BLACK NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS can and should be expected to make a real contribution to the operations of the company, and should be selected because of the belief that they are capable of doing so. It sometimes seems that South African companies have selected black Non-Executives who are just there for window dressing - to give a black profile to the company, whilst keeping out of the real work of the business. We believe that they should be able to bring business to the company, especially in areas where black Non-Executive Directors will have access because they are Black.
- An important result area that black Non-Executive Directors should deliver is a greater involvement with grass roots issues and perspectives that are distinctive and sensitive for the black majority of South African citizens and consumers.
- They would represent the company in sensitive matters where a black Non-Executive Director would be an asset: government, provincial and parastatal business, black issues, political scenarios, black markets, networking with policy makers, community matters, local affairs, trouble shooting, IR strategies, black empowerment, environmental issues, and emerging entrepreneurship.
- To facilitate dealings concerning regulatory and statutory matters with public and civic bodies, government departments and agencies, and parastatals.
- For image building. Image building is just fine as long as the company’s window represents what's in the shop. Let's not deny the obvious - but we have to make it authentic and substantial - not ONLY the image, but ALSO the substance.
- A black Board Director doesn't only have to represent black issues - they should share with other Directors in the ongoing corporate governance issues. They should therefore be fully business literate, as should any other non-Black Director!
OBVIOUSLY, OUR ANSWER IS NOW, but we caution that it's a middle term to long term process which may add little value initially, or in two to three years, and a great deal over the next five to six years.
- Start now by appointing a black Non-Executive Director and build a relationship which spans the next few years. In the beginning the Non-Executive will come to board meetings, attend a corporate lunch or two, break the ice, make a few comments, but won’t really know the company and the main players - and you won't know him/her.
- Over a year or two, continued interaction, cups of coffee spread over time, confidence gathers and trust emerges. The initial Black-White euphoria gives way to a real relationship, a sense that the black Non-Exec belongs to the company and that the company belongs to him/her - a sense of mutuality. Then the real work begins -then a black Non-Executive can represent the company's interests, knowing who the company is - and can really influence his/her colleagues on the Board - and contribute. So the answer to when is now, but build a relationship for a longer term.
- In practical selection terms it means avoiding the temptation to go for high-profile flash 'name value personalities' who you are tempted to access for their 'now' value. You would be succumbing to a temptation to believe that a black Non-Executive can make an impact immediately - it’s hopeful but rare. There is an increasing market of black non-executive candidates (serving on lots and lots of Boards - overstretched and diluted in time, availability and input) promising instant access to black decision makers - falling into the embrace of companies desperate for black image.
- Beware of black non-executive candidates who already serve on lots of Boards! We recommend a longer-term approach. Please note that we're not saying that they cannot add value sooner, or need to learn/train/develop. That's nonsense, and we shudder when we hear that sort of talk. We are suggesting that a relationship takes time. Start now by appointing - expect results spread over years- not next month.
LET'S START THE 'WHO' SECTION WITH 'WHO NOT', and work back. Who not? Not black Non-Executives who presently sit on many Boards. In other words not professional black Non-Execs who have been the 'flavour of the month' recently, and are now serving on an array of Boards. Someone recently called them 'black Non-Accessible Directors' - many cannot manage to get to all their Board meetings and virtually nobody takes them seriously. They really are a serious case of misplaced window dressing.
- Okay - now who? In a nutshell - consider black non-executive candidates who don't mirror your views, nod and agree with what you are saying or doing as a knee-jerk response. Who - look for black women (yes, women) and men who add a fresh perspective that you might not like, but feel should be heard. Look for black Non-Execs who will challenge, confront, provoke, rock the boat, add value. We want people who don't belong in the old boys network, and don't necessarily want to join it. Apply the rule: if you feel entirely comfortable when you meet them and talk issues - move on. If they make you rethink old notions, yes, that's who!
- Furthermore, we should be looking for people who are amenable and positive towards the idea of having a constructive engagement with a profit making organization - in simple terms, pro-business. They would have commercial acumen combined with a discernible public and civic profile. Above all, they should be people who are and will continue to be regarded by the broader black community as being authentic, credible personalities, not as 'gravy-train fat-cats' who have traded their credibility for corporate approval and rewards.
- We want black Non-Executive Directors who can contribute meaningfully and independently to the company's corporate governance.
- Avoid the temptation to use your black Non-Executive Director to form your 'empowerment' partner or suchlike. That's going to confuse the process and lead to trouble. Black Non-Execs are on your Board to serve the organization's broader interests, and should not be feathering their own 'empowerment' interests through being a Board member. That's bad corporate governance.
AN INTERESTING WAY in which we can move the process forward is for you to attend a networking encounter with a range of potential candidates.
- The aim would be to expose you to a range of potential black Non-Executive Directors and to create a base from which to review how to proceed. We invite a range of selected black professionals over to our offices for an informal meeting. This allows all parties to meet relatively informally and to assess the value that could be gained from a business relationship. This has often proved an effective way to meet a range of people, clarifying the direction you wish to take.
- A note of caution: We can't afford to indicate too specifically to the candidates that they are being 'interviewed' for a Non-Executive Directorship at a company, because those not selected may well fee lrejected, and may bear a resentment towards that company. Therefore we structure these 'director' meetings as anything other than an 'interview', hence the informal approach. We want to leave open the lines of communication, and not to burn any sensitive bridges.
- Once you meet the candidates, and if there's someone you feel positive about, the next stage would be to invite them to your offices, or to have dinner with you and your colleagues to pursue this matter.
- The method and tenure of Non-Executive Board appointments should be viewed with special circumstances in mind, and should allow for termination/renewal either on a periodic basis, or sooner if the individual concerned were to become involved as an employee or Non-Executive Director of a competing commercial organization, or if their political/public associations compromised their ability to serve effectively on the Board.
WE WILL CALL YOU TO FOLLOW UP and happily discuss these issues with you in greater depth.
- If you have been considering this issue for some time, but have done nothing about it, we know what does work and what doesn't work, and have contributed to South Africa's leading companies in their success in this field.
- Eden Africa has placed black Non-Executive Directors with both JSE listed and non-listed companies.
- We are geared to respond swiftly and professionally to your needs, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban - everywhere.
- Needless to say, we conduct these matters with discretion.
- We're ready, now.
ABOUT EDEN AFRICA
EDEN AFRICA MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS specialize in helping companies acquire black professionals and has done so since 1989.
- We work with companies who wish to include black South Africans at senior levels which add tangible and measurable value to the organization. We choose not to focus on traditional processes of affirmative action (such as mentorship, training, development, equal opportunity, equity, shadowing, advancement), whilst acknowledging their place in the spectrum of possible interventions. Our focus is on black professionals who can add value to companies, enhancing profitability and mutual respect.
- Eden Africa makes use of its remarkably extensive database and networks to introduce clients to black professionals with a range of skills, professions and experience. We don't advertise for black candidates - we never have and we never will.
- Our role is always a provocative and forthright one. We share our viewpoint with our clients, listen to feedback, engage in dialogue, and generally attempt to add value to our clients' organizations, based on our experience and involvement in this field. If we feel that the selection is mistaken, we put our views to you honestly and directly. We share with our clients the candidates' perception of the organization, the personalities and the process.