Young Leaders Dinner with Jabu Mabuza, Chairman of Telkom

December 9, 2015
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On 24 November 2015, Accelerate Cape Town hosted the third of our Young Leaders Dinners – a programme to support talent attraction and retention particularly within our Sponsor organisations. This small dinner format ensures maximum networking of young professionals. With the topic of Resilience in the Workplace, Jabu Mabuza, Chairman of Telkom, was ideal to tell his story of what it takes to forge a successful career.

Growing Up: Through adversity you are tossed overboard to either sink or swim. Resilience is not about where you stand in times of triumph, but rather in times of adversity. He recalled being expelled from school after burning down the library and his father disowned him. After finishing school in 1979, Jabu started law school, but dropped out as a result of financial difficulties. He worked briefly at the local Commissioner’s office and municipality office, but then went back to driving taxis as he had done during school holidays instead.

Driving Taxis: Jabu joined SABTA (South African Black Taxi Association), worked hard and climbed the ranks. The Apartheid state didn’t want “natives” to own anything, however, SABTA started a bank, bought an insurance company and owned numerous service stations – and eventually formed FABCOS (Foundation for African Business & Consumer Services) in 1988. Jabu was privileged to be part of it all.

Birth of Tsogo Sun: In 1993, Jabu was introduced to the CEO of SAB. It was the largest industrial company in SA and owned companies that sold clothing, furniture and beverages, as well as operated hotels. Jabu worked and gained valuable experience there and went on to be part of the team that started Tsogo Sun in 1997. They set targets to employ 30% of people who had never worked before which gave them the edge. Today Tsogo Sun is worth R35bn.

Retirement: Jabu retired at 53 and took the opportunity to “do things I like, when I like”. He was elected as President of BUSA (Business Unity South Africa) in 2012 and later that year, after sitting with President Zuma, became the Chairman of Telkom. In an interview, Jabu was asked why on earth he would accept this role to which Jabu replied that everything he has this country gave him and out of service to SA, he would do this.

Taking on Telkom: At the time, Telkom was a mess. Its share price was just R11, it was being fined for being anti-competitive and the CEO and CFO had just resigned without informing the Board. Jabu was thrown into the deep end, but he managed to negotiate a package deal with the Competition Commission and went on to set up one of the most respected professional Boards in the country. Today the share price is R76.

Business is About People: Jabu advised us to stop romanticising business – business is very simple; it’s about people. Jabu has been successful because he’s managed relationships well and urged us to understand what people are about without bringing your own baggage into the equation. He said “I don’t screw people in business and I don’t do funny deals. I can therefore sleep at night knowing that no one is coming for me”.

It was an inspiring evening hearing about Jabu’s journey and we agreed with his advice around treating people with kindness and respect as profits, and therefore business success, derive from relationships. We’d like to thank the candidates from Deloitte, Old Mutual and Webber Wentzel for ensuring a rich discussion on transformation and creating more inclusion in Cape Town.

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