Finance Indaba Online panel discusses leaders and ethics in businesses

Robust decisions, ethical conduct and putting your employees first all make for a good leader.

“When a fish rots, it rots from the head down, which means leadership is the root cause of corporate failures,” said the Auditor-General South Africa’s CFO Bongi Ngoma in an Impact Session at the Finance Indaba Online. She said it seemed that leaders had lost their moral fibre.

“There have been so many commissions to unearth the extent of how we have lost our bearings as leaders,” said Bongi, adding that leaders have been so unethical when doing business, that the focus is no longer about advancing organisational sustainability, but on self-enrichment and how people can benefit at the expense of the country and businesses.

Meroonisha Kerber, CFO of Impala Platinum, explained that during the pandemic the platinum miner’s leadership team has been acutely aware that decisions they make affect a wider group of people. She said the most important thing for them was bringing people back to work safely during the lockdown period.

“We needed to prioritise bringing them back safely to work and while they were at work, we would do everything to ensure they remain as safe as possible,” said Meroonisha. She added that they went the extra mile by ensuring that employees’ safety did not only end at work but continued in their homes and communities.

“This involved a lot of initiatives like creating awareness in their communities, providing financial support, clean water, masks and sanitisers,” she said, commending implats’s management team for doing an exceptional job in improving productivity.

Distell’s CFO Lucas Verwey shared some of the things the beverage company did to protect the business when Covid-19 hit and how they measured out their ethical commitments to staff.

First, they protected the health and safety of employees by establishing a Covid-19 war room. Second, they worked with the bank to increase their debt facilities to ensure liquidity, and finally, senior executives took a 30 percent pay cut so that employees would not have to be retrenched.

While closing the session Bongi said that it was vital that leaders shifted from compliance to practicality.

“Some organisations have great values and codes in terms of ethics but they aren’t practised and there is no guarantee that these codes will be done,” she said.

She says organisations can spot gaps and inconsistencies by looking at these three things:

  • The tone at the top.
  • Driving dialogues and conversations around ethics.
  • Measuring ethics in key performance areas and being consistent in implementing consequences.