‘No one has all the answers’

MARK Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of the Royal Dutch Shell group and Anglo-American Plc was in the country recently, to attend the inaugural Africa Business Leadership Summit hosted by Africa Lead.

Mark Moody-Stuart

He is currently a director of ARAMCO, the largest energy company in the world. Moody-Stuart (pictured) is the chairman of Hermes Equity Services.

He also chaired task forces on renewable energy for the G8 and business for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

Our business correspondent Kevin Msipha gives us the last instalment of a two-part interview with the business icon. Find below excerpts of the interview:

Q: What are your impressions of Africa and its future?
A: Well, I have lived in Africa, (especially) Nigeria and visited many African countries; in mines and petroleum operations in east Africa, west Africa, north Africa and South Africa. I have found it to be a very exciting place with enormous possibilities. In many countries there are highly educated people, (but) not in all countries.

In South Africa, for example the education system was severely damaged for the bulk of the population in apartheid times and that’s probably the worst legacy of apartheid; the impact of education on the black population. So much of the black population did not have mathematics, or those skills to go into technical subjects. Anglo American way before my time used to put a lot of effort trying to improve maths and sciences education under the late Henry (Harry) Oppenheimer who led Anglo to improve maths and science in black schools.

As you may know Henry was an opposition MP. He was a very interesting man. One of the reasons I joined Anglo American was because of its principles and its very high standards. Long before I joined Anglo, I read the things that Henry was doing or trying to do during a very difficult apartheid period, working within the system, but trying to change the system.

Anglo pioneered in many spheres. They met the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia in 1986 and got into trouble for that. They permitted the formation of unions at their mines. Many of the things did not directly benefit the company. In fact, they made it more difficult.

If you are the only company with unions and if somebody wants to have a strike, it is going to be in your company. So Africa is a continent of enormous possibilities, hugely creative people, Nobel prize winners, creative writers, nuclear scientists.

What has often failed in the past are the governance structures and the actual structures of government. Very often they have either been captured by a particular section of the society or by the military.

But that is changing in Africa and everywhere you see the spread of participative government, governments which change in response to the will of the people and so on.

It is sometimes a messy process but it is happening in the north, south, east and west of Africa. I remember when I was in Nigeria, General (Olusegun) Obasanjo was head of the military government. I think he was one of the first African military leaders to hand over to a civilian government and that was a remarkable act.

So there are many examples in Africa, like Mozambique and, you know, the telecoms entrepreneur, originally Sudanese, Mo Ibrahim.

He has the Mo Ibrahim prize which he awards to presidents who serve their term and move on and go into retirement in line with the constitution.

He has awarded that to President Chissano (of Mozambique) and Festus Mogae of Botswana.

I think that is a very interesting concept and he is a very interesting man coming from Sudan and he has supported education in that country.

Q: In some circles the Mo Ibrahim Initiative for former heads of African states has been seen as patronising. What are your comments?
A: Well I think it is an interesting idea. Mo Ibrahim is an African, so it is an African idea. It is not some western or Bill Gates saying it. If Mo Ibrahim thinks this is a good use of his private capital, I think it’s certainly in many ways commendable.

But I can see that there are disadvantages, but of course in many countries one of the difficulties of the political structure is that politicians and ministers have historically not been paid very much; in fact they may have been paid very little. I have worked in and visited countries where the minister officially only earns US$100 a month or something, and it is quite difficult.

The answer in those countries is to fix that problem, but at least it means there are possibilities. I think in politics in general, if you look at Britain for example, which may not be a good example, you see that a kind of 10 year stretch.

I mean Margaret Thatcher after 10 years did remarkable things, (though) not everyone agreed with her. But the time had really come for a change, so her own party removed her.

So those are the kind of natural cycles. This is also true for chief executives. I always say a chief executive should really be in for 7 to 10 years, something like that, not shorter. But after a while you need a different idea. You need a bit of change from time to time because however good someone is at something, they probably are concentrating more on that side, perhaps another side has become neglected and perhaps a successor can rebuild that side.

Q: There exists tension between what is pragmatic and what is best, in theory at least, whether in business or politics.
A: Well, I believe in approaching things pragmatically, it is no good hoping that one would create structures which may take a long time to develop, if people have to get used to them. In all systems, there are imperfections. I mean if you look at the polarisation in the United States between the Republicans and the Democrats, you need pragmatism for these guys to sit down and say look, we have our dreams on each side but we got to get together and agree on something. Perhaps at times there is too little of that in many countries.

As for business, I think as an international business, as a global business, you work in many countries, where not everything is perfect. I think there are some people who think that if you work in a country which is authoritarian, maybe they have some human rights abuses or something in some area, that somehow by working in the country, you become complicit in that.

I think provided your business can work in the country without being corrupt, treating your people with respect, having good development programmes, you make a good contribution to the country. You help the country in a pragmatic way and hopefully there will be a lot of businesses doing the same thing and that gradually, brick by brick, you can contribute to building something new.

By working with government, pragmatism works there, you may not agree with what the government wants to do, but the government is the government.

So you say we accept what you want to do, there is no use grumbling and fighting over what to do, how can we implement it in a way that is in line with our own principles? Now if you can’t, if something is not in line with your principles, then obviously you have a major ethical decision to make.

At that point I think you should refuse or withdraw. But that is extremely rare, most times you can implement whatever they want in a way that is constructive and benefits both the company and country. Maybe it benefits the country by demonstrating that there is a way to do something which perhaps you do not agree with. Sometimes governments, I was talking about changes made in Turkey after a period of military government, when they came to a civilian government with a very charismatic Prime Minister. He introduced and made changes in the taxation system, which business at the time didn’t agree with.

Business thought that tax rebates for employees were unnecessarily bureaucratic but it was in fact an essential step in getting the cash registered and a system of issuing receipts which was essential if you were going to have value-added tax. In that case, business argued and I personally argued that the system was unnecessarily complicated and we needed more time.

The Prime Minister said no, no, no you just have to get on with it. So at that point we said okay, we just have to get on with it and actually it was not so bad, we made it work. I still look at it as a great achievement and a very intelligent introduction of taxes.

After all, as (Jean Baptiste) Colbert said: “The art of taxation consists of plucking as many feathers from the goose with minimum amount of hissing from the goose.” Any government needs revenue, and in this case they were raising revenue not just from corporations, but getting corporations to take on some of the burden of collecting it.

So sometimes you just have to be pragmatic and say the government is the government, if they want to do that, let’s just do it and apply ourselves to making sure that it is done in the most sensible, efficient, business-like way, honest and transparent way.