The most important thing SA has right now is an honest leader - Richard Branson

Richard Branson at the Business is an Adventure event. Picture: Sthembiso Lebuso
Richard Branson at the Business is an Adventure event. Picture: Sthembiso Lebuso

Richard Branson says that the most important thing South Africa has right now is an honest leader.

“I feel more confident investing my money in South Africa with him [President Cyril Ramaphosa] than with the previous [leader].”

The British billionaire was speaking at the Business is an Adventure event held in Johannesburg on Thursday morning .

The event was hosted by Branson in partnership with Investec and Virgin Atlantic. The idea was to take business folk on an adventure and there were three sessions which discussed how diversity builds business advantage, business out of the ordinary and a question and answer session with Branson and Investec Group’s former chief executive, Stephen Koseff.

Diversity builds business advantage

The first panel tackled diversity and the role it plays in business. The panel consisting of SA model, activist, and lawyer Thando Hopa; futurist, author, founder and CEO of marketing consulting firm BrainReserve Faith Popcorn; global head of organisation development and human resources Dr Marc Kahn, all agreed that companies no longer have the option to choose to have diversity or not.

“These are unordinary times, we need an unordinary everything,” Popcorn said.

Kahn said that it’s not enough to have diversity and representation.

“What is important is having a culture of inclusion and belonging. It is only in that culture that the interaction between those differences can come together in a productive way,” Kahn said.

Khan said that most companies fail by thinking that they could put people in positions and be done for the day.

“That is a fail. The first step is to get the representation but the real hard work is to have leadership that builds an environment where that difference can have a voice and not be marginalised,” Kahn said.

Business out of the ordinary

The second session of the event talked about business in extraordinary conditions with Branson, chief executive of Investec Fani Titi, Takealot head Kim Reid and the United Kingdom’s trade commissioner for Africa Emma Wade-Smith.

Wade-Smith said that doing business in Africa is not different from doing business anywhere in the world. “Too many people aren’t aware of the reality of Africa today. Once we talk about the reality of Africa, once people see the opportunities in every sector, in pretty much any country on the continent, we start seeing people get excited. Once we see people pursue that trade, we see extraordinary business,” Wade-Smith said.

Fani Titi said that standing still is not an option.

“We live in a world that is disruptive,” Titi said. He said that as Investec they use people on the ground to be on the lookout for change and risk.

Branson said that it is important to keep reinventing yourself.

“If we stayed with the record shops that we had we would’ve actually went bankrupt. Sometimes you have to look for opportunities and jump in,” Branson said.

Reid said that artificial intelligence will cause the most disruption to business going into the future. “Businesses who are not going to adopt AI will be hurt. I think AI is going to be a game-changer,” Reid said.

Branson agreed with Reid but said that special attention has to be paid to the effects that AI will have on people.

“I think people will benefit through health, education, safety in cars, but there is a danger that AI is going to cost jobs. Companies and governments have to think about it if AI comes in, how are we going to make sure that people are employed,” Branson said.

The future

The final session of the day with Branson and Koseff was a Q&A session where Branson mentioned that he would feel more confident investing in Ramaphosa’s South Africa than former president Jacob Zuma’s South Africa.

Koseff had similar sentiments and said that if South Africa continued to grow with the growth rate it had before Zuma became president, the country would be totally different. On the reasons why the country is still stuck in a rut almost two years into Ramaphosa’s presidency, Koseff said that it takes a while to get back on track after things had go haywire. Koseff also believed that it’s time Ramaphosa takes tough decisions.

One of those decisions needs to with regards to Eskom.

“They took time to come up with a plan, the plan is here, now execute it. You have to do it with private capital. I hate the word privatisation but use any word, call it public-private partnerships, call it anything, but just do it,” Koseff said.

Koseff said that business needs to play a more active role in helping South Africa get out of the rut. “Leaders have to give people hope. You can’t walk around being miserable. You have to be active in society and help uplift people,” Koseff said.

More on the Business is an Adventure event here: 


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