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Sunday Times Leaders on the Move tour offers top SA leadership wisdom

The recent Sunday Times Leaders on the Move tour, with Johnnie Walker, featured Willem Roos (OUTsurance), Thabo Dloti (Liberty Holdings) and Norbert Sasse (Growthpoint Properties) discussing their take on leadership skills.
Sunday Times Leaders on the Move tour offers top SA leadership wisdom

Addressing delegates at the event, Sandra Griffiths, marketing and innovation director at Diageo South Africa, owners of the Johnnie Walker brand in South Africa, said the journey to the pinnacle of leadership is often not a smooth one, requiring tomorrow’s leaders to be adept at overcoming adversity. They also need to believe in themselves and their vision, particularly if they’re planning on establishing an entrepreneurial venture.

Disrupting short-term insurance

Willem Roos, CEO of OUTsurance, studied actuarial science and then became a university lecturer. It was while working in the insurance industry that he met his two fellow founders of what was to become OUTsurance. Roos was advised that at the age of 24 he was too young to start a business – advice that he promptly disregarded. When you are young, he maintains, it is actually easier to start up your own business, as you have less financial responsibilities.

Roos and his two partners saw a gap in the market for a company offering cheap insurance. Roos’ employer at the time, Aegis, was not interested in their model but RMB’s Laurie Dippenaar saw the opportunity, although he at first argued that the venture required too much capital. “It is sometimes much harder for a smaller venture to get off the ground,” concedes Roos. “We were asking for R100m and eventually Laurie saw the clear business case and was convinced.”

OUTsurance launched at a time when the short-term insurance landscape was significantly less competitive than it is today. Luck and timing, said Roos, were key components of the company’s success.

Ongoing success requires that business leaders understand that no business formula – no matter how successful initially - is indefinite and change is guaranteed. OUTsurance, initially a disruptor in the market, is no exception.

Leading Liberty

All leaders should have a sense of purpose, maintains Thabo Dloti, the group chief executive of Liberty Holdings. Dloti loved maths from an early age, being the only subject he really understood. He studied for a business science degree and then actuarial science, although he never wrote the final examinations.

“Although I didn’t come from a wealthy family, my parents understood the importance of education. My parents taught me that any boundaries are self-imposed.”

By the age of 32, he was leading the largest asset management business in South Africa. However, he says it takes time to gain the necessary experience to lead and guide a large and complex organisation such as Liberty.

“I did not grow up thinking that I wanted to be a CEO but I have always been very clear about the goals I wanted to achieve. Having a clear purpose is not about a particular job – after all, you can be successful without becoming a CEO.”

Dloti says he has become more trusting of people the older he has become. “I was very arrogant when I first started working. These days I am more focused on how I help others achieve their goals.”

He said each leader’s job is to include another layer to the history of the organisation they lead. “I consider my job an opportunity to touch so many lives. If I am successful then our share price goes up and shareholders are happy. I do not have an end destination in mind yet – it will be time to leave when I’m bored.”

Strong work ethic leads to growth

Successful leaders tend to have a strong work ethic. Norbert Sasse, the CEO of Growthpoint Properties, had this work ethic drilled into him from an early age. Sasse, who led Growthpoint in a R1.6bn management buyout transaction from Investec, is a qualified chartered accountant and had several years of experience in corporate finance. His background in corporate finance has stood him in good stead at Growthpoint. “What excites me about deal making is trying to find a solution despite the multiple headwinds and obstacles facing you,” he admitted.

Did he ever know he was destined for a leadership position? “There’s an element of luck involved – you see an opportunity and then you take it. I joined Investec in corporate finance. However, the market had slumped and there were very few deals coming off. Investec had a contract to manage Growthpoint but the company was not doing well and was headed for liquidation. I joined Growthpoint as an Investec employee – that was my first lucky break as I could have chosen to continue in corporate finance.”

Sasse believes a degree of fear is essential as it keeps leaders from becoming arrogant. “There is always a competitor who is bigger than you and without a degree of fear you risk not respecting the threats facing your business.”

He does not believe he is here to leave a legacy – although he concedes that by default he will probably leave a legacy. “What I would like to leave is a sustainable organisation which is not wholly dependent on any one individual,” he concludes.

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