The reality is that change is not readily embraced by everyone, even leaders, whether in politics or business who are expected to lead the change. The common saying is that change is constant – the weather, technology, culture, or strategy. Boardrooms and business schools are speaking about a VUCA world – the increase in volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity which means that leaders must constantly seek new approaches and refresh their strategies more often than was done in the Industrial Age. Historical forecasts, even those that are three months old, that planned for investments, development and growth and past experiences and strategies are losing relevance and are rarely applicable in shaping the future. How much more when a new leader such as Daniel Mminele who has a new perspective and insights infused by the global and national financial services sector bird’s eye view that cannot be matched by individuals who have not seen their own bank from the regulatory point of view. Mminele having been a Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank has a vantage point, unmatched by other executives within ABSA, of the competitors that the organisation is attempting to outshine to reclaim the top spot. Thus, would undoubtedly have divergent, but a priceless outlook on what the best strategy the bank should adopt, even at the expense of the Ramos strategy to suit the times.
Moreover, it should be expected and accepted that not all individuals in a leadership team would support a new leader coming in from the outside, regardless of the race or gender, and would find rational reasons such as the leadership style or approach or strategy differences. The question is whether such leaders should be indulged. It seems that if the cost of losing long service business leaders is not a given then a precedent gets set that such threats hang over any new leader if they do not toe the line. The central question is who sets the strategy. In training board members in corporate governance, I advise them to clarify and understand the role of the board versus the role of management in developing the strategy. There are various schools of thought about this and if there is no clarity, destructive conflict is inevitable. However, in relation to the implementation of the strategy, the CEO, versus other executive directors, it is a black and white responsibility, no greys. The CEO is ultimately the one who is responsible and accountable for the execution of the strategy. When organisations fail and miss their financial targets, it is the CEO’s head that rolls, remembering what happened to Thabo Dloti at Liberty. It is not other executive directors. So why would a board favour any executive and their view of the strategy and cultural transformation, regardless of their service history above the CEO if they have confidence in that CEO.
If it is indeed true, it is very disappointing that the ABSA board has succumbed to threats of resignations from some White executive directors, from the reports coming out from within ABSA itself. Noting the reactions of the employees, predominantly black staff, ‘mourning’, bringing flowers and expressing their devastation at the resignation of Mminele together with the concerned response of SASBO, the Finance Union representing 70 000 members, it is becoming apparent that transformation is the bone of contention.
Threats of executives leaving will continue to hold organisations at ransom. 27 years into our democracy, it is absolutely a shame that our country is still having difficulty owning the constitution and effecting the values of human dignity, achievement of equality and advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism and the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law in all organisations. When people lord over resignations as threats to cultural and strategic transformation, wouldn’t you call that subverting our Constitution? Should we not start calling a spade, a spade? Now the question is, what are the clients of ABSA saying? Did you see the reaction of corporations who communicated with their money to the Georgia voting restriction laws in the U.S. that are designed to protect significant election losses for Republicans and disadvantage black Americans, predominantly? Is it not time for ABSA to hear from the clients who deposit their monies with them including government institutions and other corporates, because institutional investors and pension funds who are shareholders are failing to demand the transformation? Are clients communicating satisfaction with the status quo? What is the incentive for ABSA to genuinely change?