Blacks in top posts 'should be JSE rule'

02 October 2016 - 02:04 By ASHA SPECKMAN

The Black Management Forum wants black representation to be one of the JSE listing requirements for companies.

The forum wants transformation to be thrust into the spotlight again, with corporations unable to escape their obligations.

BMF president Mncane Mthunzi said the organisation wanted its proposal to be slotted into a gender parity policy that the JSE is drafting.

"If you can come up with a policy on gender, you should be able to come up with a policy on race."

Mthunzi said discussions with the JSE were continuing on the BMF proposal.

The JSE should set the threshold for compliance and encourage companies to disclose their performance on gender- and race-based metrics.

JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King was not available for comment at the time of publication.

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Although companies were increasingly complying with governance and environmental requirements, they were lagging behind on social matters, Mthunzi said.

"Study after study suggests that those companies who are diverse and inclusive seem to outperform those who are less so. We continue to operate as if 1994 has not happened."

He added that if the problem was a dearth of skills, "what you should be seeing is that spending, as far as training [is concerned], should be skewed in favour of black people".

But he said this was not the case; the BMF was aware of people across industries who were being sidelined for job positions despite their qualifications.

The BMF hopes its action will reverse the low level of black people in top management at listed companies.

It also hopes its moves will complement the government's BEE codes of good practice, which call for 50% representation of black people in top management, and 25% of black women in that category.

The latest Jack Hammer Executive Report found that, in 2015, only 9.8% of JSE Top 40 blue-chip company CEOs were black men, a 5.2percentage point decline from 2012. Of the 334 executives, 79% were white or foreign, 21% were black, and 17% were women. Only 7% were black women.

Nomzamo Xaba, executive for research at Empowerdex, said a major problem was the general shortage of skills in the country regardless of race.

But she said the lack of skills threw a spotlight on the strength of any succession plans companies might have.

"I don't know how aggressive they are ... The average boardroom is still lily white."

Xaba said black people were represented in numbers in junior management and middle management positions.

"One then has to ask the question, are they sending people to the right kind of training?"

block_quotes_start Mthunzi questioned the Public Investment Corporation's silence on slow transformation. The PIC is the largest shareholder on the JSE block_quotes_end

In June, the BMF openly criticised cellphone giant MTN for appointing Rob Shuter to succeed Sifiso Dabengwa as group CEO.

This was the first appointment of a white person to the post in more than a decade.

But the company hit back, arguing that it was necessary to secure an internationally seasoned executive in the cutthroat industry.

"Whilst transformation will always be important, innovation and strategic flexibility are equally critical," MTN said.

Shareholder activist Theo Botha was sympathetic to the BMF proposal.

He warned, however, that "rule-based stuff becomes a nightmare. If it's not in [management's] hearts to do something, they are going to circumvent it.

"On the other hand, if you push, there's [also] a lot of whites disenfranchised and they had nothing to do with apartheid."

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He said that although universities were churning out more black graduates, these were struggling to find suitable employment necessary to catapult them into management positions eventually. "Maybe the BMF should do research. How many black graduates in 20 years, where are they, which positions do they hold?"

Mthunzi questioned the Public Investment Corporation's silence on slow transformation. The PIC is the largest shareholder on the JSE.

"Where are they in terms of driving the process?"

He said black directors appointed to boards should also step up. "Do they do enough; do they actually care about their staff?"

Botha said that at the dawn of democracy in 1994, awarding shares to employees should have been emphasised to encourage workers to remain in a company and rise to management level.

He said this was still possible through a points system whereby employees with positive scorecards by year-end would receive a share allocation. "If built up each year, they'll be model employees."

Botha said companies found wanting in terms of BEE deals included some food and furniture retailers and some asset managers.

speckmana@sundaytimes.co.za

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