2 years ago

Opportunity Issue 96

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Opportunity, endorsed by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) is the mouthpiece for business in Southern Africa. The aim of the publication is to inform potential investors both nationally and internationally of the most relevant business news: trade, investment, financial, market-related information for each business sector, as well as to inform of the latest developments in business legislation from both the public and private sector.

The humble hero Jerry

The humble hero Jerry Vilakazi, executive chairman of Palama Group and non-executive director of Sibanye-Stillwater, is a driver of economic development and a part of the history of our nation. His path is a trajectory of leadership accomplishment, which shaped South Africa’s very own democratic trajectory as well as the success of black economic empowerment. Opportunity speaks to Vilakazi about his illustrious career and how he became a leader to be lauded. 8 |

LAUREATE LEADER Jerry, your career shows a trajectory of leadership success. What was it that led you to your first milestone? And what drove you to maintain the level of consistent achievement that you have? Tell us the story behind your success. I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Being the first in my family to finish matric and graduate at university was always a difficult challenge as I had no point of reference and role model within my family. After matric, I spent two years working because I had declined a bursary to study business management – my desire at the time was to study medicine. I taught science and maths at a secondary school for two years. I must have eaten the white chalk because I decided to pursue teaching as a career. After qualifying as a teacher from the University of Zululand, I taught for a few years and then obtained a scholarship to study in the UK. I completed two Master's degrees from the University of West London (then Thames Valley University) and the University of London. Before my return to South Africa in 1994, I was selected for a programme at the University of Oxford Brooks under the OR Tambo Scholarship Programme on preparation to work in the public service in a post-apartheid South Africa On my return to South Africa, I worked for an NGO in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands as a managing director. In 2006, I had two job offers – Deputy Director for Education from the National Department of Education and one for affirmative action policy in the Department of Public Service and Administration. I chose the latter. The rest is history. You graduated at the California Coast University. Please share your academic history with us. In 2001, while serving as one of the five national Public Service Commissioners I was approached by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants to take a role of director for commerce and industry. It was in interacting with finance directors of JSElisted companies that I decided to do an MBA to be effective in the business environment, in particular, to understand leadership challenges and transformation in the private sector, which is my passion. I was surprised by the low number of black CAs and, worst of all, black women CAs at the time. In every company I visited or contacted, the FDs were all white males. The MBA was prompted by my desire to understand the intricacies of the business environment. It is difficult to change something you don’t fully understand. What has been your biggest personal achievement? Starting the Palama Group, which has over the years invested and acquired interests in a diversified portfolio of companies including healthcare, IT, mining and education. What has been the highlight of your illustrious career? • My appointment as a Public Service Commissioner in 1999. • Working with Patrice Motsepe at BUSA. • Being part of the Sibanye-Stillwater growth story from its very beginning. What was your most defining opportunity in life? Being forced to go to school by my mother when I had decided to leave at primary school. She gave me no choice even though she had not gone to school herself. Had it not been for her, I would not have finished primary school. As MD of the Black Management Forum (BMF) in 2004, you led an organisation that was the voice of corporate empowerment, at a defining point of black leadership in South Africa’s history. What was the most significant realisation you made about our democracy’s socio-economic landscape during your tenure? My first encounter with the BMF leadership was when I was Chief Director for Transformation and Service Delivery at Home Affairs. Around 2007/8, I appeared before the then Public Service Presidential Commission on the initiatives for transformation in the Department. After fielding questions at the presentation, one of the Commissioners, Lot Ndlovu, approached me and explained how I could add value in the country if I joined the BMF. He offered to ask the Director-General to release me from the public service, as the private sector would benefit more from my inputs on transformation. The DG refused to entertain the discussion with Ndlovu at the time. _____________ __ _ _ Mining should be about people and the environment. The resources we mine are not infinite but the people and the environment will always be there ___ __ ___ __ _ _____ When Nolitha Fakude became the BMF President, I joined the BMF and had one of the best periods in my career serving under her leadership. As MD, she was always there to guide me but gave me the space to manage the organisation. She felt that I should be the voice of the BMF on transformation issues. At the time, I felt very strongly that South Africa needed a capitalist of a different type, and I often advocated for a capitalist with a conscience. President Mbeki spoke of a South Africa with two economies – a characterisation of our challenges we concurred with. We felt that we needed to strengthen the BMF Student Chapters. I worked closely with students on different university campuses. Graduates were frustrated in many corporations across sectors. The 2005 Employment Equity Commission’s report painted a gloomy picture of not only lack of transformation but attempts to frustrate government policy in many companies. In our response, we made a BMF presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Labour in parliament and called for the appointment | 9

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