LEADERSHIP IN SA 2018

Much has been written about corruption in the public sector. Much is being done to start tackling it. However, it is increasingly clear that corporate South Africa has not been left untouched by the rotten presidency of Jacob Zuma.

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He has left behind a legacy, which has ensconced corruption as an acceptable way of doing business. Some of it manifests in fraud and blatant disregard for the law, while other forms are more subtle. Often, it involves using legal means to skirt good governance and fiduciary responsibilities towards investors. Tax avoidance, self-enrichment and conflicts of interest abound and all count as acts of “legal corruption”.

What is equally amazing is the fact that many corporate executives do not understand who owns the companies they work for. They regard institutional asset managers as the ultimate shareholders and focus on them exclusively. The truth is that asset managers are nothing more than a conduit. The real owners of corporate South Africa are the ordinary men and women investing through retirement funds and unit trusts. Last year, identifying corporate leadership was easier. In my case, it took the form of taking an anti-corruption stance with a strong focus on state capture and all the participants in that heist, including companies such as KPMG, McKinsey, SAP and others. The world has, however, moved on since then and thankfully I can go back to running Sygnia. But I do not return unchanged. Hence, my next key challenge will be to focus on fighting and exposing corruption, poor governance and harmful business practices, which are detrimental to the savings of ordinary South Africans. Activism has long been absent from the South African asset management industry. A lot of value has been trapped in companies where a shift away from inefficiency, poor management or weak strategy towards good corporate governance and fair and transparent business practices should ultimately result in a positive investment outcome for investors. Thus, for me, leadership in 2018 is all about being brave enough to challenge the corporate status quo, even if that makes one unpopular. It is about following a moral compass, which is premised on doing the right thing, even if that comes at the cost of short-term profits. It is about remaining vocal and visible so others can follow.

Each one of us can do that within our own sphere of influence. It just so happens that my sphere is investments. I intend to use that power to try to effect change. Right now, South Africa resembles the Augean stables in need of a thorough clean up. The biggest risk we face is placing the entire burden of that clean up on the shoulders of one man, Cyril Ramaphosa. He might be a Herculean giant, but he is only one man. Right now, we need thousands of Herculeses.

Everyone needs to contribute. Only then can we unlock the potential of South Africa.

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