C-suite positions are those with the word “chief” in the title, those executive posts that are the highest decision-making positions in an organisation, where the cream of the crop gets to be rewarded by rising to those levels.
Ambitious employees, especially young professionals, are constantly observing and trying to learn the behaviours, qualities and aptitudes that enable one to get to those levels. Business schools charge significant amounts of money and retain their relevance as the best schools to choose by offering courses that best assist would-be aspirants with the necessary skills.
The Black Management Forum (BMF) is also constantly involved in developing its members to exude these crucial managerial leadership skills, to drive the transformation that the organisation advocates for. Business schools spend considerable time observing trends and studying these to understand what companies are looking for and rewarding as they promote individuals into the upper echelons of the organisation. They use these trends for ideas to shape their curriculum.
According to Harvard Business Review, the skills required for positions such as chief information officer, chief financial officer, chief human resources officer, chief marketing officer, chief supply chain management officer, chief executive officer (CEO) and the like, have all evolved over the past ten years.
Whereas in the past, technical skills were the focus, now business acumen – and intrapreneurial skills in particular – are of the utmost necessity to deal with the complex challenges that each discipline encounters; having a big picture view and clear understanding of the business strategy to help teams understand how their role contributes to the sales and growth of the organisation.
It is no longer enough for the chief financial officer to be a bean counter, for instance; they now need to assist the CEO and business heads to find new opportunities and assess strategic financial risks and merits. They need to be comfortable managing stakeholder and investor relations, for instance, and managing diverse and global teams across different time zones.
A CEO, on the other hand, is now expected to listen, listen and listen some more. They must communicate, communicate and communicate some more. The job is now less about the technical skills and more about the “soft” skills for all of the C-suite roles, but in particular for the CEO. Empathy, collaboration and trust building are the superpowers needed to make a CEO successful.
These are the realities that C-suite hopefuls must contend with, understanding that these are globally-required skills. Since the positions are prestigious and limited, the competition is fierce and hopefuls must be willing to fight for the prestige.
In a country such as ours that has nuances and layers of diversity and discrimination, these are daunting to contend with. Unlike in sport, where talent is observable to the naked eye, boardroom performance is often subjective, influenced by the biases of those with power around the table.
It is, therefore, difficult to be clinical in identifying the right individuals for the job. This is where the assistance of policies that drive transformation become crucial. It’s not enough to be highly skilled if the agenda of the powers that be is set and doesn’t involve the identification of the cream of the crop. Transformation policies force the agenda to look for the skills in places where the powers that be would not have looked.
This is why we take special pride and we get elated when the likes of Sasol released a statement on Friday last week announcing that Simon Baloyi had been selected to become the president and CEO of Sasol following a comprehensive recruitment programme, during which both internal and external candidates were considered for the role.
Sasol listed the reasons for the selection of Baloyi to include the fact that Baloyi, as a chemical engineering bursary holder of Sasol, spent more than 20 years building an illustrious career at the company, filling various roles in the operation value chain. His strategic outlook, excellent leadership skills, business acumen, technical and deep experience in the Sasol operations stood him in good stead to take over the helm from the current CEO and president Fleetwood Grobler.
This is a clear recognition of talent that Sasol had cultivated themselves internally and prepared for the eventuality of becoming the CEO of this magnanimous JSE-listed company of South African origin. The skills that Baloyi has been selected for are undoubtedly the skills required to be a CEO of global standards, and the fact that he is a black male is in line with the transformation agenda of the country. A nuance that is particularly important in our context.
As the Black Management Forum, we can only congratulate Sasol for being conscious and having the integrity to know a good thing when it hit them.
Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.