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South African Business Star Brings Mandela's Leadership Model to the West | SABLE Accelerator Network

South African Business Star Brings Mandela's Leadership Model to the West

By Rowan Philp

Anne Pratt – founder of Memela Pratt & Associates, the premium executive search firm – won Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business & Government Award (Business Services Category) in 2015, and is one of the most deeply networked businesswomen in South Africa. The company’s recent recruitments include the chairman of the Standard Bank Group, Thulani Gcabashe, as well as senior executives at organizations like Tiger Brands, MTN Africa, MTN Nigeria, and the DBSA.

She is now completing a year-long Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative fellowship, in a class of 45 global business leaders that also includes South Africa’s iconic former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. 

Having identified seven “quotients” (or measures of competence) of leadership intelligence that South Africa’s iconic global leader displayed, Pratt won the Fellowship based on a proposal to set out these lessons in a book, and to explore the launch of a dedicated leadership academy in the West.

“This is a new leadership paradigm based on the lessons of Nelson Mandela that requires leaders to develop seven quotients of intelligence to deal with the unique challenges of the 21st century – challenges that are really about the survival of humanity,” she says. “We may not yet know it, but I believe we all have an inner Mandela, and there are practical tools to unearth this potential.”

Pratt told SABLE that she believes there is a growing leadership crisis globally – across political parties, NGOs and business alike – and, at the same time, a growing challenge for organizations to attract the most talented Millennials to their ranks.

She believes an inclusive, inspirational, courageous, purpose-driven leadership style is both teachable and critical, irrespective of the stakeholder makeup.

Her “IQ-7” analysis of Mandela’s style includes emotional intelligence, practical intelligence, and community/ social intelligence; a mix she sees as essential in a 21st century world in which higher purpose will attract both talent and consumers, while also tackling shared existential challenges.

Pratt has already had direct involvement with furthering Madiba’s legacy. Her firm recruited development leader and poet Achmat Dangor as the former CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation; a head hunt she describes as “one we were most proud of.” She was also renowned in executive circles for sending books on Mandela as birthday gifts to dozens of key leaders, from Shoprite CEO “Whitey” Basson to Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron.

And ordinary South Africans became aware of Anne Pratt when news media reported that her family  had a “national treasure” – a suit worn by Mandela shortly after his release from prison in 1990. Pratt won the grey Rex Trueform suit at a 2003 fundraising auction, on behalf of her family.

In addition, the success of Memela Pratt & Associates itself was literally built on Madiba’s executive principles – including his practice of showing equal respect to powerful negotiating partners and those without power. Her former company’s profile states: “We embrace the Mandela brand of leadership.”

The effect of this mandate was that the company became known for treating every person it interacted with as a treasured client – from candidates to referrals – while promoting the idea that it was possible to promote diversity, transformation, competence and elite talent at the same time.

Pratt says: “When we crafted our original value statement in 1998, I realized Mandela’s leadership was highly relevant to business leadership. We made a commitment to find the best executive talent in the country, to deliver on strategic objectives, and to make an impact on a transforming South Africa. When we dealt with reference providers, we ensured they received the same level of treatment and service as clients and top candidates. It made direct business sense too, because today you’re a client or a referent, and tomorrow you could be a candidate.”

Pratt’s academic background in South Africa was defined by a deep desire to learn what makes people tick. Having majored in economics and psychology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she then completed an honors degree in psychology, and, ultimately, an MBA focusing on strategy – a thesis that won her a Nedcor award for “outstanding contribution to business.”

She began her career in consumer marketing, with Unilever. “I think that growing up professionally in a multi-national company – being recruited from university directly to Unilever – and in fact growing up in a home that believed in global excellence and diverse perspectives helped me develop values to become a good global citizen,” she says.

