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Business must take leadership role in the process of change

Peter Moyo, managing director of international insurance broker, Alexander Forbes, in South Africa, was the guest speaker at the recent annual Zimbabwe Independent Quoted Companies Survey reception and award ceremony. Here is the full text of

his speech:

IT is nice to be in Harare after a long time. I have not been here since December 2002. Harare is the first city that I ever worked in, back in 1982 as an articled clerk straight after leaving school at Goromonzi.

It is fitting that the theme of this year’s survey is “persevering beyond survival”. There is every reason to question whether Zimbabwean companies are operating in a fit economy.

There are questions whether the Zimbabwean companies are fit to compete in the global market. There are quite frankly questions as to whether Zimbabwean companies can really survive into the future.

The headline in today’s Business Day, in South Africa, was “Zimbabwe meltdown of concern to SA”. The paper quotes the South African deputy foreign minister as saying that inflation is at 1 000% and the prediction is that it can get worse.

Surely this is cause for concern. It must, I guess, be more cause for concern for the Zimbabwean people than the South African people.

Surely we can’t say the country is fit. Surely there are question marks as to how long the companies and indeed the people of Zimbabwe must persevere. We also can’t say the Zimbabwean businesses are fit.

At the time of its demutualisation Old Mutual Zimbabwe was a good contributor to the overall Old Mutual. Today a giant in the Zimbabwean economy is accounted for purely on a dividend basis.

It makes no difference to the bottom line of Old Mutual even if you only looked at the South African business. Other countries are playing a much bigger role as trading partners with South Africa. At one point in time Zimbabwe was one of South Africa’s biggest trading partners. South Africa may not be the benchmark but this illustrates the point.

I guess what I have said so far is not news to any of you. The question that we have to ask is where to from here. I do not propose to have all the answers. I don’t. I do have views, however.

What is happening in Zimbabwe today is not only a test for the Zanu PF government. It is a test for all the people of Zimbabwe; it is a test for all the business people of Zimbabwe.

There are fortunately parallels between what is happening in the country and the business world. There is a lot business can bring to the party in getting the country on the road to recovery.

I have a view that people that have more to lose must be the people that have to act. Zimbabwean businesses and the Zimbabwean people have more to lose than politicians. In business for change to happen there must be a burning platform.

There is already a burning platform in Zimbabwe. So change is inevitable.

We know in business that there are situations that require total change not an incremental change. Reversing what we have done and where we are is not going to get us back to where we ought to be. Fixing employment will not bring back all the chartered accountants that have left the country. Zimbabwe needs more than that.

Like a company undergoing change, it is a totally new vision that this country needs. The world has moved and Zimbabwe has gone backwards. To catch up, the country needs drastic change.

Unfortunately the change that one is talking about in Zimbabwe is not the change from a calf into a cow but, the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. We in business know that when you talk about this kind of change, you need a total re-think, you need fresh ideas, you need in most cases new people.

In business and in history we also know that no such change has ever been led from the palace.

The Zimbabwean politics and economy are too precious to be left only to politicians. The change cannot be driven only by politicians. In business we know that for any drastic change you need to take all the main stakeholders along.

Business cannot therefore afford not to play a meaningful change in the transformation of the country. Business is besides an important stakeholder.

Some of the most successful changes we have seen in South Africa have been ones where business has taken the lead.

The financial sector charter is a case in point. It was led and managed by business from beginning to end. When government drafted the mining charter, business was not involved. It almost went bad. Business woke up too late. Fortunately business leaders got involved and the mining charter today works for all of us.

We can’t therefore sit back and expect the government to lead the change. We have to dedicate resources to it. When we worked on the financial sector charter I worked on it for a good 12 months with a serious devotion of my time, similarly the CEO of Standard Bank put a lot of his time into it. The president and general secretary of ABSIP worked on it. I pulled out a general manager from Old Mutual to work on the project virtually full time for almost a year.

We could not wait for someone to determine our destiny. I believe today business in Zimbabwe is at that juncture.

I know the Zimbabwean situation is more dire than that. We have to accept that there is a serious management of the culture that needs to happen if Zimbabwe is to be successful. In business we know that for any change to be successful there has to be a clear plan backed by systems and processes to support the change.

We have possibly one of the best constitutions in the world in South Africa, yet it has taken us almost a decade to get to grips with our crime situation. Our systems and processes were not aligned to our intentions. We had a police force that was trained to extract a confession from an accused by beating the hell out of them. If you do that today, you cannot secure a conviction.

You may have read in the judgement relating to the allegations against the former South African deputy president, the judge alluded to the fact that the police had not read to him his rights. It affected the judgement. Russia had some of the best plans when it came to its transformation. Harvard professors were involved. The whole system failed because the culture, the processes and systems were not supportive of that change. If the Zimbabwean transformation is to work someone has to be thinking about that today.

In business we know that a lot of change fails at the people and at the culture levels. Unfortunately these are the things that we have to start fixing now if the transformation of Zimbabwe is going to be successful.

What culture do our people have now? Can this culture take us into a new world? We need to think about that and define the culture that will get us to a successful future. I believe business has a role to play in this. Big business is always involved in the political set up in the US. I think it is time business got involved in the political set up in the country.

Look at the Jews in the United States of America; they always get what they want irrespective of the party in power. They are involved.

For me this is more than a political issue. It talks to the emergence of a new crop of people, people who are not tainted. People that are not going to be doing it for their image, people that quite frankly do not need the job. People that Bill George calls authentic leaders. We are fortunate that we still have some good business people in Zimbabwe.

In business we know that for people to be good leaders, they need to be prepared for the jobs and they must have the experience to do it. Choosing the right leader is one of the most important things that shareholders have to do, and choosing the right team is one of the most critical things a CEO has to do.

We can also bring this thinking in the transformation of the country. In business we have people that have successfully led their enterprises. Is there no role for these people in public life? Look at the former successful business people that are involved in public life in the US.

In business we have a culture of accountability. I know that if I do not deliver there are consequences. This is the culture that we need to engender as Zimbabwe moves forward. It is yet possible to have a culture of accountability in the political arena.

If you analyse almost all the business failures in the world, you will never find one that failed because of bad luck. It is generally greed and in some cases poor management. We also need clean leaders. This is a prerequisite for any meaningful transformation; Leaders that people can follow and trust. We know in business you can’t lead effectively if you are not trusted. Besides leadership presupposes that there are followers.

I am not qualified to say who the players ought to be. All I know is that today Zimbabwe needs a strong team, a team that can lead and be trusted.

I think as business leaders you will be failing the country if you do not take a leadership role in the transformation of the country. I know it is easy to say this from afar, but I believe it.

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