From Kitchen Table to Boardroom Table

Well appointed Illovo offices, blue-chip clients, a leadership position in its niche, international growth, no debt and a positive cash flow… Talent Africa puts a tick in all these boxes, yet it’s a start-up that began life in the depths of recession.

The business principals moved from an oak kitchen table to a walnut boardroom table in two years – an encouragement to every entrepreneur, both young and old, with more ideas than money.

The company offers integrated talent solutions to corporates, with strong focus on the recruitment of senior executives and professionals. The founding vision called for world-class development of customised talent solutions for every client, local or global.

Yet this “home grown” business started life in the kitchen of the Sandton home of co-founder Auguste ‘Gusti’ Coetzer.

Home doubled as initial offices until Talent Africa moved to its well positioned premises in Illovo in late 2011. Yet in the first two years, all the strategic decisions that drove unprecedented growth were made in the ‘kitchen boardroom’.

In that time, Coetzer and her partners cooked up a recipe for entrepreneurial success involving just six ingredients …

1. Self-funding is smart funding: even with interest rates at historical lows, it still makes sense to commit your own money – it motivates high performance.

2. Strength matters more than size: five strong partners (four women professionals and a seasoned businessman) launched the business. They remain a tight-knit unit with a passion for what they do.

3. Small doesn’t stop you being world class: adopt world best practice from the outset and deal only with top international associates.

4. Be the solution you sell: Talent Africa is hired by firms looking to build multi-racial, multi-talented, gender-empowered executive teams – a model solution adopted from day one by this start-up. This isn’t window-dressing. We were committed to achieving a BBBEE level 2 rating. Live your values and clients respond.

5. Be multi-generational empowered: a range of skills, experience and insights balances the business, even a small one. Partners with different ages, from the early 30s to the 60s, bring built-in balance. Older contributors draw from the risk taking attributes of the youth. Younger top team members benefit from access to wise and experienced older heads.

6. Get a good accountant and lawyer: legal requirements, compliance issues and red tape complicate local business growth. Among the first outsiders you hire should be a top legal and accounting professional to handle these matters.

“Our recession-tested business model continues to serve us well,” says Gusti Coetzer.

“In less than two years, we repaid our seed capital from earnings. Our new offices create the ideal ‘face’ for a business focused on senior corporate talent, but overheads are still strictly controlled.

“We interrogate every expense. Growth has not gone to our heads.

The kitchen-table heritage helps keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Annelize van Rensburg, another founder-partner, comments: “We’re not embarrassed by our beginnings. They’re inspirational. We still chase every business lead with the same energy. We’re still passionate about our business and totally absorbed in the search for ideal solutions.

“We now serve agri-business, the airlines, telecommunications, financial services and manufacturing as well as multinationals eager to build revenue streams across Africa.

“These building blocks were all in place in our first two years – the period when 62% of local start-ups fail. We succeeded against the odds because we stayed humble, stayed faithful to our founding vision and stayed disciplined. Other start-ups can do the same …”

Auguste Coetzer

Director Executive Search


Collaboration: Who Needs It?

Collaboration has become a business buzzword, a strategic requirement and a career-enhancing skill in a remarkably short time. Until recently, terms like ‘execution-focused’ and ‘outcome-driven’ featured high on the ambitious manager’s Curriculum Vita. Today, ‘proven collaborative skills’ is the attribute the savvy candidate is apt to highlight in the quest for a top job.

At the same time, executive coaches find senior managers increasingly seek guidance on how to foster a more collaborative culture or adapt to one.

What’s going on?

Follow the money and the reasons for the collaboration focus become clear.

Turning ideas into value through workplace collaboration is a core competence at successful 21st century companies. This model helped Apple drive earnings per employee to $419 528 in 2011. The figure at Google is $335 297 per head.

Substantial corporate gains were also spotlighted by a meta-analysis at Gallup Research Centre.

Researchers scrutinised 199 studies across 26 countries, 44 industries and 152 organisations. They found high employee engagement via collaboration and greater connectedness drove up profitability by 16% while productivity rose 18%. Quality rocketed by 60% and customer loyalty moved 12% higher.

It’s no accident that technology companies are among the first beneficiaries as they are close to collaborative communication tools like social media and collaborative software (groupware).

In the private sphere, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter build personal networks, tap new input from friends and foster the evolution of ideas and projects. In the business world, collaborative platforms and practices can help companies achieve similar benefits.

Essentially, business collaboration is a cooperative arrangement enabling several parties to achieve common objectives. Collaboration can be limited to specific projects or extended into multiple spheres.

It can entail cooperation with outside parties (external collaboration) or collaboration within an organisation (cross-sectional collaboration) when people from different units or disciplines work in tandem, often by adopting e-tools.

