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Young talent emerges in under-40s execs

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Despite transformation still lagging in the top echelons of South Africa’s Top 40 companies, a recent report indicates there is an emerging pool of leadership talent among executives under 40.
According to the results from the latest Jack Hammer Executive Report, “Finding the Facts: SA’s Future Leaders”, 4% of the top executives in South Africa’s Top 40 companies are under 40 years of age. But in a break from the trend among their older peers, 86% of the leaders in this group are black South Africans, including all of the women in this group.
“So what we are seeing is that a significant portion of the total number of executives under 40 are black South Africans. Therefore, despite the fact that the faces at the very top have remained largely unchanged since our previous research, there is some good news to be found in this pool of talent coming up through the ranks,” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer.
“Further good news, is that these rising stars are available for selection to companies which are aggressively accelerating their executive appointments, providing a significant opportunity to change the face of the company’s top echelons in future if this opportunity is properly harnessed right now.”
Goodman-Bhyat says that organisations must become more strategic about transformation.
“If the intention is to develop a substantial pool of diverse leaders in the core business space, where they will be positioned for strategically influential roles and potentially the top job, that is where companies must make their appointments.”
However a further interesting aspect to the latest findings, is the insight that executives working their way to the top should not simply grasp any opportunity for promotion. Instead, a sidewise move rather than an upwards one could often be the best long-term plan.
“Ambitious young leaders have to do proper goal planning, or they may one day find themselves unable to make the jump from the stream in which they find themselves, however senior, to the stream in which they have a chance of becoming CEO,” she says.
“They should put in place certain measures which have been shown to dramatically improve their chances of becoming company chiefs down the line.”
Goodman-Bhyat says the most important factors which can lead to the top appointment are:
* Experience and a solid track record;
* A post-graduate qualification, particularly with a strong technical, finance or business background; and
* Experience running a profit and loss centre, within a core area of the organisation.
This last point is the key to it all – the Jack Hammer data shows that the likely route to the CEO position comes from roles in core areas of the business, where individuals have proven themselves with accountability for the bottom line.
Secondary or support functions, such as HR, marketing, corporate affairs, legal and governance (and similar corporate services positions), regardless of how strategic the role itself is, will seldom lead all the way to the top, notes Goodman-Bhyat.
“For our under 40s, rising to the top will take time. Whilst on this trajectory, they need to ensure that the time they spend building a track record is well utilised. And that means that efforts should be focused in the right place.
“Interestingly, and very often counter-intuitively, it might be worth your while to take a sideways step, if that step is going to support your growth into the core parts of the business,” she says.
“In other words, don’t rush to move up the corporate ladder, however tempting that may be. Get the experience which will ensure you have the right credentials for top leadership, and don’t automatically accept a promotion. A solid strategy may be just the ticket you need for future promotion.”