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What Kuseni Dlamini had to say about Lazarus Zim

Businessman Lazarus Zim.

Businessman Lazarus Zim.

Published Nov 25, 2021

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After Businessman Lazarus Zim’s epic book review at the Dubai Expo this week, The Star looked back at lecturer and now Chairman of Massmart South Africa Kuseni Dlamini’s 2005 comment about one of SA’s premium CEO’s.

Zim received raving reviews on his tell-all book ‘Time and Chance - daring to dream; where the countries corporate politics, former presidents Mbeki and Zuma were laid bare.

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Dlamini wrote:

Last week's appointment of Lazarus Zim as chief executive of Anglo American South Africa was as unprecedented as it was significant.

Not surprisingly, it has generated debate around the extent to which it is meaningful.

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Most analyses have tended to emphasise the transformation aspects of the appointment. That is wrong.

I want to argue that while transformation motives may have played a key role in the decision to appoint Zim, we should view his appointment within a broader global context that increasingly requires global companies to approach the issue of executive appointments and succession differently.

We should stop viewing the appointment of talented and accomplished top executives like Zim only in terms of transformation simply because they are black.

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Black professionals have more to offer to business than their blackness or supposed connections with the government.

They work hard at business schools and universities to hone their commercial and intellectual skills.

I see this among my students doing honours and masters in international relations at Wits University.

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Some work as hard as any student at Oxford or Harvard and indeed some go on to take up places at those global institutions of higher learning.

It is therefore wrong, if not cruel, for the media or any company to couch their employment or promotion in transformation terms as that underplays the fact that they have excelled along the way to get to where they are.

But why is this appointment not like any other done by any other company in this country? First, Anglo is the country's largest corporation. What it does or does not do matters.

Even the statements made by its chief executive are rigorously analysed as with Tony Trahar's comments to the Financial Times last year on the issue of political risk in South Africa.

Second, Zim's appointment is a clear and explicit message from Anglo that it is fully committed to enhancing its intellectual capabilities to enable it to deal with the challenge of doing business in increasingly complex markets.

Zim has a very successful track record as an executive in the telecommunications sector where he championed MTN's successful penetration of the African market.

His elevation into Anglo's executive committee should enhance the group's ability to stand its own in the globally competitive resources sector, which is always in a state of flux.

Third, this appointment is a departure from established Anglo tradition and practice that required one to have attended a top private school and then Oxford or Cambridge University before one could dream of making it to the top.

This created perceptions of Anglo as an arrogant Oxbridge Anglo Saxon and patrician company.

This is now changing, as indeed it must if the company is to position itself as an employer of choice that can attract the talent required to ensure sustainable competitiveness.

Fourth, Zim's appointment indicates the extent to which Anglo is prepared to enhance its top-level executive talent to enable the company to effectively deal with both national and global challenges.

Anglo is more than a company. It is an institution. Its past, present and future roles and impact on society were and are far-reaching.

Big companies anywhere in the world can play helpful or destructive roles in their societies depending on the choices made by their leaders.

That is why, in the final analysis, companies are as good or as ethical and respected as their leaders are. Choosing the right leaders is therefore one of the burning corporate strategic challenges of our time.

South Africa needs more world-class corporate leaders like Brian Gilbertson, Bobby Godsell, Nicky Oppenheimer, Phuthuma Nhleko, Graham McKay, Gary Ralfe, Donald Gordon, Anton Rupert, Sean Summers and others.

We need more local companies to assume global leadership positions in their industries and take their places on the Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 lists.

Alternatively, we need to produce a critical mass of world-class local executives who can be employed to run the leading companies in the world so they can use their positions to take decisions to invest in South Africa.

The South African motor industry is used by global automobile manufacturers as a training ground for their global leadership.

Top global executives like Jurgen Schremp, Jim Miller, Lewis Booth and most recently Ian Robertson and Christophe Kopke were assigned responsibilities in South Africa before they assumed high-level global responsibilities in their companies.

The length of time taken to fill some of the top executive jobs in South Africa partly reflects the lack of top-level executive talent that is equipped to manage in a globally competitive and complex business landscape.

Cost pressures and the "tyranny of quarterlies" have forced most big companies to have a short-term and conservative approach towards human capital investment. That is wrong.

If every company does that, where will the future leaders come from?

If some companies invest in human capital development and others do not, the net effect is an increase in the cost of scarce human capital and this creates the "free rider effect".

The fact that Zim is a product of Anglo's bursary scheme reflects the return on investment in human capital that companies stand to gain in the medium to long term.

Zim's confirmation as head of Anglo's local operations was, by most accounts, waiting to happen from the day he was appointed deputy chief executive in August 2003.

His appointment means that he has escaped the "curse of deputies syndrome", which often ends with the humiliation of people appointed as deputies with a view to take over from the big boss when others are appointed over their heads to take the big job.

At the time, Dlamini worked for AngloGold Ashanti and lectured in International Relations at Wits University. He is currently the Chairman of Massmart SA

The Star

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