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CEO of Wesbank Ghana Msibi. Picture: SUPPLIED
CEO of Wesbank Ghana Msibi. Picture: SUPPLIED

The slow speed of leadership transformation within the SA automotive sector, especially the continuing dominance of mostly white males in top positions, needs to be addressed urgently, WesBank CEO Ghana Msibi said. 

Whether in manufacturing, administration or at dealer level, if this trend is allowed to continue it will not only affect negatively the country’s overall transformation objectives , but will also impede the entire sector’s ability to innovate as it confronts new challenges and technologies, Msibi said..

Msibi’s view is in contrast to the auto industry giving itself a pat on the back at the recent Autoweek event that attracted industry leaders from around the world for panel discussions, networking sessions and seminars. At that event, Naamsa automotive business council chairman Mike Mabasa is reported to have claimed success in transforming the race quotas in the industry. 

“Without an understanding of the numbers on the level of the mix on gender and race levels on which the chairman is basing this claim, I’m inclined not to agree with his assessment, unless we have set low standards and say that as an industry we require only one female CEO to head up a large dealer group, another leading an OEM, and sub-five black CEOs,” said Msibi.

Of a combined total of 54 Naamsa OEM members in manufacturing and retail, only Isuzu, Renault, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen are led by non-white male CEOs, the latter German brand being headed by a female MD, Martina Biene. 

Using the Rugby World Cup exploits of the Springboks as a reference, Msibi said the auto industry must consider, and be inspired by the incredible rate of change and the successes of the national rugby team, especially in how there’s no longer a debate about transformation or the questioning of the merit of players of colour absorbed within the squad.

How can it be that transformation in the automotive industry is still a hot topic, after the dawn of democracy some 29 years ago, he asked.

He lamented the barriers that continue to inhibit entry of black Africans and females in particular into the industry. He cited the lack of an academic baseline to be used as part of transformation tools, “though the industry is setting up a curriculum of sorts, current requirements for a franchise director position, as prime example, demand 20 years’ experience on average. How are people of colour going to net these jobs if practical exposure was the exclusive privilege given to white males only,” Msibi said.  

Though Msibi acknowledged it’s next to impossible to dictate the leadership transformation conversion to global conglomerates, and the medium-sized, family-run dealer entities to adopt the national transformation framework, he nevertheless suggested the acceleration of black dealer consortia as an alternative.

“If we don’t find a solution, the industry will continue to actively counteract whatever national transformation goals have been reached and continue to sow the seeds of exclusionism and racial tensions.”

The status quo of leadership trends hasn't changed much in the SA automotive industry. Picture: BLOOMBERG
The status quo of leadership trends hasn't changed much in the SA automotive industry. Picture: BLOOMBERG

“Transformation is not about peddling numbers, but deliberately creating spaces and opportunity for people to self-propel and succeed,” Msibi said.

“We have initiatives within our structure, and last year we selected individuals that we’re accelerating — females and black people. Though having made these appointments in key roles, I’m of the opinion that the numbers still don’t represent the country’s actual race demographics on which genuine transformation should be based ,” he added.  

He concluded the industry needs to look within itself and ask how this ‘seemingly purposeful’ resistance to transformation will affect the complexion of inclusivity for future generations if the current racial mix is still not right.

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