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A businessman, a prominent thinker on business leadership and African values, a distinguished speaker, author and Africanist, Reuel Khoza is the embodiment of the values-driven leadership he espouses.
I first met Reuel in the late 1970s, at a time when South Africa’s government was increasingly under siege and starting to recognise that its apartheid policies were not only immoral but also no longer sustainable. We worked together during the 1980s engaging with South African companies in the fields of transformation and strategy.
As our paths crossed over the years, we became colleagues and continued to collaborate as members of a robust informal group that met for some 20 years to debate business and politics in South Africa.
I have come to know Reuel as a man of integrity and as an advocate of effective and ethical leadership, particularly the philosophy of ubuntu, or African humanism, and what it can contribute to leadership today. He has a commanding presence tempered with a sense of humility.
Reuel has received a great deal of recognition during his career, and has been the recipient of many awards. He holds a number of degrees and has held directorships at many of South Africa’s top-drawer companies such as Vodacom and Standard Bank. He is president of the Institute of Directors of South Africa, the major shareholder in Aka Capital, the investment company, and the current chairman of Nedbank, one of South Africa’s four big banks.
Reuel is one of South Africa’s pre-eminent corporate leaders and one who has always sought to give back and make a contribution to broader society. A man of intellect and dignity, in many ways he is the type of “attuned leader” that he writes about. Both an academic and an entrepreneur, he straddles the domains of insights and practical service – essential in a leader who asks others to follow his actions as well as his words.
That is what I respect about Reuel; he lives his philosophy. His most recent book, Attuned Leadership, is in my view his most substantive work and explains how the ethic of ubuntu (a value system based on traditional African values which means “I am what I am because of who we all are”) can transform business, statecraft and global leadership.
Reuel’s views on transformation and change are well balanced. He is a proponent of values-driven leadership, a stance which has, from time to time, led to scrapes with the ruling African National Congress. But his willingness to articulate his views broadly was important as South Africa prepared to go to the polls last week, 20 years after our country’s first democratic election.
Blessed with an abundance of mineral wealth and natural resources and a growing population, South Africa is a turbulent and fascinating country. We have made significant progress since 1994, but there is a huge transformation agenda for the future that demands leadership of a calibre that can manage in a fast changing, complex and competitive global environment.
It is clear from the students passing through our doors at the Gordon Institute of Business Science that the younger generation of corporate leaders, managers and entrepreneurs bring a different attitude to business and to life in South Africa. Less obsessed with race and our history, this new generation is more intent on improving performance and their relationships with each other.
The South African dynamic is moving on. What the country needs is more statesmen like Reuel to mentor the next generation of leaders, preparing them to help South Africa take its rightful place in the global economy.
Over the years, I have seen Reuel in action, facilitating groups about South Africa’s political dynamics in a highly effective manner, building consensus, summarising his ubuntu emphasis and marking the way forward. But his first step is always to listen, an art he learnt from his father, a lay-preacher-cum-teacher who taught him to listen before acting.
Perhaps with the kind of attuned leadership Reuel has to offer, the next generation of South African leaders will find their own pattern of ethical global leadership, one equipped to combine the warmth and humanity of African culture with the culture of modernity and competitiveness.
For Reuel, guiding future leaders capable of unlocking this potential may be central to his philosophy of ubuntu – but it is also just good business sense.
Nick Binedell is dean of the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg