South Africa’s heritage deserves an honest approach from business for successful succession planning

September 5th, 2022
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Almost every business in South Africa has got Heritage Day wrong. Yes, we should be honouring our individual and cultural heritage, but leadership needs to have an eye on the legacy that their business will create for generations to come, that goes beyond the symbolic but superficial team braai or cultural attire day.

The mantra ‘profit with purpose’ couldn’t be more apt for where we find ourselves right now. As we crawl from the wreckage driven by a decade of State Capture, balancing the pursuit of profit with purpose for the benefit of all stakeholders – a necessarily longer-term view than a purely and short-term shareholder value approach – demands introspection and bold decisions. 

If our economy and people, are to have any hope of revival, we will need businesses – from listed giants to SMME innovators – to benefit from retaining scarce skills in our home market. The ‘brain drain’ emigration from South Africa is perhaps one of the most pressing issues that executives currently face. When the hard-working and highly qualified cannot rely on a stable power supply, basic law and order, reliable healthcare, quality education, and job prospects for their children, they will move elsewhere. And they already are – a tragic and undeniable symptom of a broader socio-economy in atrophy.

But the good news is that millions of us remain, and millions of us believe that South Africa can work better for everyone. One of the biggest opportunities for business leaders is the prospect that the fourth industrial revolution provides to grow the digital economy and to empower our young people. A lot of larger corporations are already doing this, but there is massive opportunity to support SMMEs. In doing so, we can exponentially accelerate the digitalisation of our economy. Global giants like Amazon and Google recognise the potential in South Africa for this, but the realisation that we have all the ingredients for our success right here already, hasn’t properly landed in all businesses.

More specifically, practical succession planning should be given urgent attention.  King IV cites succession planning as one of a board’s most important priorities in the short- and long-term. And right now, there is simply no more time to waste.

Young South African leaders are easy to spot: they are resilient, resourceful and determined. Despite the constant challenges South Africans face on a daily basis, we almost always find a way to see the opportunities in these. Being agile, able to pivot and react positively is a part of our heritage and DNA –  we are accustomed to life being unpredictable and not going according to plan. 

Some executives are already taking bold steps to make sure that their successors will not only stay but will create an even greater legacy. This requires more than just a rumored short list of potential CEOs-in-waiting circulating the office corridors. It requires innovation and vulnerability and, most fundamentally, trust in one another as the boardroom doors are opened to a new class of determined leaders.

Far from being the grown-up version of ‘Take a Child to Work’ programmes, setting up a clear system and path to successful succession means that promising future leaders can help a board and business achieve its long-term purpose. By employing natural curiosities and updated qualifications, younger leaders can constructively challenge traditional thinking and leadership.

As part of the succession planning process, diversity, equity and inclusivity must be embraced as a tool to promote organisational strategy and competitiveness locally, across Africa, and beyond. 

It is clear that we have the bold thinking, brave innovation and growth focus required to make South Africa a success. Now’s the time to make sure we have a heritage worth celebrating in a future led by the brilliant leaders of tomorrow.

Authors: Adam Craker, CEO and Yesthiel Singh, General Counsel and YCo CEO 

Get in touch with Adam on LinkedIn here: 

Get in touch with Yesthiel on LinkedIn here

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