Transformation is a culture

Sitting down with Seara Mkhabela, Altron’s group executive for corporate affairs and human capital, an interview on the group’s empowerment strategy and performance is deflected to two colleagues having lunch out in the courtyard.

Work colleagues sharing lunch together is hardly new in corporate dining halls across the country. Except that Pieter Lourens and Kenneth Khoza have struck up a firm friendship that not only cuts across racial stereotypes, but also social and corporate hierarchy: the one is an accountant, the other the gardener at Altron’s head office. And they meet daily to share their lunch and tea breaks.

“The work environment brought them together, but they clearly like being together and the Altron environment promotes that,” Mkhabela says.

She sees this relationship as an example of how the group has managed to break down the “power distance” — a reference to the ease with which different levels within companies, or society, are broached in interpersonal relationships.

Mkhabela ascribes Altron’s success in narrowing that distance to its concerted efforts to do so, which stem from the group’s founder Dr Bill Venter’s vision for its corporate culture.

“Altron is a company where people are allowed to be entrepreneurial,” she says. “What is unique about the group is that it does not kill the entrepreneurial spirit, and that makes it easier for this power distance to be broken.

“We have certain common elements that you find in our employees and Altron attracts these types of people and promotes it. And it may sound cliched, but we have a strong family culture in the group.”

This is not all that surprising given the group’s history and make-up with brothers Robbie and Craig Venter taking over the helm from their father.

However, Mkhabela admits that with close to 13 000 employees across the group it is no easy task retaining this culture, especially when new entities are bought into the group. Altron’s Beyond 2012 transformation and human capital strategy goes some way to laying the ground rules, although the term “rules” is not entirely consistent with the group’s approach.

“We have decided to move transformation beyond being compliance-driven,” she says. “We are going to really transform by ensuring when new people or acquisitions join, they understand and buy into our family culture.”

The strategy document outlines Altron’s approach to human capital issues such as succession planning, human capital and talent management, and workforce transformation. This includes mechanisms such as workforce surveys and forums, as well as its induction programme that is run under the auspices of the Bill Venter Academy. This institution is used not only for new employees, but also to train and develop Altron’s management and staff.

Mkhabela says that Altron’s Level 2 broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) certification is as much a result of its internal make-up as its black economic empowerment (BEE) shareholding. 

It already has a strong representation of black and minority groups in its ranks, while a recently revised board of directors that is far more representative has bolstered its BBBEE rating.

“If you look at this from that perspective, we are empowered,” she says. “However, if you isolate management you start seeing the curve skewed more positively to white males. As Altron we can do more, and the academy is designed to grow our own talent so we can change the future structure, and also our recruitment and succession policies are geared toward this change.”

Altron chief executive Robbie Venter also recently announced a change to its BEE ownership structure whereby this will be shifted from subsidiary level to group level. 

Mkhabela says this is to simplify holdings and unlock value for empowerment partners, with no negative impact on its overall BBBEE rating.

You can view the Top 100 Most Empowered Companies in South Africa here.

The M&G Most Empowered Companies supplement was written by media and research house Intellidex. Rankings were compiled by ratings agency Empowerdex.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sponsored Feature
Guest Author

Related stories

Developing BEE from within

The impact may not yet be noticeable, but BEE projects that could broadly fall into the CSI category are benefiting the country.

Ownership: Rearing its head once again

Companies are battling to come to terms with the government’s revised BBBEE codes.

Commitment to transformation

A common characteristic among this year’s Most Empowered Companies is their transparent commitment to real transformation and empowerment.

Amended BEE codes a new focus

Companies may be tempted to focus on flaws in the BEE amended codes of good practice, but that would be a dangerous game to play.

Transformation benefits shareholders

Winners of the inaugural Mail & Guardian empowerment ranking also deliver returns to their owners.

Empowerment by any other name

The question still remains: What constitutes "empowerment"?

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday