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The business of transformation: 'It's not about choosing a black person over a white one'

Apr 14 2019 16:13
Lameez Omarjee

Busisiwe Sithole started her career as a social worker, before she made the leap to make a difference through the corporate social investment and transformation space.

The MMI group head of transformation takes the view that there is value in having a diverse business. MMI Group, which includes  Metropolitan, Momentum, Multiply, Guardrisk and Eris Property recently achieved its BBBEE level one certification – and is the first major insurance to achieve this under the revised Financial Sector Code.

Sithole shares some of  the lessons she has learnt in ensuring transformation strategies are effective and beneficial.

Fin24: What major lessons have you learned in ensuring transformation makes a difference?

Sithole: Firstly, you can't divorce transformation from business, you can't run transformation parallel to the business. It needs to be integrated in the business strategy and support the business strategy. 

Secondly, diversity and inclusion go together. It is very easy for transformation to make other people feel excluded. In a work environment you need to ensure you focus on the strengths that diversity brings rather than exclusion.

For example, males understand they have a role to play, and females understand they have a role to play. It's not about choosing females over male. It’s not about choosing a black person over a white person. It’s about how to find value and strength in diversity. The more we are diverse, the more we are transformed, the more we are able to get more as a business.

Fin24: How did Momentum reach its level one status?

Sithole: Two years ago we were at level two, when the revised codes were promulgated, like many of our competitors we dropped in our ranking. We reached level one after doing a review of our transformation programme to determine if it was parallel to our business or something that actually supported our business.

Then we worked on aligning our transformation programmes to the priorities of the country. We realised that our programme had to be relevant in meeting the country's needs. For example if the country has an unemployment problem, we had to put in place measures to help create employment.

It is a journey of continuously seeking to improve and review the way we do business.

Fin24: What is the role of large corporates in driving transformation?

Sithole: We need companies to rally around implementation. Government alone will not be able to deliver all those National Development Plan goals without the companies rallying behind it.

Companies need to go the extra mile and meet government halfway. We need to consider how we can integrate transformation in the business strategy and not be emotive about it but look at the bigger picture. If transformation does not happen the country will not grow economically, which means us as businesses, will not grow.  

We must invest in economic transformation of our country so we can also sustain ourselves. Sustainability as businesses depends on the growth and sustainability of the country's economy.

Fin24: What is the role of small businesses in driving transformation?

Sithole: Small businesses need to continuously look for opportunities. Black entrepreneurs are often held back because they do not have access to funding. But they should just start, because they have brilliant business ideas. They need to start with the little they have.

There is power in collectives – small businesses need to be open to partnerships and joint ventures. That way small businesses will grow faster, and be better positioned as well as well capacitated to deliver more.

Fin24: What is the role in individuals in driving transformation?

Sithole: As individuals we need to start being aware of the transformation activities in our country and not undermine the value we carry in holding big firms accountable.

As individual customers we need to start asking difficult questions – we have been undermining our power as customers. When you buy a product for R100, you may think it is nothing. But your R100, another person's R100 and many others make big business for corporates. We need to each be ambassadors of transformation.

We need to take interest in how companies operate and how they are implementing transformation. If we do not care then we are not being good citizens.  

We need to take an interest in transformation because it means we are taking interest in the economic growth of the country.

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