by Babington Maravanyika

LFP is moving mountains

Transformation becomes relatively easy to implement if it is led by a transformed and motivated individual as is the case at LFP

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Transformation becomes relatively easy to implement if it is led by a transformed and motivated individual as is the case at LFP, which has a youthful CEO who exudes passion for his job

Agents of Transformation, LFP was formed six years ago, and has moved mountains in terms of what it has been able to achieve over this relatively short period of time.

“We call ourselves Agents of Transformation because of the change we effect on the landscape of companies with regards to BEE,” says Louis Pulzone, founder and CEO of LFP Group. LFP stands for Leadership, Focus and Passion.

“It’s important to know that within the BEE environment, people are very reluctant to implement because they don’t understand the actual benefit of BEE to the company. We started with this Agent of Transformation drive where we educate companies on the right way to implement BEE strategies within a company,” says Pulzone.

LFP only started with training in 2013 and has now diversified to become the only company that provides a turnkey BEE solution. “What that entails is, we do everything from consulting, to software development, to verification facilitation, to the implementation of enterprise supplier development (ESD) skills development initiatives, etc. Our company has also been really focused on BEE and as I have said, it’s ready to change people’s minds from BEE being a grudge purchase in many ways to BEE being a revenue growth strategy. So far, we have done so successfully for well over a thousand clients over the past seven years,” he says.

The company is 30% owned by employees, the majority of whom are black. Pulzone says as an Agent of Transformation, the company has had to transform internally first.

Pulzone went to an agricultural school in Kroonstad and then started working for a JSE-listed company soon after school. He worked for the company for seven years and then started consulting in a training department in a services environment.

“I started aggressively pursuing temporary employment services versus permanent employment. Then, I developed the idea that if we can employ people temporarily, why can’t we employ them permanently? And that was essentially where my journey started from a services perspective, and more so in educating companies and then educating people,” says the passionate CEO.

He started consulting in that space first, assisting companies to take what used to be temporary employees via labour brokers and giving them permanent positions. He says temporary employment was a way for a lot of employers to get away from the proper employer-employee relationship, hence they preferred to have labour brokers.

LFP has 250 permanent employees and about 300 temporary employees who are moving into permanent employment. Most of its employees are based in Gauteng, where the company’s head office is located. LFP also has large offices in the Western Cape in Bellville and in Wadeville in KZN. It also has satellite branches in Port Elizabeth, East London and Bloemfontein, and will soon be visible in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

LFP offers mainly generic courses at the moment, namely administration, management, marketing and contact centre. Thus, its expertise lies mainly within a services environment.

“From our learnerships side, we recruit, we train and then we place them in employment. In most cases, if you have very unique skills, you limit the employability to a smaller number of companies versus when you train administrative courses. Everybody needs admin people, so we can easily place them in permanent employment. Our company has always been about permanent employment,” says Pulzone.

He attributes his company’s success in BEE to integrity and knowledge. “In a BEE environment, the entry level is very low. What I have discovered is that in skills development, specifically within BEE, everybody nowadays is a BEE consultant. If you have worked in a procurement position in some company in South Africa, you are suddenly a BEE expert. I think we succeeded because we pick the best people who understand and share the same values as us of what BEE can do for companies in South Africa and for the South African economy. I think that credibility is key. Once a company partners with us, they know that they will get credible solutions,” says Pulzone.

LFP has a trust—the LFP Transformation Trust. One of its trustees is Ntabiseng Phoshoko. Ntabiseng was the company’s first employee. She is now the commercial director, having gone through 11 promotions. She started as a facilitator.

LFP is not a BEE verification agency as accredited by the South African National Accreditation Systems (SANAS), but it discovered that its clients were scared to use any verification agency, hence, corporates turned to it for advice.

They consulted with LFP on which verification agency to use, since some of the SANAS accredited agencies were losing their accreditation for various reasons.

“We decided we were going to do verification facilitation where we go and check the infrastructure. So, we go out and partner with some of these verification agencies and see the credibility of their work before introducing clients. What clients then enjoy is a better understanding of the process and they also then know that this verification agency they pick would not jeopardise their accreditation for whatever reason. The industry is, in most cases, not very credible, so we took it upon ourselves to go and check their credibility,” says Pulzone.

Currently, LFP works with EmpowerLogic and Moore Stephens, and refers its clients to them because it knows they are credible. “The industry is contaminated by fly-by-nights. An interesting thing is that when we started on this journey six years ago, we were the only ones doing this, but now there are 63 people doing exactly the same thing in Johannesburg alone. The unfortunate thing in this environment in the South African economy, is that people pick compliance partners based on price. Based on these numbers, it’s important to do your homework to ensure that you partner with a credible supplier. I can tell you most of them do not know what they are doing,” says Pulzone.

LFP is a Skills Education Training Authority (SETA) accredited institution, training is their biggest business and is split into two sections. The first one is off-site solutions, which typically accommodate unemployed people, more so disabled people.

