2008 Boss of the Year leads by example
Encourages sense of belonging among diverse workforce
The 2008 Boss of the Year title bearer, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, may be the youngest person ever to be appointed CEO of the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market (JFPM), but thought-provoking statements and words of wisdom are not in short supply, thanks to valuable and extensive experience in challenging management and leadership positions in municipal entities.
Before his JFPM appointment, this trained civil engineer, who also holds a Masters in public administration, made his mark as CEO of the Metropolitan Trading Company, one of the City of Johannesburg’s 14 municipal-owned entities. During this time he worked closely with informal traders and representatives of the taxi industry to forge greater co-operation. He also succeeded in putting the company on a sound financial footing and conceptualising and driving a durable strategy for growth.
As he was also instrumental in the establishment of the Johannesburg Roads Agency, the organisational design of the Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg Transport Authorities and the compilation of the City of Johannesburg’s Integrated Transport Plan, he gained thorough knowledge and experience of corporate governance and organisational restructuring.
Sputla, as he is popularly known, has a great passion for people with a winning mentality. He intends growing the JFPM by focusing on employee growth, improved stakeholder relations, business efficiency, improving market share through value-added activities and building a market that responds to changing industry demands, yet he is always aware of the numerous challenges facing business leaders.
Besides surviving and thriving in a global economy in turbulent times, sound corporate governance, and conducting business in a fashion that would give confidence and assurance to potential investors, the biggest challenge facing leaders in the workplace today centres on soft issues like managing employee morale and human relations, he reckons.
“One of the big leadership challenges today is to create an environment where people can have a sense of existence and belonging, as opposed to merely monetary benefits, which previously tended to be the focus. Although we’ve transcended that to an extent, creating a welcoming ambience for employees still needs attention. You can pay people as much as they want, but for as long as there is no a sense of belonging and people do not feel valued at the workplace, commitment will be lacking. In fact, soft issues are likely to occupy the centre stage of enterprises seeking to position themselves as market leaders,” Ramokgopa argues.
Obviously it is the function of a number of things, one being that leadership must be able to provide a vision and “sell” a picture of the future to all employees in order to motivate and retain them, he points out.
This is precisely what he is credited for doing at JFPM. “The CEO has clearly outlined his 2010 vision to the entire company and spelled out how each department and thus every employee fits in the organisation with regard its realisation. The end result is a highly motivated staff with improved morale. The JFPM is now becoming a fertile ground for breeding new leadership, especially for the previously advantaged to play a leading role in the agribusiness value chain,” says Senior Marketing Manager Thomas Mawasha.
He adds that by espousing the essential values of professionalism, efficiency and good corporate governance, Ramokgopa has in no small measure contributed to the JFPM recording significant growth in turnover from R2,3bn in 2007 to R2,8bn in 2008 – an increase of R500m. The Market also managed to get a clean audit report in the previous financial year and is poised to repeat the feat in the 2007/08 financial year.
“Through his leadership of engagement with stakeholders and encouraging staff to do the same, the Market is fast regaining its reputation as the continent’s pre-eminent centre for the sale of fresh produce and is on course to deliver profit to the shareholder to address the country’s social needs,” stresses Mawasha.
The one person in Ramokgopa’s life who epitomises all the characteristics of an excellent leader is his 72-year old mother. “Although she’s never had any schooling, she always understood the value of education to ameliorate ourselves as a family from the harsh economic conditions we’ve been exposed to. She considers it a lifelong treasure that nobody can take away from you, as it almost guarantees an average or above-average life.”
In her rural environment, where she had been exposed to extreme conditions, his mother always assumed the leadership role with dignity and humility – contrary to conventional practice at the time.
“She was not only there to take care of us, she provided direction and guidance to all of her ninechildren – and all of us had managed to go through formal education and secondary studies. One of the most important things that I’ve learnt from her is that perseverance pays: she could not live the life she wanted, but she used the little resources at her disposal prudently to ensure that we all had a better life. In fact, one of the things that I will always celebrate about poverty, is that you learn very early in life to share your limited resources.”
He shies away from taking personal credit for the success of his company: “I might be the face of the organisation, but it takes more than one person to convince an enterprise to go in a particular direction. The one thing, however, that I believe I have managed to do in all the organisations that I’ve led, is to identify talent, assemble excellent operational individuals around me, give them ownership of their portfolios and allow them to unleash their talent.
