A conversation with Mncane Mthunzi
President of the BMF
LM: What were the greatest influences in your early life?
MM: Educated members of my community in Sebokeng. I was fascinated and loved their great lifestyles. As a youngster, I read loads of books which in turn helped me escape the trappings of impoverished, under-resourced and poor quality of life that the people were subjected to.
LM: How do you find a balance between your family life, your role at Massbuild and your role in the BMF?
MM: It is quite challenging but for some reason, it just works. I agreed with my wife before availing myself for the BMF leadership role. I have since realised that my family likes me to be around even if I do my other work. The quality of time I would spend sometimes is just having lunch with them while in between I would be doing other things.
Massbuild has been supportive to my involvement with the BMF and always gave me time to serve the organisation. However, in return I burn the midnight oil to meet my commitments to the company. I never miss a deadline. Performance has earned me the freedom.
The BMF has now become a movement and its blessed with highly competent and professional people; so leading has been much easier. The challenge is the expectations to be everywhere and engaging thoughts about views affecting the country.
LM: You studied at the Harvard Business School, what were your greatest learnings from your study in Boston?
MM: Harvard taught me to be a critical thinker. My confidence grew multifolds and so was my competence and both these attributes helped me to be more courageous in my stances. Judgement has been the other key learning. I know now use data, facts and figures to substantiate and concretise my arguments and views, it is almost a second nature.
LM: What do you think your role is as a role model and how do you go about playing that role?
MM: I think my role is to be an inspiration to others.
I try to avail myself as much as I can in public discussions and honouring invitations to intellectual and leadership related engagements. I have been pushing myself hard to offer new ideas or different perspectives in every engagement.
LM: What motivated you to join Massbuild and what is your current role?
MM: I have always liked working for JSE listed companies. The company culture and working with highly driven, hardworking and competent colleagues. I am currently a Commercial Director responsible for large clients working on large projects or initiatives.
LM: What are the most exciting aspects about your current role?
MM: The space and scope to create new innovative ways of servicing our clients. There are literally no limits in coming with new ideas and growing sustainable revenue streams for the business while adding value to the businesses of our clients.
LM: How does your current role contribute to socio economic development?
MM: We rebalance the portfolio of our Key Account Managers (Sales) to have small or developing contractors to help them grow into big clients category. I have hired young black professionals into a Business Development role as a soft-landing opportunity to grow their skills and confidence before promoting them into KAMs.
LM: How have you dealt with setbacks and disappointments in your career?
MM: I normally allow myself to be angry for one day. If the disappointment is overbearing, I take a day or two for reflections and way forward. I have learned to accept things that I cannot change.
LM: Who are your heroes, role models and mentors, how have they influenced you in your personal and professional life?
MM: The late Lot Ndlovu fits all your descriptors. He had an influence in both my personal and professional life. He gave me the gift of time, he would shift everything to accommodate me. Subsequently, a week hardly went by without us meeting over lunch, dinner or coffee.
LM: What have been the success of your term as President of BMF?
MM: The biggest success has been the restoration of respect and dignity for the organisation as the advocacy and lobby group. The listing of race and gender as part of the reporting requirements by the JSE-listed companies has been a major victory for the BMF. The massive support and embracement by corporate South Africa and consultation on their major decision has also been a great achievement for the BMF.
LM: What are BMF’s area of focus for the remaining part of your term?
MM: We are focusing on consolidating the achievements of the entire term. I hope we can succeed to meet President Ramaphosa and give him an honest assessment of the state of transformation in South Africa today. I am also working on meeting with the Trade and Industry portfolio committee in Parliament to sponsor the idea giving the JSE powers to penalise the companies that are not complying to transformation.
LM: The latest Employment Equity results paint a grim picture on a Transformation within South Africa. What do you think should be done to accelerate transformation in South Africa?
MM: Firstly, I think corporate leaders must take responsibility that it is their duty to ensure that companies reflect the demographics of our broader society. I also think that the time for incentives and penalties has arrived, without consequences, the country is going to remain stagnant.
LM: What is BMF’s views on how women are treated in both the private and public sector? How can we create an environment conducive to success for women in the workplace?
MM: We are not happy with miniscule representation of women especially at top management level. I think we should take learnings from Scandinavian countries and put quotas for women representation on Boards and Executive Committees.
LM: What does BMF offer for young professionals entering the workplace?
MM: The BMF has a formal Young Professionals structure which is integrated in branches and the Board of the organisation. We have a mentoring initiative for them and numerous business and leadership development programmes. These interventions have been instrumental in accelerating their careers in corporate and as entrepreneurs.
LM: In the light of the Steinhoff, VBS, KPMG, McKinsey, SAP and other corporate scandals, how can we promote ethical leadership in Corporate South Africa?
MM: It is the biggest setback to progress and positive impact that Corporate South Africa has made in our society. We need to have more conferences and seminars on ethical leadership, leading with integrity and corporate governance. All of us as corporate executives need to go back to classes and learn how our decisions could damage the livelihoods of employees and the very existence of the companies that we lead.
LM: Do you think that business should only focus on its core mission or should play a more broader role in the socio-economic development of South Africa?
MM: It must definitely play a more broader role. Business has power to influence and change societies and it is about time that it steps up. Our country has massive social challenges and business has the resources that could be used to uplift communities and ensure sustainable development and progress.
LM: What are your views on “Radical Economic Transformation?”
MM: I think it is just rhetoric and attention seeking. Transformation by its very nature is radical, so there is no need to be “radical” or “revolutionary” about it.
LM: What concrete steps should government take to drive economic growth, to reduce unemployment and poverty?
MM: Firstly, we need projects or initiatives that would attract the FDI, there must be something that should make the foreigners want to invest in our country. Secondly, we should also create special economic zones with incentives and conditions for minimum employment targets. Thirdly, most companies cannot spend their allocated budget on CSI and other social related elements. Poverty could be dented if that spend was monitored and enforced.
LM: What do you understand about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and what are its implications for South Africa?
MM: At the core of it is about the digitisation and mechanisation of how we work. Robotics is at the heart of it. South Africa needs to pay more attention and focus on this, otherwise we are going to be hit by a punch that we didn’t see coming. We are going to lag behind global competitiveness if we don’t act now.
LM: What is required to take Africa to a higher growth trajectory, to reduce poverty and underdevelopment?
MM: Firstly, we need to develop confidence in increasing intra-trade within Africa. African countries must be their own biggest investors before China, Europe and Americas. Secondly, we need to strengthen our institutions and fortify democratic principles and values. Thirdly, we need to hold our leaders and managers of companies and institutions accountable and there must be consequences for deviation from their mandate. Finally, there must be no tolerance for corruption.