You’vebeen named Boss of the Year 2008. What does this mean to you?
It’s incredibly gratifying, particularly becauseit’s an affirmation of my leadership style and a vote of confidence from mypeers, colleagues and staff. It’s also important to me because it highlights toother young people the possibility of achieving anything you set your mind to,provided you pursue your goals with passion, commitment and focus.
What,to your mind, are the qualities of a great leader in business?
Leadership is about articulating the vision and forging acommonly-shared view of the future, and then being able to communicate that insuch a way that people at all levels within your organisation can understandand internalise it. To do this, I think you need to be able to anticipate thefuture and formulate a vision of the company’s position in that future.
It’s also important to remember that yourcharacter becomes associated with an organisation, so if you are cold anddistant, that will play itself out in the company and the people you lead. Ifyou are approachable and fair, those characteristics will filter down to alllevels. Finally, I think it’s important to live by the values you subscribe to.This creates consistency because people know what to expect from you.
Howwould you describe your leadership style?
I stronglybelieve in the wealth of collective ideas and in the richness that is to befound in diversity, so I’d describe my leadership style as inclusive andcollaborative. Having said that however, once I have consulted with allrelevant parties, considered all factors and made a final decision, I stick toit with absolute commitment.
What is the most challenging aspect of yourjob? Making tough – but necessary – decisions. The unpopular decisions areoften the right ones and they need to be made. When I took over here thecompany was unprofitable and we needed to close down a number of operationsthat were bleeding the organisation. Doing so was necessary to the overallhealth of the company, but that didn’t make the decision easy or the choicepopular. Retrenchment is always the last option and it’s always a tough periodto get through.
Howdid you manage that difficult time?
I always try toremember that people are individuals, not statistics, and need to be treatedwith dignity and respect, no matter what their position in an organisation. Thetea lady might be low down in the business hierarchy, but at home she is amother, household manager and decision-maker. My mother was retrenched when wewere growing up and I’ve never forgotten how we struggled afterwards. I try tobear that in mind and balance it with the need to make choices that are rightfor the company.
Whatdo you enjoy the most?
The huge diversity in thepeople who work here. Getting to know them individually and interacting withthem.
Wasthere any person in particular who served as a role model or mentor to you? My mother – undoubtedly. She was a black woman from the rural areaswith no education, but she raised eight children and instilled in us a respectfor the value of education. From her I learned resilience, humility, collectiveresponsibility and the importance of respecting other people.
Whatare you most proud of having achieved? Turning theorganisation around and putting it on track to meet its objective of being thebiggest, and the best, fresh produce market in Africa. Achieving our goalsrests on having the right people in place to operationalise the vision and I’vebeen very lucky to be able to put together a team of people who are the best intheir field.