “greener, bet­ter busi­ness”. An ex­am­ple among oth­ers of this would be his en­dorse­ment of the so­lar pow­ered en­ergy. This drives one of the con­ti­nent’s largest aqua­cul­ture farms, based in Gans­baai, in the Cape Over­berg re­gion. It is a project that will in­crease the farm ca­pac­ity from 100 tons to more than 300 tons and which will cre­ate more than 100 new jobs over the next 2 years.

Not only is this plant en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, but un­der Ab­dulla’s watch­ful eyes, its con­tri­bu­tion to lo­cal so­ci­etal needs en­sures that na­ture, busi­ness and peo­ple work in har­mony for mu­tual ben­e­fit. This par­tic­u­lar or­gan­i­sa­tion within AEEI’s food and fish­ing sec­tor is also a large-scale ex­porter, a key el­e­ment of the NDP.’ In­ter­est­ing time’

But what of the man him­self? Ab­dulla grew up in Harfield Vil­lage, in the West­ern Cape, dur­ing what he calls “an in­ter­est­ing time in our coun­try’s his­tory”. Be­fore the fam­ily’s forced re­moval to Athlone, his en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and busi­ness prin­ci­ples were kin­dled by his fa­ther, who in an at­tempt to pro­vide pos­i­tive men­tor­ship and a safe haven for the youth of the area had a café and opened a cin­ema and mu­sic store at their home.

In­stead of suc­cumb­ing to the nar­ra­tive of the times and his lo­ca­tion, Ab­dulla chose the pos­i­tive route, chan­nelling his youth­ful en­ergy into sport and foot­ball in par­tic­u­lar. His prow­ess on the pitch was even good enough to try it out for a pro­fes­sional UK side, but he chose to study ac­count­ing part-time in­stead, work­ing two jobs, com­plet­ing his ac­count­ing clerk­ship dur­ing the week and work­ing at a hard­ware group over the week­ends and hol­i­days.

He grad­u­ated with multi qual­i­fi­ca­tions, which in­clude among oth­ers a BCompt (Hons), CTA from Unisa, as well as an MBA and project man­age­ment from UCT. It was foot­ball’s loss but South Africa’s busi­ness sec­tor gain.

Lessons learned

He says he now em­ploys the skills and lessons learned from his youth, the sports field and aca­demics in his day-to­day and long-term plan­ning at AEEI. “Busi­ness is all about team­work – work­ing to­gether to achieve a com­mon goal… and so it should be for the coun­try too, that of long-term pros­per­ity in which ev­ery­one can share… it is not about scor­ing home goals.”

Ab­dulla be­lieves strongly in be­ing a glob­ally re­pon­si­ble leader and is men­tor­ing and lead­ing his team to­ward em­pow­er­ing them­selves with knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. He is a great leader in that he men­tors his team, trusts its mem­bers to get on with the job and has an open door pol­icy should they re­quire guid­ance or a bit of mo­ti­va­tion from him.

Of the lat­est ac­knowl­edge­ment, Ab­dulla said he is truly hum­bled as well as ap­pre­cia­tive of the recog­ni­tion.

“I am de­lighted to re­ceive this award as it is a sig­nal to my team, our stake­hold­ers and I, that we are in­deed on the right track to driv­ing pos­i­tive change in South Africa, es­pe­cially dur­ing these chal­leng­ing times.”

Ab­dulla has over the years re­ceived many ac­co­lades, but has al­ready set his sights on achiev­ing more for the good of the group, the com­mu­ni­ties in which AEEI op­er­ates, as well as South Africa and Africa as a whole.

Ear­lier in the year, he was awarded with be­ing South Africa’s top busi­ness leader of the year for 2017 by the 16th Oliver em­pow­er­ment awards. Be­sides all the other awards he also now holds the ti­tle of South Africa’s Fu­ture Mak­ers – “Driver for Change Vision 2030”.

Fi­nan­cial Mail has also ranked Ab­dulla among the ten best ex­ec­u­tives (2015), and as one of the best chief ex­ec­u­tives in the coun­try.

In July 2016, the Fi­nan­cial Mail an­nounced AEEI as the Top Per­former on the JSE, af­ter AEEI had demon­strated con­tin­ued and con­sis­tent fi­nan­cial growth over the past three years.

Amended codes

This was fol­lowed by recog­ni­tion from Em­pow­erdex on Oc­to­ber 6, 2016, in its an­nual bench­mark of JSE-listed com­pa­nies, as the most em­pow­ered com­pany un­der the amended codes, as well as the most em­pow­ered man­age­ment con­trol.

From its in­cep­tion, the AEEI group has un­der­taken to fo­cus on grow­ing the busi­ness while also be­ing mind­ful of the ef­fects it has on so­ci­ety and the South African land­scape as a whole as seen in its food busi­ness.

One of AEEI’s key share­hold­ers com­mented on the award, say­ing: “Khalid Ab­dulla is a great driver for change and this is clear in the man­ner in which he leads the AEEI group holis­ti­cally, with his com­mit­ment to build­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion, com­mu­ni­ties, as well as boost­ing the South African econ­omy.”

Through­out our in­ter­view, the con­ver­sa­tion was dom­i­nated by two words: “hope” and “pos­i­tiv­ity”.

He be­lieves strongly that dur­ing this dif­fi­cult eco­nomic pe­riod, it is im­por­tant for busi­ness lead­ers to main­tain a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude within their busi­nesses, at the din­ner table and in every facet of their daily in­ter­ac­tions.

He be­lieves that by re­in­forc­ing the mes­sag­ing at every op­por­tu­nity, be­lief be­comes re­al­ity.

Ab­dulla con­cluded by say­ing: “De­spite all the neg­a­tive news in the coun­try at the mo­ment, in­clud­ing the re­cent rat­ings down­grade, there is still much to be pos­i­tive about in South Africa.

“As busi­ness and gov­ern­men­tal lead­ers, we need to keep hope alive for our coun­try’s cit­i­zens, so that we can all work to­gether to build the na­tion on a sus­tain­able ba­sis to­wards 2030 and be­yond.”

Khalid Ab­dulla was ranked one of the best chief ex­ec­u­tives in the coun­try.

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