Playing the business trumpet


SACCI’s new leader believes that the future of trade and industry in South Africa is locked up in the wealth of opportunities the African continent has to offer
This interview with our endorser’s new CEO took three months to materialise. For one, the CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce (SACCI), Alan Mukoki, is a very busy man. And secondly, the reason why we had to wait for three months, is that his office requested that we profile the organisation’s president, Vusi Khumalo, first.

At the time we thought it odd, but today, after an insightful interview with Mukoki in his office in Rosebank, it all became clear—Alan Mukoki is a leader who believes that other people in his organisation come first.

Seven months into his new role, it has been widely published that Soweto-born Mukoki started his career in the banking world, but few people know that this big jazz fan actually started off playing the trumpet for about a year in a jazz band before he enrolled at the University of the North to pursue a career in finance.

Besides for many years’ experience working as a senior executive, board level executive and non-executive director for various major private and public entities in South Africa, including, among others, Khula Finance, Business Partners, Peoples Bank, Land and Agricultural Bank, Nedbank and Denel, Mukoki is also a Fellow (FIBSA) of the Institute of Bankers in South Africa and completed the Advanced Management Programme (AMP) at Harvard Business School.

After university he started his banking career with Standard Bank, and to the day, he holds the bank in high regard. Initially he was part of the bank’s Accelerated Training Program and continued his studies, did his bank exams and in the ten years at the bank, he moved up the ranks and left as a middle manager.

After that he joined Nedbank as a senior general manager and never looked back. In 2005 he was appointed as the CEO of Land Bank, and after about two and a half years he left to start his own business.

“When I was approached by SACCI last year to take the organisation to a different level, I was not interested initially. When they said they were looking for someone to specifically help boost international trade representation with government, that sounded a little bit more interesting, and that prompted me to consider the offer. When I met with the board they really impressed me with their thoughts on where they wanted to take the organisation and that’s why I decided to take the job. I have been here at SACCI for about seven months and it’s been fun.”

Looking at Mukoki’s short-term goals for the organisation, he says even though SACCI is a not-for-profit organisation (NPO), the short term goal is, on a financial level, to make SACCI a self-sustaining organisation.

“It’s not part of my make-up as a manager to run an organisation that depends on subscription, an organisation that depends on hand-outs or an organisation that is always asking for sponsorships for this that and the other. That’s not part of us and luckily for me it fits in with our strategy. The board has agreed that one of the seven pillars of the SACCI strategy should include building an organisation that will be able to generate its own revenue from a whole range of services and products that we are going to put together. We will aim to be an organisation that is going to offer its own members tangible rewards and benefits.

“So in the short-term we want to be able to arrange benefits for SACCI members that could include discounts with airlines, hotel discounts, car rental discounts and access to any lounge at our major airports, even if they are flying economy class.”

Mukoki says another short-term goal is to be able to have capacity. “Sometimes we don’t have capacity as we are restricted and restrained by what we don’t have, and therefore when we build the results and can put it on the table, it is easy to overlay capacity on top of that.

In the long-term SACCI plans to create an organisation that is going to be responsible for promoting job creation and economic growth and under Mukoki’s leadership, it intends to do more than what it is able to do right now.

SACCI’s new leader believes that connecting South Africa with Africa and the rest of the world, and lobbying and motivating investment, is not the job of Government. He says many people think that way, but he disagrees and the reason for that is that he cannot help SACCI members very much if the economy of South Africa is not growing.

“I need the economy to grow and to create more jobs so that Vodacom, if I can make an example, can sell more airtime and data, sell more phones and lay more fibre optic cables. But they can only do that if people have sufficient disposable income. As the South African Chamber of Commerce we are responsible and we need to actively participate in building the economy to create a much brighter future for our members.

“Sometimes Government goes and finds agreements, like the President for instance does, be it with Angola or Iran. But the problem is that Government doesn’t know the business. This is what we, as a chamber, need to be responsible for. We need to promote, we need to combine and we need to give the people opportunities. There are many embassies here in South Africa and they are all looking for opportunities for their own countries,” he says.

According to Mukoki, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) is responsible for policy, promulgation, legislation and regulations, but they cannot also be the marketers and ones who go out to get the projects done. He says SACCI is the organisation that is able to do that.

“At SACCI we need to know what’s happening in Angola, what’s happening in Zambia and what’s happening in Kenya for instance. It is our job to combine what the Kenyans are doing with what the dti is planning to do and, where possible, involve our members in that.

“We are the people who are supposed to be the co-ordinators to bring everybody into the room so that business is going to actually get done. By doing that we offer a critical service to our members. SACCI has access to so much information and we are in the process of launching one of best information centres in South Africa.”

The plan is for the 15-storey building (South Africa Chamber House) to host all the foreign chambers as tenants. It will also serve as a resource centre, where people can access any information relating to business in South Africa.

“I can’t rely on government to do that and I can’t go to government to assist us in terms of finance etc. We as a chamber need to have a centre from where we can answer the questions of the business community. It’s not about having the information at our fingertips, but it will be about having access to it. These are the things that were very important in bringing people together and really building a very serious place—and a massively exciting place as well.”

