Oceana Group committed to long term value creation

A lasting impact centering on transformation, job and food security


Oceana is a fishing company on the surface, but it’s so much more, deep down. Please take us through your proud 100-year history by telling us about your journey to corporate citizenship and how you have attained the status of Africa’s biggest fishing company?

From a humble beginning in a tiny West Coast fishing village when Lamberts Bay Canning Company Ltd was established
in 1918, Oceana has grown into South Africa’s largest fishing company and is among the most empowered companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Oceana has overcome numerous challenges and we can count many great achievements in our hundred-year history. Presently we employ over 5 000 people in 15 production facilities and operations in South Africa, Namibia, Angola and the USA, and manage a fleet of 55 vessels.

An important milestone was achieved in 2006 when the Oceana Empowerment Trust (OET) was established to unlock and convert the value of harvesting fishing rights into shared, broad-based value for eligible black South African employees. Currently, the OET has 10% shareholding in Oceana with a market value of R900 million. To put that into perspective, the OET is the largest 100% black-owned fishing entity in South Africa in terms of ownership value. As of June 2019, 2 460 beneficiaries have received over R400 million through the Trust, allowing them to become financially empowered active participants in South Africa’s formal economy. Perhaps our greatest achievement is the progress made in driving effective transformation in the industry by becoming a majority black-owned and black-controlled company in 2011.

What is your core business and core purpose, how do you interweave sustainability in all that you do?

Our core business is the catching, procuring, processing, marketing and distribution of canned fish, fishmeal, fish oil, horse mackerel, hake, lobster and squid. In addition, we provide refrigerated warehouse facilities and logistical support. We market and sell
close to 300 000 tons of fish and fish products for consumers in 46 countries in Africa, North America, Asia, Europe and Australia.

Oceana is home to one of South Africa’s most iconic household names, Lucky Star. Lucky Star’s range of canned pilchards satisfies the hunger of more than three million South Africans every day, with an affordable source of high-quality fish protein, and has become a market leader in its category since establishment in 1959. Lucky Star is primarily canned at our operations on the South African West Coast, providing jobs for over 2 500 people in these communities.

Any company that is afforded the right to fish must prove their ability and commitment to convert these rights into broad-based social and economic benefits in a sustainable and inclusive manner. Our business is dependent on the sustainability of marine resources in all geographies in which we operate. We rely on the strong relationships within our network of coastal communities and regulators in South Africa, Namibia and the USA. In South Africa and Namibia in particular, marine resources must be protected for future generations and we must set the example by effectively addressing numerous environmental and socio-economic challenges, not just in the commercial fishing industry but also in the wider South African and Namibian economies.

What are your thoughts on the state of the ocean economy, particularly in the South African context?

A transformed commercial fishing industry is a key to unlocking economic development in South Africa because fishing value chains offer opportunities for inclusive growth and employment at variable skills levels and can be accessible in rural coastal communities. Contrary to popular belief, large portions of the commercial fishing industry are well transformed from an ownership point of view. However, we still need to do much more to enhance transformation at participation level, particularly in areas of marine science, engineering, vessel crewing, supply chain, artisans, food safety and supply of vessels and related equipment. The development of the small-scale fishing sector and the enhancing of skills in this area is paramount to longer term success. In our context, extending the old adage, teaching a man to fish is not enough. We have to empower him, firstly by providing a fishing rod and then by providing an outlet for him to sell his fish at a respectable price.

Our biggest challenge, however, will be the creation of additional economic opportunities from a largely static supply of fresh fish from our oceans. In order to grow we need to increase investment in the farming of various fish species to increase supply and cause the knock-on positive impact on jobs and required economic impetus.

How has Oceana contributed to South Africa’s ocean economy and what impact have you made on the sector?

As Africa’s largest fishing company, we have seen the evidence of our capacity to effect positive change in the industry. South Africa’s commercial fishing industry is one of the most transformed sectors in the economy, setting it up to become a major contributor to defeating poverty, unemployment and inequality. I am confident that we have a sustainability strategy that enables us to convert fishing rights into shared value and continue to deliver social and environmental dividends to society.

Oceana is a major employer in the coastal communities in which we operate, and we play a key role in supporting the socio-economic conditions in these communities through direct and indirect employment. We place a strong emphasis on being a leading employer and on providing employment opportunities in an environment where job security remains under threat.

To secure our continued operations and the jobs of more than 2 500 staff members employed at our canneries in Laaiplek and St Helena Bay, Oceana invested more than R35 million in two desalination plants as our response to the threat of the Western Cape water crisis, which would have shut down our operations if day zero had occurred. Furthermore, to ensure that we continue producing Lucky Star throughout the year, Oceana imports 90% of Lucky Star’s pilchards supply from other fisheries around the world to process in these canneries. In so doing, we play an important role in South Africa’s food security and ensure all year-round employment for our cannery staff.

We remain one of the very few commercial fishing companies that provides minimum guaranteed hours to our seasonal employees in the West Coast so that they have an income stream throughout the year, making us an important contributor to job security in this region.

In terms of strategic growth, what do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

We firmly believe that our capacity to create value is inextricably linked to the value it creates for its stakeholders, society and the broader environment. As a result, Oceana is gearing up to enter the next 100 years and write a new chapter for our company promoting broad-based transformation, and ensuring that our shareholders, our employees, the communities in which we operate, and the government all benefit from the value we create through making the best possible use of our fishing rights. Our focus will remain on empowerment, job creation and growing the required skills for the fishing industry, while seeking to diversify into longer term sustainable fish supply in aquaculture.

What are some of the most important leadership lessons you’ve learnt in your career and how have they moulded your brand of leadership?

My experience has taught me that we need to set a moral compass and do what is right for the country. Sometimes these actions might not be the most beneficial from a short-term commercial perspective but investing in resources and relationships that we depend on and doing the right things now that benefit all of us in the longer term, are fundamental to ensuring sustainable value creation.

What is your leadership style and how do you encourage your employees to grow and thrive?

One of the biggest responsibilities of a CEO is to ensure that you surround yourself with an exceptionally capable team. For the workforce to perform at their best they need to feel empowered. A person is truly empowered when they have the capacity to play a proactive role in defining their own future. Often one thinks only in terms of financial empowerment, and while this is obviously important, true empowerment means that your input, insights and opinions are valued and help guide policy and strategy. I ascribe to a brand of leadership that promotes authentic interaction, participation, decisiveness and relentless striving for excellence with limited tolerance for mediocrity.

To you, what separates a good leader from a great leader?

Good leadership is when you’ve enabled an organisation to create value during your tenure. Great leadership is when the organisation is able to deliver sustained value creation in your absence.

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