In order for any company to want to do business in Africa, or indeed anywhere in the world, you have to commit to building a sustainable business with a clear sustainability target. Targets have become mandated based on what we are seeing in terms of climate change, water quality and agricultural yield. The UN Net Zero global coalition is driving change in terms of how companies are doing business.
Sustainability extends beyond environmental and social impact. It also influences how company demonstrates it values to its people. I believe my journey through the MBA course helped me understand my purpose in life and what are my drivers when making decisions. I learnt to be intentional in my choices around which companies to work for because it is critical to have shared values. I am the Vice President and Managing Director at Ecolab Sub-Saharan Africa. We are the world leaders when it comes to water treatment, hygiene and healthcare solutions and we have won the most ethical place to work for the past 15 years.
I have also been intentional about the people that I have chosen to build relationships with. Professor Linda Ronnie spoke about the concept of a ‘trusted advisor’ – when you work with or for a company that listens to what you have to say and trusts you. It comes about because you are speaking your authentic truth. This is something that stays with me, it is something that Professor Kurt April drilled into us too. When you look at the statistics, 70% of multinationals in Africa fail and so establishing trust and proving you are a credible leader is even more critical on this continent. Ecolab has shown me that they live their values – I am the first appointed Vice President of colour and the youngest person globally in this role. The GSB MBA journey was key for me to change the African narrative in my own mind and to make it happen within the company I chose.
The biggest part of our business is water treatment on the industrial side and in Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of our portfolio is in this industrial sector around water treatment. We provide end-to-end services – consulting to assess the scale of the problem, implementing solutions and monitoring and subsequent management. It isn’t only about treating water to improve purity – a very large component is around reducing water consumption. On a daily basis, I am living my values because we are making an impact in fighting climate change.
Sustainability in the workplace: a driver for recruitment
I’m very interested in how workplaces are going to live their sustainability values. Post pandemic, there seems to have been a massive shift in awareness to behave in a more sustainable way. The generation coming into the next level of mid-management are asking more questions than ever before. The pandemic created a scenario where values could be relooked at – work/life balance has become more important, working flexibly and making less of an impact on the earth. Companies have to weave sustainability into their strategies. This is what the consumer is asking for, but it also applies to the workplace, where individuals want to work for a company that is making a positive impact that can be measured. If you look at how the Anglo has committed to 100% EV vehicles, or Nike offering sustainable cotton trainers at a premium or Adidas’ Run for the Oceans initiative - brands are having to evolve to respond to both consumer and employee pressure.
Focus on relationships: building a meaningful network
Sustainability also extends to your network. Building relationships is key to success in business but it is about making the right choices with respect to relationships that you have both professionally and personally, focusing on shared values. It is continuous work and you never know when you may need to extract value out of any relationships or indeed reciprocate.
Many people make the mistake of trying to have a broad network but if there is no net worth within your network, then the relationships are not real. If you want to have a high-powered network, you need to put the time in and be authentic. From the MBA time, there are only a handful of people from both classes that I remain close to, but they have been with me throughout my journey. If you align yourself with the right people, the right thing will happen at the right time. To lead others, you need to be able to lead yourself, understand your behavioral drivers, focus your time and effort aligned to your over-arching objectives. And have fun.