Collaboration involves more than just teamwork. Forums or mechanisms for idea-sharing usually have to be created.

Consensus-building across groups becomes important in the formulation of plans that then develop strong momentum on the back of organisation-wide buy-in.

Fundamental changes in the relationship between leaders and employees may occur. Management styles are often affected and a major cultural shift may be necessary.

Departmental responsibilities may expand or require redefinition. Human Resource departments may have to take on new roles and introduce new forms of training and performance measurement.

Closer Human Resource and Information Technology cooperation is usually called for as well.

All the literature on this new approach to running a business makes the same point: collaboration is not for everyone.

So how can the currently non-collaborative company tell if it needs collaboration?

As a rule of thumb, if you answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions you should at least consider a move toward greater collaboration.

Is your business slow to bring innovations to market and is regularly upstaged by more nimble competitors? Are you sometimes aggrieved to find that good ideas have ‘slipped through cracks in the desk’ or have languished in ‘File 13’ for months before coming to your attention? Does productivity lag industry benchmarks or world norms despite persistent efforts at improvement?

If you nodded to all three, you have to mull over some important additional questions.

What improvements might be achieved by creating a collaborative workplace? Is there a compelling business case for such a shift?

How much collaboration might you need? Will it be project-specific or organisation wide?

What investments in e-tools are needed?

What employment and recruitment practices need to change to bring on board talented people who will thrive in a collaborative environment?

What obstacles to collaboration are there? Some top performers might be collaboration-resistant. Some specialists and mavericks don’t work well in groups.

Are you prepared for collaboration’s dark side?

Often, collaboration adds to the workload. Time spent collaborating with colleagues may have to be made up by putting in extra time on an individual’s core job.

Instant accessibility via email, SMS, cellphones and other mechanisms can upset work-life balance. Consulting colleagues and bouncing ideas off your peers can eat up your working day, evenings and weekends.

What about collaboration overkill?

Engagement and consensus-seeking can lead to long discussions, meetings and follow-up meetings. At its worst, collaboration deteriorates into a perpetual indaba.

How will you cope if frustration sets in and important contributors complain that collaboration means all talk and no action?

Many South African companies have already weighed the pros and cons and are ready to adopt the new model.

Some directors and senior executives have developed a consensus of their own. They increasingly acknowledge that collaborative leadership is the wave of the future and they are joining their organisations in a great collaborative leap forward.

Did they jump or were they pushed? It won’t much matter if they secure anything like the leap in profits and productivity that has been recorded by high-flying collaborative companies worldwide.

By Auguste Coetzer and Dr Marietjie van der Walt

SA is the Stepping Stone to Africa – For Now

Current executive recruitment trends in Africa are rapidly becoming both a confirmation of conventional wisdom and a challenge to it. Yes, SA is the springboard into Africa for many companies, as our national strategists say. But how long will that status hold, given the high rate of growth in alternatives such as Nigeria?

Several trends demand attention. The first relates to Africa’s growing appeal in a changing world no longer dominated by the European and US markets. Africa’s population topped one billion in 2009, according to a United Nations revision of population numbers. So, increasing numbers of consumers underpin economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa’s economic growth shows faster recovery than many European and North American economies. The numbers also show that growth is often stronger outside SA ’s borders.

Africa’s rapidly improving prospects are reflected by changing volumes at an executive search specialist such as Talent Africa. By the middle of last year, 21% of search assignments were for placements elsewhere in Africa, or with African scope from a South African base. That percentage has doubled in two years.

Several other developments deserve comment. The South African diaspora is beginning to go into reverse. South Africans who left for overseas find their skills are less marketable in low-growth economies. They are returning to SA and often welcome deployment in Africa.

This trend supports our hub positioning, as does the current mix of Africa-bound candidates. South Africans predominate, followed by executives from Zimbabwe, then Nigerians (a fast-growing category), then Kenyans.

Even when candidates are Nigerian or Kenyan, hub infrastructure such as OR Tambo International Airport is often helpful. Top executive performers are frequent flyers. It is possible to make initial contacts and carry out interviews at the airport or in nearby Sandton before they fly out to other African destinations.

In some important respects, official policy could ultimately undermine SA’s positioning as a talent hub. Some recruitment requirements are extremely onerous. For instance, before skilled expatriates can be recruited by SA-based companies, it must be proved that local candidates cannot do those jobs to the same level of competence.

SA is happy to import flat-screen TVs but not so happy to import skills that grow the economy.

Further challenges are created by the application of black economic empowerment legislation to multinationals and some smaller businesses.

Other developments also challenge SA’s hub status. Many places with rising placement volumes are much closer to East or West Africa than SA. The discovery of oil in Uganda has led to a strong focus there. The oil and non-oil economy of Nigeria also attracts growing attention. Placements into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana are also rising.

