Cold tea, hot takes: Rob Katz's lessons for leaders

Work hard at what you're good at, keeping your values skills intact, and then give back.

CEO of Peregrine Holdings Rob Katz has just four top lessons for the ambitious CA with an eye on an executive role. They might be simply stated, but much, much harder to implement and live by, he cautions. 

Rob’s talk – entitled Cold tea: Lessons learned along the way – formed part of the ‘Leaders, Entrepreneurs and Innovators’ series of talks at the Finance Indaba 2018 (3 and 4 October, at the Sandton Convention Centre).

With his “no nonsense” delivery style, Rob led his audience through an interactive and engaging discussion that – as promised – steered clear of the principles of your average management textbook, and drew directly from his own decades of experience climbing through the corporate ranks. 

1.    Work hard at what you’re good at
Rob says his favourite analytical tool is the simple distribution curve. In a pool of our peers, to stand out and succeed you need to get onto the right-hand side of the distribution curve. This is your path away from average – and “no one promotes average”, he warns. 

In Rob’s experience, these right-hand curve people are both talented and hard-working. Either attribute is insufficient, he argues. “You need hard work in combination with talent, and the secret is match these to what you’re good at. There is no shortcut to putting yourself in a position to succeed.” This is a choice that starts in recognizing that the typical ‘eight-to-five’ job is a thing of the past. We are expected to be available, work after hours, and travel on short notice.

He adds: “I’ve never taken a delinquent worker and made them a star. I’ve only taken people who have talent, who put in the word, and then made them better.”

2.    Be a better leader
The ‘old school’ leadership style – of demanding respect and barking orders at people -- simply does not work anymore. Respect is not conveyed through a position, but earned through your actions and what you can do for people. “In fact, the job for bosses now is not to be the best, but to get the best out of people. The hardest part of leadership today is selecting the right people,” Rob says. 

“You must lead by example, work harder than anyone else, walk the talk, and treat your people with respect and dignity 24/7 365”. His two touchstone principles in this are to never get angry (which leads to words you will later regret), and to never lie (“if you do, you lose all credibility forever”). 

3.    Be guided by ethics
Rob argues that the application of values and ethics is key, while acknowledging that making the right decision in any real business scenario is incredibly hard. 

“In the real world, you do not have all the time or all the facts. Especially in listed environments, with new regulations coming in and a high level of scrutiny, you are working under a microscope in a fish bowl. The consequences of making a wrong decision is that you can almost never recover from it.”

“The lines are blurred and unclear. Where is the line not to cross? That’s the hard part about values. In good conscience and courage, you must draw your own line.” 


4.    Give back
Rob’s final piece of advice is to make time to give back. He believes this is even more important in the South African context with such a vast divide between rich and poor. He says that in the finance profession must recognise their privileges, and find opportunities to serve society and those who do not enjoy the same privileges. 

“It is incumbent on any leader to give back,” said Rob. “I don’t believe you can be a leader without recognising this need and your obligations.”