Raised in Queensborough, near Durban, Pratt says her mother, Renée Pratt, not only reflected many of Mandela’s values, but also exposed her to champions of those principles. In particular, she was struck, as a child, by the leadership impact of a pioneering couple, Anthony and Maggie Barker, who  built a rural clinic, the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital, into one of the best, “and happiest,” community health institutions in the country.

“My late mother was an incredible pioneering woman who inculcated amazing values from a young age; she defined success as an ability to dine with paupers and walk with kings,” she says. “She spent a lot of time at that clinic in northern KZN with Anthony and Maggie Barker. Their dining room suite was an empty wooden tomato box – but I tell you, despite very limited resources, the couple turned this clinic into a high performing and incredibly happy space, for both staff and patients. I mean – they deemed patients well enough for discharge when they could join the staff in playing softball with their old bat and ball! Theirs was a Mandela form of leadership – serving others and a higher purpose, and inspiring through inclusivity. We are now seeing similar impacts from purpose-driven multi-nationals like Unilever, whose global CEO made sustainability central to the journey of the company.”

Pratt concedes that “there is no definitive evidence yet” that purpose driven-firms have a competitive advantage over those with narrow business missions. But she says compelling case evidence is emerging, in markets like the United Kingdom and India, that purpose leadership is beginning to capture market share while also improving the world.

Indeed, SABLE’s sister network, the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, has quoted a number of thought leaders on their belief that leaders who leverage the “why” question in decisions are increasingly generating both business success and reduced HR costs.

Shannon Schuyler, Chief Purpose Officer for PricewaterhouseCoopers, told BPI that, in 2016, 76 percent of CEOs surveyed believed that the guidance of an inspirational purpose represented a competitive advantage. She said benefits included staff retention, innovation stimulation, and the elevation of consumer trust.

Pratt says the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative fellowship is “one of the best things I have ever done – an absolute immersion in new ideas and amazing people.” She can’t yet speak to the specifics of her plan to help establish a Mandela-inspired leadership academy – except to say she has received “enormous enthusiasm” for the concept from peers at Harvard – but she hopes to launch her book in the summer of next year.

 Pratt insists that Mandela’s leadership instincts are present in everyone, but allows that South African executives who embrace those  principles have enjoyed a slight head start, having watched the president up close.

In addition to his iconic leadership of national reconciliation and empowerment, Mandela’s leadership included the adoption of a free market economic policy, despite the historic support of socialist governments; the cultivation of the world’s most progressive constitution; the promotion of women into leadership roles; the development of Africa’s most diverse and robust middle class; and breaking with Western governments to eject an oil-rich fellow African government, a Nigerian dictatorship, from the Commonwealth for its execution of civil rights activists. And he was publically self-accountable when he realized that he had erred in responding too slowly to the AIDs epidemic.

As a globally respected executive talent scout, Pratt says South African business leaders have achieved remarkable success abroad; many, armed with purpose-driven and innovative business models that are transforming their industries.

“South Africans are adventurous, pioneering, willing to take a level of risk; what we have seen is that when South Africans go abroad, they tend to do extremely well,” she says.  “We’ve also heard that from our executive search partners in the US, the UK, and Australia. They are high performing; very hard working – at times, perhaps a little brash. We’ve seen a lot of very successful black executives come abroad also; many of whom were educated overseas during the apartheid era or in exile, and are now leveraging their earlier global experience.”

For western leaders across sectors, Pratt says it is important that talented executives or politicians realize that the same principles and values are applicable, and increasingly relevant, across sectors, from retail to non-profits and national and local government.

“It’s not about one kind of leadership for politicians and another for business executives and NGOs – leadership is leadership even though the protocols and processes may be different,” she says. “From a prison cell to his retirement, Mandela showed us this. It’s a complete misnomer to think people will or must behave differently with a new set of stakeholders, because, with new technologies and threats and purpose-minded consumers, we are really all stakeholders facing similar global challenges like climate change. It’s not just about the ‘returns to shareholders’ argument, it’s also about the new costs or rewards for the business, the benefits for society and the well-being of humanity.”