ENTREPRENEUR: Ricky Robinson, founder and CEO of LRMG
He does not see himself as an entrepreneur, but the business he founded to develop people helps blue-chip firms, and keeps growing
Ricky Robinson has always been inspired to aim for high performance. As a student, he was the first English-speaking South African to run a mile in less than four minutes. At the time he also ran SA’s fastest debut marathon.
Twenty-four years ago he founded LRMG, which stands for Learn, Reflect, Mobilise and Grow. Robinson does not feel he was particularly entrepreneurial by doing it. "Three things came together fortuitously: a wish to be involved in the political economy, a love of labour relations, and evidence that management was struggling to implement labour legislation that was advanced for the time."
Robinson believes that building a high-performance culture is vital in today’s complex business environment. And to do this means putting people first and developing talent.
Learning is an ongoing passion; Robinson considers himself a perpetual student of leadership and high performance.
He says: "As I’ve experienced some of my own personal growth, I’ve realised that empowering and growing people can transform organisations, and beyond." And this is what he does. LRMG’s name encapsulates this philosophy, and the firm works with companies to improve their organisational culture, boost productivity and grow leadership.
It hasn’t been plain sailing. The business experienced growing pains, survived three economic crises and has needed to adapt its business model to changing times and left-field challenges. These have pushed improvements. "We’re more resilient, a better place to work and have sharpened our delivery," Robinson says.
Apart from offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, LRMG also operates in Kenya and Mauritius, and has affiliations in 18 other African countries.
Expansion has also occurred through the broadening of the company’s offering. It now includes a Wits University-accredited online learning division, called DigitalCampus, as well as data integration and automation subsidiary BizWize Consulting and talent platform business TalenTek. LRMG also has an investment arm, Pula Capital Partners.
A recent, thriving innovation is the presentation of case studies. In these Robinson partners with fellow director and conversation strategist Nozipho Tshabalala and with LRMG’s trained moderators. They unravel business lessons from moving, inclusive human stories. The team has facilitated more than 100 such presentations, which have been enthusiastically received by clients. Subjects range from Everest expeditions, survival in the Andes, civil rights activist Rosa Parks’s courage and commitment, and the Springboks’ 2019 Rugby World Cup triumph.
"A business like ours is all about people," Robinson says. "We’re well-positioned to solve some of the talent capability, skills development, performance or transformation issues a client may have.
"We try to answer the call when a CEO says: ‘This is what’s keeping me up at night’."
LRMG’s clients include blue-chip organisations such as AB InBev, Liberty and MTN. The auditor-general is a client too.
Robinson is upbeat about the company’s prospects, believing that LRMG is poised to facilitate its clients’ performance and productivity, and to contribute to the country’s economic growth. The commodities boom of the past year has buoyed SA’s economy, and Robinson sees the green shoots of a post-pandemic recovery.
"We must make the most of that good fortune," he says. "I’m an optimist. I think that SA and our economy will fly."
He believes SA business leaders should continue to think in a global way yet act in the local context. He says the challenges and complexities of business today also come with immense opportunities. "We must commit to causes larger than ourselves. We need to think about creating a meaningful legacy for future generations of Africans."
Robinson may not have considered himself an entrepreneur at the start, but he has the energy and passion of one now.
He’s reticent about offering advice to others but, when pushed, suggests the following for today’s entrepreneurs: "Read. It will save you making the mistakes that every other entrepreneur, and I too, have made. And keep something aside for a rainy day, because it will rain."
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