Imperial Holdings chief executive Mark Lamberti gave a somewhat insincere apology post a ruling in the high court in Pretoria which found he had impaired the dignity of Adila Chowan by calling her a “female employment equity appointment” in front of other managers.
Lamberti’s callousness is echoed in a statement by Imperial, which states that Lamberti had not intended to “insult or demean” the former staff member in any way and apologises “unreservedly”. Those with lived experiences of companies either failing to comply or who blatantly breach the strategic intent of B-BBEE policy say his apology is too little, too late. If anything, Lamberti’s actions mirror a culture of non-compliance by big business.
His own groups’ (Imperial) expansion strategy, as referenced within their latest chief executive report, is focused on acquisitions, organic growth and asset renewal.
According to the same report, Imperial has made great strides towards achieving the objectives of this strategy, boasting a 43percent boost of their R119.5billion turnover from foreign markets, which is R6.5bn, 2percent, up from last year. However, nowhere within their strategy is there reference to the company's values and talent management as a strategic objective.
Because it is not clear what standards Imperial holds itself accountable to regarding its corporate culture and values, one is left to wonder what exactly is meant by the fundamental pillar of "organisation simplicity" which underwrites their strategy, and is described as meaning "no complexity", "no duplication" and "no unnecessary costs".
Could it be that "no complexity" actually means "no engaging in complex transformation processes" of the South African government by empowering deserving, capable black females because it is just "too complex a change management process"?
Could "no duplication" mean, "why get a black female professional to do what a white male professional could do"?
Could "no unnecessary costs" mean "no spending on stakeholder engagement initiatives to manage the transition towards a more diverse transformed team of professionals"?
Calling for Lamberti’s removal, or resignation, merely puts a plaster on a much bigger wound. The broader challenge of executives in corporate South Africa glibly playing lip service to the transformation imperatives will not without intentional intervention suddenly vanish. Imperial Holdings is clear on how they measure performance and what their strategic thrust is. None of it has to do with South Africa’s overall transformation strategy.
For as long as the consequences for non-compliance to B-BBEE policy by people leading such companies is limited to paying fines they can afford, or half-hearted apologies, the status quo reflected in the attitudes of people like Lamberti will remain. The government needs to sharpen its teeth and introduce legislation which will hold non-complying executives personally liable.
Ntsikie Kote is the author of The Strategic Mind, as well as a strategist, and practitioner in the areas of governance and performance.
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- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE