Business Report's content editor Philippa Larkin in conversation with the new president of the Black Management Forum (BMF), Dr Sibongile Vilakazi.
Vilakazi has been gracious enough to agree to run a column in BR. When I met her, I was bowled over by her eloquence and vision. So I am really grateful that she has agreed to share her voice, not only in BR but with our readers and South Africa.
Dr Vilakazi, who was appointed last month, is the first woman president in 17 years of the organisation and only the second woman to lead the organisation since its inception in 1976. She, is the first woman in 17 years to lead the BMF since Nolita Fakude, who held office between 2003 and 2006.
Vilakazi takes over the reins from outgoing President Andile Nomlala, who has served in the position since 2018.
Larkin (L): Dr Vilakazi, congratulations on your achievement. It is an immense achievement. How are you settling into the role?
Vilakazi (V): Thank you so much. It’s been good so far. The support from all our stakeholders is humbling. I feel ready to make a real difference for the organisation.
L: With BMF's membership of roughly 11 000, which is mainly male-dominated, your nomination is a major milestone. How did you get the backing of the forum for your position? And how do you plan to change the gender narrative?
V: My rise to the highest office was not easy at all. It was a fierce fight that almost got physical at the Special Elective General Meeting. I’m happy that this time around, it was men fighting each other to make way for women leadership in the organisation. This is a victory for the progressive men in the organisation who were clear that time had come for a female president, and I was deserving of the position of BMF President. They fought other men to make it happen.
It was an overwhelming victory by the time votes were counted. All nine provinces were in support. I’m humbled by this, and I’m also encouraged that the fact that BMF has these type of men with integrity who are willing to put gender stereotyping aside to fight for what’s right. South African society is on the right track. We need to expose these men and let them lead the gender narrative.
L: You are no stranger to leadership positions. What do you think makes a good leader? And how do you inspire others?
V: Clarity of purpose, decisiveness, clearly defined boundaries and love for the people you lead, with genuine need to see them grow and thrive, is what makes a leader. I genuinely want people to be better than I found them, and I’m loyal and protective of the people in my care. I think they get moved by the sincerity and reciprocate by working hard to see the vision through for all of us to succeed.
L: What do you plan to do in your first 100 days in office?
V: I need to get the operations of the organisation effective, win the faith of our members by swiftly acting on the resolutions taken at the Special Elective General Meeting and refocus the organisation on our mandate. We drifted from our mandate in the past few years and found ourselves on the wrong side of our values. We lost a number of our loyal members as a result. We need to bring them back. As a priority, I’ll be working hard at doing the things that will convince them to come back while gaining new members.
L: What policies and focuses do you want to drive in your tenure?
V: I want to drive policies that are unapologetically black growth biased and focused on rapid socio-economic transformation. Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment has done its part, and on the whole, it has done well at empowering white owned companies than black people. It’s time we reconsider it.
L: I believe BMF is nearly 50 years old. This is a major milestone. Do you have any plans around this momentous occasion?
V: Indeed, it’s a milestone we are very proud of. We are turning 47 this year. Forty-seven years of fighting for the inclusion of black professionals at all management positions in corporate South Africa and society at large in order to promote an inclusive economy. As a 41-year-old black female, I’ve been a direct beneficiary of this agenda of the BMF. I have enjoyed opportunities that have brought me to this point in my career and economic emancipation. Opportunities that my parents could never have imagined for themselves. As we approach 50 years in three years time, I will guide BMF to contribute to the redefinition of black aspirations and the development of the policy that will benefit our children and society for the next 50 years.
L: How do you think the BMF can evolve going forward?
V: We need to make BMF irrelevant by levelling the playing field of opportunities for economic advancement. We need to get to a point where poverty does not have a black face and a black woman face, in particular. When we achieve this status quo, BMF will perhaps evolve into a South African Management Forum.
L: South Africa is in the middle of a tough economic time, where South Africans are bludgeoned by the cost of living crisis, energy crisis, deteriorating infrastructure, unemployment and high crime, among other challenges. BMF has an important voice to frame the way forward amid the socio-economic challenges. Do you find that daunting?
V: It’s indeed a daunting task, but someone has to do it. We have raised our hand to do it. In Zulu, we say ‘ubudoda abukhulelwa’, a leader is plunged into leadership.
L: Is there anything else you would like to share with Business Report readers?
V: Thank you for welcoming me. I look forward to sharing my views and thoughts with you under the upcoming column ‘Treads of Transformation’.
Vilakazi completed her tertiary education at the University of Pretoria, Wits Business School and Thabo Mbeki School of Leadership. She completed an MA: Research Psychology, BSOC SCI HONS: Psychology and BSOC SCI: Psychology, a PhD in Organisational Development and Diversity Management and Introduction to Leadership for Africa’s Renewal Qualification.
- Vilakazi joined the BMF in 2009 and, most recently, served as its Gauteng Chairperson and also chaired the Social and Ethics Committee on the organisation’s board, where she developed a reputation of zero tolerance for unethical behaviour.
- Previous roles Vilakazi held include Kantar as a consultant, deputy director for the MBA Programme and faculty member at Wits Business School, Head of Group Customer Experience at Alexander Forbes, as well as a senior segment manager and market and customer insights manager at Nedbank.
Vilakazi’s work in business has attracted high-profile recognition. In 2021, she was named Top 20 Modern Leader of The Year by Tribe Business Magazine. She was also nominated as a finalist in the Top Women in Science category for the 2020 Standard Bank Top Women Awards.
Sekunjalo chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, is passionate about his vision to empower women in the workspace by appointing them in editorial and leadership positions. It is, therefore, my pleasure to reach out to more women in the workspace to share your thoughts on the BR platform.
“When women become leaders, they bring talents, new views, alongside structural and cultural diversity to the companies they work for, resulting in more successful solutions”.
* Editor Adri Senekal De Wet: It is an honour to welcome Dr Sibongile Vilakazi, President of the Black Management Forum (BMF), as a regular BR columnist. Vilakazi is a passionate leader and will share her insight, advice and comments on the BR platform, in print and online.