One of my favourite questions to ask anyone who we are scouting to be an independent non-exec director of The People’s Fund is: 

“You have the exact same goods, same price, sold by two different companies. 

Company A, is 100% black owned, imports its goods from China. 

Company B, is 100% white owned, manufacturers it’s goods in South Africa. 

The question: philosophically, who do you buy from, and why?” 

For context, TPF, considers income inequality as one of the major stumbling blocks of mankind to self actualize and build a home for all. In South Africa, it so happens that this divide can be drawn along racial lines. 

There is no wrong or right answer to the scenario above. Both can work for different objectives. My personal stance: buy from the white owned business. Why? Because that sale is almost guaranteed to serve a lot more black people in South Africa. 

See, the problem with performative transformation is that if you look into fields that require a high technical skill like say, CA(SA), Developers (coders), Lawyers etc. What often happens, because of the historic context of South Africa, there are very few skilled black professionals in this space. Then in the interest of BEE box ticking, companies are all scrambling to find the few that are available; and the law of demand immediately kicks in: the black professionals become premium people in the market and they cost more than their white counterparts with ‘similar credentials’. 

But the real problem of the scarcity of black professionals comes in another pervasive, and dangerous way: BEE is structured to have more black (specifically women) people at the top. Companies get rewarded for this. So they often get promoted muuuch faster into positions of leadership. While this is good for the advancement of the socio-economic agenda of transformation, it does rob them badly of growing in the trenches. 

Let me put it differently to you: there are very many CAs in senior positions who have no idea how to do recons and execution of management accounts. What happens when they start their own firms? They are called ‘incompetent’ and re-inforce the utterances of “Gucci wearing revolutionaries”. Not because they are incapable of actually doing the job, but because in the interest of fast tracking transformation at the top, they miss some critical fundamental development in the middle. 

A third thing: this is more for the business owning professionals of this nature – they are in high demand because of their scarcity and as a result, everyone wants to be their client. And often, because they missed the developmental step that actually teaches that the best businesses are the ones that do their admin (I could write a book about this), they drop the ball in small and annoyingly simple ways. Often, there isn’t the support structure within their businesses required to fulfil the needs of the abundance they find themselves in. Who would say no to more money? 

So, the place we need to get in our transformation objective: less symbolism, more effect. And effect; has far fewer quick wins.

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