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In its third year, the CEO for a Day initiative run by executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan African brings together South African students from leading business schools and matches them with CEOs from South Africa-based businesses within the private sector.

The students get to spend the day with the CEOs and gain first-hand experience in understanding not only the level of responsibility that C-Suite executives hold, but also how they create value for their organisations. The programme will come to a close at the end of October.

Ozayr Ballim, an MBA student at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, spent time with Mel Brooks, the regional president of G4S Africa, and gained insight into what it takes to oversee 120,000 employees in 29 countries within the region, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was most impressed by the high-performance leadership values that Mr Brooks demonstrated and, for me, this is what underpins his success in business,” says Ballim. “I learned that adopting leadership values such as inclusivity, democratic consultation and constructive conflict improves organisational performance. This is brought about by the fact that the people you lead are valued.”

As part of the experience, Ballim was invited to join an executive meeting and gained first-hand experience of how Brooks used his team’s expertise to address complex challenges in a perpetually changing business environment.

Leon Ayo, CEO of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa, says: “Part of the experience is for students to understand that being a CEO extends beyond the technical skill gained through work experience and to see how the right leadership style plays a crucial role. Without acute emotional intelligence, strong culture and clear values, CEOs are less likely to succeed and it is important for South Africa’s future leaders to realise this and begin developing their own softer skills early on in their careers.”

UCT Graduate School of Business MBA student Heloise Janse van Rensburg spent her day with Clicks Group CEO David Kneale and was blown away by his leadership style.

Janse van Rensburg says: “David leads his team effortlessly with grace, fierce determination and guidance, rather than control. And he has a great sense of humour. He seeks clarity through tactical questioning and gets his team to take full ownership of their respective businesses. He lives and breathes what I believe makes great leaders – he removes obstacles for others to deliver what they need to, and is not afraid to make bold decisions on the spot if it is necessary.

“Overall the experience was profoundly impactful and I will never expect to have a day like that ever again. I was literally a fly on the wall, an outsider peeking into the successful operation of a star retail company in South Africa.”

Grace Garland, an MBA student from the University of Stellenbosch Business School, spent a day with Esther Benjamin at Monash University and learned valuable lessons from the experience.

Garland says: “Ms Benjamin illustrated her depth of leadership during every part of the day, whether she was in a meeting with executives or connecting with students on campus.”

She has shared the five leadership lessons she learned from Benjamin:

1. Have a network of people you rely on for support – someone you know well and who will support you when you have those bad days. This includes managing stress and pressure points by surrounding yourself with people you can trust.

2. Share your team’s successes and share positive stories about your colleagues with other people.

3. Get as many different people from the business into one room as often as possible. Have this diverse group of people discuss ideas and challenges. Monash encourages its students to attend formal, staff-only type events to help break down barriers.

4. Always talk to the people you lead. Spend time with them often and in an unhurried manner.

5. Opportunities come to you and you need to embrace them. This is a result of being positive, when you are highly competent and when you maintain critical networks with peers and mentors.

This article was paid for by Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa.


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