DRI VER FOR CHANGE
Khalid Abdulla: humble leader honoured with SA’s Future Maker award
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.
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.
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.