Blazing the BEE trail: men and women of influence

Who would want the poisoned chalice that is the South African presidency when he can have influence over R694-billion? It’s no wonder that businessman and former politician Cyril Ramaphosa has turned down a sizeable lobby that wanted him to stand for the ANC presidency at the Polokwane national conference last December.

Ramaphosa’s influence is measured by the market capitalisation of the company boards he sits on. He is director of Assore, Bidvest, Mondi, MTN, SABMiller PLC, Standard Bank, Anglo-American and Medi-Clinic.

Ramaphosa is the second most-powerful black director in South Africa, according to the annual Trailblazer research published by Citadel and Empowerdex. The winner in the annual rankings of the country’s top 50 black directors will be announced in September.

Last year’s most influential black director was former World Bank director Mamphela Ramphele who is in third place this year with influence over R657-billion. Ramphele is a director of Anglo-American and Medi-Clinic. In fourth place is the former petrochemicals executive Koosum Kalyan followed by the former chairperson of Eskom, Valli Moosa.

Moosa has influence over R356-billion because he sits on the boards of Anglo Platinum, Imperial Holdings, Lereko Mobility, Real Africa Holdings, Sanlam and Sun International. That’s quite a slate of responsibilities and may explain why he did not have his eye on the ball of the electricity crisis at Eskom.

The mining industry drove transformation in the latest measuring period. “Directorships of mining companies caused significant changes in rankings, notably directorships of Anglo American, Anglo Platinum, Arcelor Mittal and Impala Platinum,” says Citadel spokesperson Daleen Cornelissen.

One might also argue that the petrol price was empowering for a select number of trailblazers. With record profits because of the way petrol pump prices are calculated, seven Sasol directors made it into the top 20.

They are Mandla Gantsho, Imogen Mkhize, Benny Mokaba, Christine Ramon, Nolitha Fakude, Anshu Jain and Sam Montsi, each of whom has influence over between R245-billion and R297-billion. Sasol was slow to arrive at the BEE party. It was only after bruising battles between the Public Investment Corporation, a major shareholder, and the company’s management that black leaders were promoted or drafted into the company. This year Sasol also launched its Inzalo share scheme, offering discounted shares to the black public.

Three women showed strato­spheric growth in influence in the measuring period. Thandi Orleyn jumped to ninth position from 41st last year; Sonja Sebotsa to seventh from 34th while Kalyan has moved from 30th to fourth. Women make up a little more than 30% of the total number of powerful black directors, a far higher proportion than they constitute in the total universe of female directors, which the latest Business Women’s Association census shows is still less than 20%.

Some BEE purists sniff at Trailblazer’s use of influence over market cap as a major measure. It’s not ownership, they say. Equity, in black business circles, is still held up as the sine qua non of empowerment, though it is rapidly going out of favour as the key measure. This year’s most notable and talked-about deals have been those extending ownership to the broad public. Sasol and Vodacom have both had an overwhelming response to their public offerings, as did MTN when the National Empowerment Fund sold off the share previously held by Transnet.

Influence measures the ability of black directors to change the biggest South African companies.

The number of executive directorships held by blacks grew by 19% from 2006, and overall there is growth, though it slowed between 2007 and 2008 according to Empowerdex, which did the research on Citadel’s behalf. Non-executive directorships have grown healthily, but the number of executive directors of listed companies is low.

According to the research there are only 100 black executive directors of listed companies compared with 93 and 94 in 2006 and 2007 respectively. This suggests that the skills crunch at the top of corporate South Africa is acute and also that there are many big black business people holding multiple non-executive directorships. Black Management Forum chairperson Jimmy Manyi says corporate South Africa is still resistant to change.

Who are the trailblazers?
According to the book Trailblazers: South Africa’s Champions of Change very few top black business people were born with silver spoons in their mouths. “In fact most come from very humble beginnings.” But what is clear is that many came from homes where one or both parents were teachers or preachers who instilled in them the importance of education.

Many cited their mothers as the most important influence on their lives. All but one of the inaugural list of Trailblazers have a tertiary qualification, according to the book. “As many as 30 of the top 50 have bachelor degrees in arts, education or communication —” Fewer have hard science and engineering or commerce degrees, which reflects the ravages of Bantu education.

Almost one in three of those who made the top cut have honours degrees, while nearly half have achieved a master’s. Most have augmented their skills with executive programmes.

Trailblazers are fairly young — the latest research shows a median age of 48. The book was based on previous research but is still very relevant to understanding BEE.

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