Serr Synergy

Serving up transformation as an investment for South African business

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A key part of South African legislation, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) was implemented with the hopes of achieving increased economic participation and better wealth distribution in our country

With more than 20 years into a new democratic era, B-BBEE has evolved in terms of dimensions, diversity and requirements, and while an entity is not penalised for having a low BEE score or not embracing BEE, it is unlikely that these businesses would be awarded contracts by the government or even in the private sector.

Established in 2014, Serr Synergy focuses on compliance with the B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice; the new Companies Act, including the Consumer Protection Act, the National Credit Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act and the Electronic Communications Act; skills development and employment equity; and labour relations issues pertaining to both business and domestic employees.

“Our objective was to create something unique; where we’re not just a BEE consultancy but offer more sophisticated professional advice on things like ownership structures and taxes. With us, clients can find a complete solution under one roof. Therefore, it is very important to us that we remain innovative, researching innovative ways for clients to comply with the various BEE codes, which can be very broad, and clients more often than not need a solution that is tailor-made. For BEE to work in SA, businesses must be able to implement programmes adapted to their specific requirements, and that is where we see our role,” says Gideon Gerber, Serr Synergy’s Director.

“I think our model has been very successful; in our first four years, we have assisted over 7 000 clients from six offices across the country and we currently employ about 450 people. We have also rolled out almost 700 learnership programmes for black youth, a one-year training programme with work experience in the areas of manufacturing, retail, services industry, administration and management,” he adds.

Serr Synergy has also provided training for more than 15 000 employees with courses in occupational health and safety, first aid, customer care and various ABET courses.

“We are also very proud to be the only company in South Africa to present development courses for less educated black people to ensure that they are also able to participate in the ownership of companies effectively. This course was implemented in April last year and entails basic financial management and accounting, management and certain legal compliance courses that are needed for running and managing a business. We are also the only company in the country to offer a retainer service to provide accredited training, and this helps businesses to plan properly for their own staff training,” he says.

Gerber, who has been involved in the development of these policies since before the 1994 elections has always been invested in the BEE development objective, believing in its potential to create sustainable economic opportunities for the majority of South Africans.

“If you look at the majority of current activities, from politics to crime and investment, these are all things that affect our day to day lives, and they are very much intertwined with the poverty and inequality we are seeing here in South Africa. For me, it is quite a remarkable privilege in my occupation to contribute to a better future for all South Africans. The majority of businesses offer a product—ours just happens to be an investment in South Africa,” he explains.

He also believes that not all government programmes have had the necessary positive impact and their outcomes have not been sufficient to address all the challenges facing South Africans today.

‘’We believe we have the necessary tools and experience to enhance the implementation of these programmes so that they really have an effect on people in the country. There must be real substance to what we do, so, for example, our learnership programmes have assisted almost 15% of the participants in receiving further tertiary education and today, they are employed.

“Our name—Serr—is a representation of our own approach to achieving success and that is strategy, execution, results and rewards. Every activity we undertake with a client must be able to be positioned within the broader strategy of that company, and the strategy is executed on a strict timeline and budget, with a strong focus on the results and rewards emanating from those activities,” he says.

Looking ahead, Gerber hopes to open more offices across the country and increase their reach, especially in rural areas where they have identified a significant lack of expertise in this field.

“We also expect that with BEE being so connected to political ideology, it will remain a central theme in up and coming election strategies, going forward. There is no political party today that would survive without taking a stand or developing their own policy on BEE, land reform and economic redress. I think that all parties recognise the importance of all three areas but they are battling to find solutions and they also all differ on their approach. So, we all agree that they need to be addressed but we can’t agree how. What we need is strong leadership to bring all of these views together and to find common ground on how to best tackle those challenges,” he says.

Gerber also believes that, over and above BEE compliance, companies need to start paying more attention to the areas of skills, enterprise and socio-economic development, despite the fact that many businesses still deem those costs as a type of a tax they pay to get more BEE points.

“We attempt to take that expense and turn it into an investment in the company. This includes upskilling their workers and training unemployed people who can then be employed by the business. There is also socio-economic development where we do branding for the company in the communities where they trade and do business,” he explains.

An admitted Attorney who specialises in labour and corporate law, Gerber considers the time he served on the National Peace Committee in the run-up to the 1994 elections as a significant part of his career. During this time, he facilitated dispute negotiations with various groups and he was also part of the commission that gave input into the new Labour Relations Act of 1994 and 1995.

“Last year, I also completed my Master’s in Law from the University of Pretoria (UP) where I was the first postgraduate to do extensive research on BEE fronting—which is essentially cheating to improve your BEE score.

“I was the first to do my qualification in that direction and I am now in the process of obtaining my doctorate—also with UP—on the interface between the constitution and BEE law. This involves some international research where I am looking specifically at countries with similar redress policies, like the USA, South Korea and India,” Gerber says.

At the heart of Serr Synergy’s product offering are the people, where they essentially sell people to businesses. “So, what we offer our clients is essentially our staff,” he says.

“In order to build strong relationships, we must ensure that our own staff are properly trained, recruited and remunerated. Within our company, I believe it’s important to foster a culture of mutual trust and create an environment conducive to innovation.

“Our training and development policy within the company and our broader HR policy is based on the principle that we must train our people well enough so that they can leave, but treat them well enough that they don’t want to,” he says.

Gerber, therefore, doesn’t believe in micromanaging staff and prefers coaching rather than commanding people. Serr Synergy management receives training on how to develop their own units, how to work as a team and all the necessary techniques to effectively pick up on and resolve disputes and to pre-empt any behaviour that might jeopardise the team.

“We also believe that the staff learn more from their peers than from their managers, so we develop each staff member to become a leader, where each one feels empowered to change the environment around them.

“My personal philosophy is that you must make sure that you learn something new every day; never think you know enough, you should know enough to know how little you know. I also believe that when you lead with passion, the work no longer feels like a job but rather something you enjoy doing,” Gerber concludes. 

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