In recent months, the top four placement destinations outside SA have been Lagos, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Kampala. Volumes are tilting to the north.

The quality of African candidates from outside SA is also material. Executives from other African countries frequently have stellar qualifications and may have studied in Europe or the US. This creates a challenge to SA’s education system to produce top performers capable of having an effect in the business world.

The sheer weight of numbers being hired in high-growth economies to the north is also pertinent. The African Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank estimated growth in Nigeria and Tanzania last year at 6,9%, with the Congo expected to grow by 8,4%. The report put Nigeria among Africa’s 10 fastest growing economies, with SA among the 10 slowest.

Admittedly, SA has a large economic base and a head start over most of Africa, but a lot of business excitement is now focused further north.

The speed with which some African authorities process international executive work permits is also an eye-opener.  In an increasingly global economy, ready access to top talent helps drive continued growth.

Therefore, talent acquisition has to be promoted rather than stalled. Winning nations that grow jobs are both business-friendly and relocation-friendly.

All in all, SA retains its position as the stepping stone into Africa. But the question gathers urgency: For how long?

Annelize Van Rensburg is a director of Talent Africa.

Copycats Or The Leading Lions Of Africa?

Leadership is often the underlying goal when boards of directors and senior corporate executives embark on strategy formulation. Unfortunately, “followership” is often preferred in practice — a worrying trait as Africa tries to shake off its status as the continent that is perennially at the back of the queue.

Two common factors are usually apparent. The first is the urgent need for answers and the second is the habit of dependence. Directors and CEOs are under pressure to produce results, which is why they call in leadership and strategy consultants in the first place. The subconscious desire is for a quick fa. Off-the-peg solutions can then seem irresistible, while the consultant’s role may be seen solely as that of a facilitator of best practice from elsewhere. In fact, a more fundamental assessment is necessary if the uniqueness of an organisation’s situation is to be understood properly.

Leaders can focus so strongly on answers that they fail to understand the questions properly. Yet a thorough understanding of problems invariably leads to new appreciation of leadership opportunities. However, it requires discipline to spend time within the problem, thinking through the possibilities. Thinking is good, but a leader’s starting point is listening. Again, it is necessary to be thorough about it by listening to all stakeholders. Industrialisation occurred first in the West. Therefore, Africa has no first-mover advantage. We have to exploit our last-mover advantage instead. One of our continent’s big problems is lack of infrastructure (one result of coming last), but even this can be turned to advantage. Most countries in Africa don’t have to worry about amortising investments in old smokestack industries. Without this baggage, African business can focus instead on new, green industries. Sometimes we make a start, but fail to follow through. For instance, the wind-up radio is an Anglo-African development that was commercialised in South Africa.

Other ideas came through like wind-up cellphone power generators and wind-up torches, but you can’t help thinking that if this breakthrough had been pioneered by the Asian Tigers or the United States, a substantial wind-up industry would today be in place. Other opportunities exist. Our continent is potentially the world’s biggest cellphone market, thanks to a combination of long distances and almost non-existent telephone-line networks. Our need for affordable, reliable communication should turn us into the drivers of cellphone-industry innovation, but the tendency is to wait for 3G and 4G solutions to be developed in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. This brings us to the second impediment to real leadership — the habit of dependence. We are well aware of the scourge of “dumping” in a trade sense, but fail to realise that intellectual dumping also happens. Some of our teachers regard outcomes-based education as an example.

We decided to cut and paste an educational prescription from international sources, when we might have developed initiatives suited to our own circumstances if we had the discipline to deal with the problem and define our own solutions. While it is important to learn from the First World, our last-mover advantage allows us to learn from its mistakes … and then do something else. We should also have the confidence to pursue our own best interests. Leaders know where profit and growth lie, and are not afraid to head in that direction. A current example involves our membership in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of emerging economic powers. The Brics forum can become a talking shop or can be commercialised to our advantage.

Ways of achieving this goal become evident simply by applying the mantra “turn the problem into the opportunity”. South Africa suffers from geographic isolation. We sit at the tip of Africa rather than its centre. We’re at the end of the line — being the hub would suit us better. Our hub objective might be realised by seeking a Brics role as a shipbuilding centre and seaborne freight services provider on the Brazil-SAIndia-China trade route. As shipping services provider to the Brics, we would become central to the new economic-power bloc. To achieve the desired differentiation, we have to overturn past norms. Leadership like this requires courage as you deliberately set the country (or organisation) apart. Dramatic achievement of leadership status is rarely achieved, and admittedly, it’s safer not to stand out.