“I don’t look over their shoulders; the best thing that I, as a leader, can do, is to provide them with leadership and vision, anticipating the future and ensuring that we fit into that future going forward. Their responsibility as managers is to focus operationally so that they can best accelerate our movement towards realising our vision.”
Despite a full programme at work, Ramokgopa also finds time to serve the community, as commitment to community social development remains an integral part of his being. He also enjoys watching a wide range of sport.
One heck of a woman
Boss of the Year 2007 Dawn Jones
Dedicated, determined, modest and poised are the adjectives best used to describe South Africa’s top boss – Imperial Car Rental CEO Dawn Jones. She became the official title bearer of Boss of the Year 2007 at a celebratory lunch at the Montecasino Ballroom in Johannesburg yesterday (16 October). Jones joined a fledgling Imperial Car Rental in 1980 in what was to become a lifelong career move. As the company grew from five vehicles to its current 16 000, she advanced from literally handing over the car keys, to the head of a leading player in the car rental industry.
It was a progressive climb up each rung of the ladder learning every facet of the business until her understanding matched her sheer determination. However, she knows that knowledge of the industry alone does not win you the respect and support of the most valuable asset of any business – its people. As she reached the top rung, it became apparent to everyone that she had the two most important leadership qualities – industry knowledge and her compassionate understanding of human nature.
Jones says it is about understanding that every individual has a hierarchy of values and that no two people are the same.
“Being a good manager means caring enough to find out what those values are and transferring those values to achieve optimum performance. No person is so altruistic that he/she works for the good of a company without needing some personal gratification of his/her own. And a salary alone does not satisfy that in people.
“The motivation comes from connecting the dots. People need to visualise how helping to build a company can assist them to fulfil their own goals and dreams. Lose sight of this and companies will end up with 9 to 5 robots mechanically going through the motions of their daily tasks, counting the days till pay day instead of having an organisation that heaves with passion, energy and a collective vision for the business and themselves,” she says.
What really drives Dawn Jones, if you will excuse the pun? Who is this passionate woman who has been known to hand over the keys of her own personal vehicle when the demand for Imperial cars exceeds the 16 000?
A perfect example of her determination and energy comes from the early days in Durban when Imperial couldn’t secure rights to an airport kiosk. Jones would park a few rental vehicles in the arrivals parking lot at the airport and tout for business in the arrivals hall. When all the vehicles had paying drivers, Jones was left with no transport for herself – a sacrifice she was willing to make even it meant hitching a ride back to the office in her smart Imperial uniform.
That is the professional, business woman, but who is Dawn Jones after she has ticked off the last appointment in her diary for the day and turned the lights out as she leaves the Imperial building heading for home?
She is the doting mother of Daniel, her 21-month old son. Even this is a story of incredible determination as she embarked on a journey riddled with “red tape”, challenges and frustration. It culminated in a trip half way round the world to deliver maternal love to a little boy languishing in a Russian orphanage. She says she feels grateful and blessed, and it has fulfilled a part of her life that no number of successful deals could ever achieve.
While it is apparent that work and family are high on Jones’s hierarchy of values, a close third is physical fitness, which means that she makes regular visits to the gym to maintain her slim figure. This is partnered by eating all the right foods – kosher of course – since converting to Orthodox Judaism a few years ago – a feat in its self.
There is one thread that runs through Jones’s business and private life and that is her poise, which is unwavering. While most of us lose it at some point in our lives, Ms Jones seems to keep a lid on it and present an almost serene persona at all times.
Her lifetime of successes and the good fortune that goes along with it have not dented Jones’s modesty. This was evident when she shied away from reading all the wonderful things her fellow Imperialists had to say about her in the nomination proposal for Boss of the Year submitted by her loyal PA Lizzy Robinson. Well, for one, she knew her mascara would run, but she is acutely aware that too much acclamation is not healthy for a balanced outlook.
We asked if there was a secret to her success. “Love what you do and do what you love,” she says. If you want to rise to the top, passion is the secret ingredient. It unlocks energy, drive and dedication, which if shared, serves to inspire all who come into contact with it.” And what does the future hold for the woman who appears to have so much going for her? She laughs at that notion and says: “More of the same good fortune I hope.”