It has a recruitment company that continuously recruits and assesses unemployed disabled people in order for them to go on a learning experience. It then goes to corporate companies, does scenario planning via its consulting division and helps place the disabled people in jobs.

The second training solution is the online learnership platform that is also the only one that has been accredited by SETA. LFP has been audited by SETA and this online platform is the only one of its kind. The online programme caters to about 2 500 students at present. That platform has such a massive benefit for employees and companies as well.

“With that platform, we can now implement training solutions without costing the company productivity and upskill the people who are in employment and do it with the intention of what BEE is supposed to do. This platform is going to transform the way learnerships are being delivered in South Africa,” he explains.

LFP became motivated to focus on training disabled people when Pulzone checked the equity scorecards. He found that companies were not employing disabled people and that did not sit well with him because some people were selectively being excluded from the economy, yet the BEE code’s intention is to include everybody in the economy.

“We place great emphasis on finding employment opportunities for disabled people have have showed employers that they should not be scared of employing disabled people. We have successfully taken black unemployed disabled people, 85% of them women, and placed them in employment in six years,” says Pulzone.

He believes more could be employed if more companies were educated on the need to employ disabled people. He says companies should realise that employing disabled people is good for their BEE ranking and, therefore, their growth. Of the 12 000 total number of students under LFP, about 9 000 are disabled.

In terms of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Pulzone says he is excited about it, although many people think it will result in a decline in jobs.

“I see it as an opportunity to create jobs. We have created a number of apps and platforms that communicate to anywhere. I can give someone a tablet and access to Wi-Fi and I can give him a qualification. To me, that in its own should be an employment creator. I am attending Singularity University to get into that mindset.

“Imagine developing a platform that has consultants, verification agencies, HR people, etc. who have been vetted by us and who can service corporate South Africa. Now, imagine creating a platform for a large corporate, taking that platform to Soweto, they register on that platform and they can immediately communicate with a large corporate, such as Tiger Brands, about something they are able to supply. They will be able to do it at a cheaper cost, and so not only do I save Tiger Brands money, but I am also creating a real opportunity for somebody who could not receive access into a supply chain of large corporates,” says Pulzone.

He says people must use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to speak to one another—massive corporates to the small guy and vice-versa.

“We have developed software and apps, and everybody has access to a cellphone. So, there is so much we can do in that space and it excites me. Why should so many people fear the loss of jobs as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? I think if we sit together around a table, we can create a lot of jobs from this because we can now easily bring people together. We can create a mentorship programme in a virtual reality world for a manager, for an added skill. We can use so many of those tools to become more productive, hence, creating more jobs. More productivity means better company growth and more growth means more jobs. I am an entrepreneur and I always see job opportunities where others may not,” says Pulzone.

In terms of the challenges LFP has experienced in 2019, Pulzone says they have noticed a very low entry level of consultants and skills development providers into the BEE industry. He said because the entry level is so low, non-credible people are communicating information to clients. As a result, a lot of people visit LFP lamenting how they have been misled.

On the positive side, LFP has launched new software that’s going to be free for BEE users.

“We created an industry-specific BEE calculator that communicates not only to you within your company, but also to us, so that we can also consult for you for free because our intention is to implement BEE strategies successfully. The software that we are launching within the next month is a big step towards that. The tool is free for companies, the consultation is free, so we are really there to help them.

“We have also become involved with Miss SA as an associate sponsor. It’s outside of our normal scope but we honestly believe in women’s empowerment and what that can do for South African leadership as well. LFP employs 85% women. I think Miss SA is a good platform to communicate with our women and to promote youth empowerment,” he explains.

With regard to the advice he would give to people aspiring to get into his field, Pulzone says hard work is the answer. “People need to understand that nothing comes for free. I have mentored and spoken to many people who are younger than me and I always tell them they must be prepared to work very hard. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

“Read a lot of books and study leadership. To succeed, you have to be passionate about what you are doing. If you get into business for money without passion and motivation, you are unlikely to succeed because money comes and goes,” he says.

When it comes to leadership, Pulzone says it is a helping role. To be a successful leader, you have to be a server by nature. Leadership is a supporting role and not about being at the top.

Pulzone has numerous role models and cites Steve Jobs as one, saying he loves what Jobs did and that he changed the world. His persistence in changing the world was unequalled. For him, it was never about the money.

He also admires Nelson Mandela.

“When I read about him, what he had to go through, how he persisted on his path to change the world and the benefit it had for us, that was massive for one to achieve in a lifetime,” he says.

In closing, Pulzone says those who want to become entrepreneurs must realise that there are more opportunities in third world countries than in the first world.

“People must realise that becoming an entrepreneur in first world countries is difficult and that where South Africa is positioned at the moment, it is an entrepreneurial cloud and you just have to go for it,” he concludes.

Babington Maravanyika

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