Perhaps we crave acceptance rather than leadership. There are historical reasons for this. Many of those reasons —generations of exploitation and colonisation — also applied in the East. That did not inhibit the emergence of the Asian Tigers. They were not content to remain copycats. They sought future advantage from the disadvantages they suffered in the past. If we are so keen to learn from overseas, let’s learn that lesson as well.

Dr Simo Lushaba is chairperson of Talent Africa, a provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development. ‘Thinking is good, but a leader’s starting point is listening: Dr Simo Lushaba is chairperson of Talent Africa. 



Green Champions Wanted

‘Going Green’ is on the strategic agenda of many South African corporates, but are they going far enough?

Auguste Coetzer; a founding member, shareholder and director of Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development believes that the answer is a resounding no, at least when it comes to senior executive accountability.

Read more – Business Report (Pretoria News) – 29 Nov 2011

Van Baas Tot Klaas Moet Groen Dink

Om groen te wees is deesdae op die strategiese agenda van die meeste Suid-Afrikaanse maatskappye.

Om goed te wees vir die omgewing kan immers ook goed wees vir sakebedrywighede.

Lees verder – 4 Sept 2011

Landboubesighede Borg Studente vir LBK Kongres

Die Landboubesigheidskamer (LBK) het aan tien topstudente van vyf universiteite in Suid-Afrika se landboufakulteite die geleentheid gegun om die LBK Kongres op 2 en 3 Junie 2010 in Somerset-Wes by te woon.  Die inisiatief is moontlik gemaak deur die bereidwilligheid van verskeie landboubesighede wat die studente geborg het om die geleentheid vir hul te bewerkstellig.

Lindie Stroebel, LBK se bestuurder vir ekonomiese inligting en finansies, sê: “Die doel van die projek is om ‘n platvorm vir studente te skep om eerstehandse kennis op te doen oor aktuele onderwerpe wat deur deskundiges aangebied word;  kennis te maak met sakepersone in top posisies van landboubesighede;  en om idees en ervaringe met mekaar te deel.  Die sukses van die projek is reeds gesien in die netwerke wat tydens die kongres tussen landboubesighede en studente gevorm is en positiewe terugvoering wat van beide partye ontvang is na afloop van die kongres”.

Die LBK het deelnemende universiteite genooi om hul top senior studente wat in landbou-ekonomie, of ‘n verwante landboubesigheidsrigting studeer, aan te wys om die kongres by te woon.   Fakulteitshoofde het studente op meriete geëvalueer en slegs die topstudente is afgevaardig.

Studente wat die kongres bygewoon het, is:  Wim Grobbelaar en Jaco Hanekom ( Universiteit van die Vrystaat);  Harshil Mitha en Charl (Nando) Baard (Universiteit van Stellenbosch); Michelle Browne, Guy Ducasse en Garreth Sparks (Universiteit KwaZulu Natal);  Jacques Schoeman,  Charmaine ka Makhaya en Nico Scheltema (Universiteit van Pretoria).

“Dit is goed om te sien dat landboubesighede en die LBK in studende, die deskundiges van die toekoms, belê”, sê Jaco Hanekom (UOVS).  “Die LBK Kongres was sonder twyfel een van die beste konferensies wat ek nog bygewoon het.  Dit het my die geleentheid gegee om leiers van groot landboubesighede te ontmoet en te leer by die sprekers, wat van die land se mees ervare en gerespekteerde landboukundiges is.  Ek is nou, meer as ooit, gemotiveerd om eendag ook my bydrae te maak om ons landbou na nuwe hoogtes te lei”.

Die LBK het die studenteprojek danksy borgskappe van IDC, Kaap Agri, MKB, Mutual & Federal, NWK, Santam Agri, Senwes en Talent Africa aangebied, wat die studente se registrasie, akkommodasie, vervoerkoste, ‘n toelaag en promosiebaadjie geborg het.


Uitgereik deur Landbou Besigheidskamer


 Lindie Stroebel, Bestuurder: Ekonomiese intelligensie en Finansies

Telefoon: 012 807 6686

Selfoon: 079 497 1594

Corporate Businesswomen Have Truly Progressed

There is still a perception that women are appointed just because of their gender. Gusti Coetzer comments that South African women are on the move throughout the business world and many have their sights fixed on the corporate boardroom.

In the past 15 years, female participation in South Africa’s corporate boardrooms has grown from 4% to 16.6%.  But are they ascending because of favourable legislation or on merit?

Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer is a founding member, shareholder and director of Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.

Read the full article The_Star_Workplace_Corporate__businesswomen_have_truly_progressed_Sep_22.pdf

MoneyWeb Article – Are You Being Paid What You’re Worth?

During a recessionary environment companies embark on cost-cutting measures, such as letting people go. With the lack of demand comes the lack of jobs.

Read full article here :