On the hugely important topic of the development of SMMEs for the good of trade and investment in South Africa, Mukoki is of the opinion that we can never be doing enough to boost this sector, which has so much potential.

“We need to create access to markets, because a large number of the people who are in the SMME sector are black and are new in this particular game. They don’t necessarily have the connections, and they don’t even know how to pitch. A friend of mine recently asked me whether I think that Pravin Gordhan alone (in Europe and in the western capitals), talking about South Africa, is going to make a difference, and I said no, because that pitch is not Pravin Gordhan, the pitch is South Africa. It is us as individuals who will eventually, as a collective, be able to change the status quo for South Africa.

“Furthermore, we need to institutionalise the assistance that SMMEs need by sitting together with customers, customer groups and we need to convince them to give SMMEs access. And we need to do it in a way that is competitive.

“If you look at the majority of small-scale farmers who are trying to become emerging farmers, you will not find their beef at Checkers or Woolworths. You won’t see their milk anywhere. Neither are you going to see the vegetables on the shelves of these big supermarket chains, basically because there are certain standards that they need to have, which they don’t.”

Mukoki says to get that level of consistency requires small businesses to have the technology, it requires them to have the science know-how, it requires them to have the skills and it requires them to have the laboratories. “So what can we do for SMMEs? We need to give them access to those resources. Because if they do not have the technology, these businesses are not necessarily going to succeed.”

Sharing his thoughts on another big stumbling block for SMMEs, access to funding, Mukoki says even DSI, which is government-owned, is still asking people for contributions. He says he sees no intellectual reason financially why people must contribute.

“A lot of the people really want to be successful and they will actually make those businesses work if they’re being assisted, so we need to have a conversation again between Business Chambers, the Government as well as the financial institutions.

“Furthermore, we need to seriously look at SMME training and development. We need to look at how we can utilise the skills of for instance expats and retired people, who can play a big role in consulting and training. We also have to move away from the idea that people who train in the SMME sector are people who themselves are SMME owners. They themselves are trying to develop, so what’s the point?”

Mukoki says institutions of higher learning has far better access to research, and training methodologies and they need to get more involved in the training of SMMEs. According to him technikons and universities have the ability to provide SMMEs with proper skills training in HR, production, operations, finance, policy formulation—all the various critical skills. According to Mukoki this is so important, as no matter how we look at it, SMMEs are still competing with the big organisations with better capacity and resources.

“Our SMMEs need to know how to manage people, they need to know how to market to people, they need to know how to drive performance management systems and they need to know how to pull together because they’re competing with the big boys.”

Mukoki says the best business advice that he has been given, was from a former boss. “He said to me that the most important thing in the world is not skills, it is people relationships, because the higher you go at any given level, you will find that you can’t necessarily compete with skills. My boss told me that he for instance had a Master of Science degree from Oxford University, but there were many others with that qualification. So there will be strong competition. But the people who are going to be substantial are those who are good with people. He said: ‘Make that your job--you need to be good with people’.”

“For you to be good with people you need to always respect people. And you always need to treat people the way you would like to be treated. There is no PHD thesis for that. Just do unto others what you’d have others do unto you. Furthermore, be reliable. And reliable does not mean you’re always going to be there, but it means if you can’t do things for people, tell them up-front. Reliability does not mean that you’re always available—reliable means people can rely on you.”

In the end, he says, it will not be about how talented you are or how highly skilled you are. “As long as you’re good with people you will always find people willing to work for you— people who have those attributes that you yourself do not have— and that was the most important thing that I have learnt.”

Looking at the future of trade and investment in South Africa, Mukoki is positive and believes that the country has opportunities galore and there is much room for doing business. This, he says can be done by driving industrialisation—especially since, as a country, we are still importing too many things that we should be making ourselves, and with our own technology.

“We’re still exporting raw materials, and then end up buying the finished products back from the very people we exported it to. Our new focus should be on re-industrialising South Africa in many, many areas. There are huge opportunities in the emerging sector for instance. There are also huge opportunities in the infrastructure sector, and we should be exporting that to the other African countries.

As an example, Mukoki mentions that our Proved Developed Producing (PDP) is USD350 billion. Taiwan’s PDP export market alone is USD660 billion—almost twice that of South Africa, and they don’t have a single natural resource.

“Looking at Africa, Zambia’s PDP is only USD25 million. The country has had six free and fair elections since President Kaunda left office, accredited by all the international organisations. Did you know Zambia has 40% of the entire water reserve of the Southern Region and yet 80% of that water ends up as waste in the Indian Ocean? There’s an opportunity there because we are short of water here.

He says it has been ten years since Kenya, Zambia and the DRC for instance has been stable, yet despite many opportunities, South Africa is not really trading with those countries.

“There are more than 1.4 billion people in Africa. Africa is bigger than China, India, the United States, and Europe put together. More than 78% of these people are people below the age of 35. They are keen on education and they are keen on learning skills. It’s a different Africa that we’re talking about today, so the future for trade and investment for South Africa in particular is huge, because we’ve got markets and that’s our biggest advantage. The rand is not that powerful at the moment, so we can go there and really, we can make hay while the sun shines. So for me, trade and investment in Africa is going to be the future of this country. There is a lot to be done,” Mukoki concludes.


Lindsay King & Ralph Staniforth

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