Doing good is good business. It adds value for all in a company from staff, stakeholders, shareholders and suppliers.
This was the key message from Simon Susman, non-executive chairman of Woolworths Holdings and previously CEO of the retail group, at a USB Executive Development (USB-ED) certificate award ceremony recently held at the Old Mutual Investment Group in Pinelands.
Certificates were handed over to the first intake of USB-ED’s Africa Directors Programme. They were all from the Old Mutual Investment Group, the corporate partner of the programme. The other partners are INSEAD Business School, the Centre for Corporate Governance at USB and the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa.
Susman said that Woolworths had to go through a thorough process to embed a set of corporate values that was build up over 80 years in the retail business. These values are quality service, value for money, innovation, integrity, energy and sustainability and encapsulate what the group stand for today.
“After talking to as many people as possible in the organisation, the values were put in plain and easy understandable language and publicised as wide as possible. We wanted to make this a sustainable part of the organisation.”
This helped Woolworths to start doing business in a better way and adding something back to society, communities, suppliers and the country as whole. It ultimately showed that business can be done in this way.
“This transpired in Woolworths being the most sustainable business on the African continent. It is sustainable in many ways, including profit, community, society, staff and business sustainability. We also realised that we had to transform ourselves and to do more for the community, the environment and climate change.
“We passionately believe in this and are getting recognition for it. It works for the staff, stakeholders, shareholders and suppliers,” Susman said.
Susman said that the retail market is currently extremely competitive. Innovation is the key to survival in such market conditions and if it is not done, the company will fail.
Regarding the role of non-executives in an organisation, Susman is of the opinion that such a person must understand what is “rubbish” and what is not of that what he or she is being told about operations. Although a non-executive cannot probe too much, such a person must know what really happens in an organisation. Listen to what is being said and distil that against experience, corporate policy, strategy and governance.
An executive director on the other hand needs to probe more, but also distinguish carefully between what is being said and what is really happing in an organisation.
A board of directors of an organisation should be a diverse group of people, but at least one third to half of the board should be people that understand the industry very well in which it operates.
Individual board members should be sound business people with a strength of character to stand up in the boardroom and to reason with management and the chairperson.
I find that directors that lean over more to governance in a boardroom contribute less to an organisation as opposed to directors that focuses on people dynamics and corporate strategy. The latter adds the most value,” Susman said.
Old Mutual Investment Group CEO, Diane Radley, says that good corporate governance forms the cornerstone of her business’s responsible investment approach. “As responsible stewards of our clients’ investments, we believe that when you invest to reduce governance risk, the rewards will be greater,” she explains. “We place immense importance on solid governance practices, which result in better operational performance. As such, in supporting the Africa Directors Programme, we hope to significantly enhance the capacity for ethical and effective corporate governance and board leadership for not only our own executive team, but directorship development across the broader African continent.”
The next Africa Directors Programme for 2016 will commence in August and will be presented in Stellenbosch over three study schools from 1 to 3 August, 12 to 14 September and 24 to 26 October 2016.
The programme is focused on the company director as a person and ethnical leadership, taking custodianship of a company and what it means to govern and boardroom dynamics.
An expertly facilitated learning pathway that equips directors to govern with purpose, confidence and skill.