Andrea Vinassa Interviews Bonang Mohale, CEO of Drake & Scull Facilities Management
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Bonang Mohale is a black executive in corporate South Africa. It’s a tough job, but, hey, someone’s got to do it. And Mohale thrives on it. He is approachable and self-effacing, and embodies that over-worked label "achiever".
Although he has had numerous opportunities to go into business for himself and to participate in a variety of BEE initiatives, he has chosen to be a "corporate animal" in the jungle that is "white business" in South Africa.
This role is something of a calling, a personal social responsibility to lead the way, to shine the light on the pathway so that other black managers can follow.
"There must be a role for successful black executives in white companies, in as much as there is a role for them in state-owned enterprises, BEE consortia, etc," he says, with meaningful positions adding value to the running of the organisation, not just in support functions like corporate affairs, affirmative action manager and government relations manager. The role of black managers is to transform, amongst other things, the business model, the race and gender profiles, on many levels, companies that are now required to become internationally competitive.
"To me BEE comprises the many instruments we have that are transformative in nature; we are changing anything and everything about this society. That’s why it is so exciting to be living in this country. Think about it: we are changing our healthcare system, we are changing our political system, we are changing our educational system. There is nothing that we have been doing for the last 46 years that will escape the scrutiny of the South African public.
"If you look at it scientifically, we have made a lot of progress. We [black people] owned less that 2% of the market capitalisation of the JSE; that went up to almost 9,7% in 1997, representing almost 40 billion African rands at the time. Of course it can be improved upon, but you experiment, you try things and you stick with the ones that work."
A past president of the Black Management Forum and a board member for many years, Mohale has been working at bringing people who were previously on the fringes of the economy into the mainstream.
He has also demonstrated how effective one person can be in bringing about change in big corporations. Invited by Sanlam chairman Marinus Daling and CEO Leon Vermaak to "help turn around the big juggernaut" that was Sanlam, he spent two years helping to transform it in every way.
Mohale understood early on that the successful of Sanlam would have to be at least on three levels: the rational, emotional and political level.
He says BEE is a planned and positive process and strategy that is aimed at transforming the socio-economic environment which has excluded PDIs, in order for these individuals to gain access to opportunities, including developmental opportunities based on suitability.
"BEE is not about disadvantaging anyone; it is about accelerating the development of PDIs. It is about ensuring that the cake becomes bigger; as the cake becomes bigger all of us can partake to our satisfaction. It’s not about fighting for crumbs."
But Mohale is no mere manager, he is also a leader and before talking about his leadership style, insists that you understand the difference between management and leadership: "I define leadership as creating, interpreting and articulating the future. Leadership is about showing your people the dream on top of the mountain. It’s about motivating and inspiring people.
"Management is about what happens when you are there; leadership is about what happens when you are not there. Management is about effectiveness and efficiencies as you climb the corporate ladder; leadership is about making sure the ladder is leaning against the correct wall to start off with.
That said, Mohale describes his management style as "very decisive, participative and consultative, but also, it’s leadership that is people-based because business is about people. The definition of leadership is getting things done through other people, with other people, for other people. Sometimes we forget the people, so whatever we do, I always want to remember the people involved.
"That’s very important to me, because success is about many things. It’s about a progressive realisation of a worthy ideal; it’s about achieving embarrassingly good results at work, but ensuring that you are still married to the same person that you fell in love with when you were young. It’s also about spending time, energy and effort in the community as a moral obligation. And then, lastly, it is about ensuring that you have some sort of spirituality."
Spirituality as distinct from religion and "a recognition that things happen for a reason and that all of us are interconnected".
Mohale draws much of his inspiration from African, writers, autobiographies and general business books. He has recently completed two of US author Margaret Wheatley’s books - The Simpler Way and Synchronicity.
He is fascinated by her use of quantum physics to explain how every small event has effect somewhere else on the planet. This has made him aware of how his actions as a manager touch the lives of many people every day.
His management style, on the other hand, is very organised, very disciplined and focused on achieving results, not just a list of activities. "I’m not concerned with what people do on an hour-by-hour basis; I am interested in whether they are able to achieve that which they set themselves to do on a particular day because the best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work embarrassingly well."
He is now at Drake & Scull FM (SA) to take the company "from good to great", in the words of John Collins, author of From Good To Great, which he was reading when he conducted this interview.
"Africa is perceived as a basket case and we have to show by example, not just passionate words, that we can achieve excellence."