RMB’s Incoming CEO on Stature Over Status

James Formby, the incoming CEO at South Africa-based Rand Merchant Bank, talks about looking beyond leadership titles, being humble and ready to transform in the face of a changing landscape. Below is an excerpt from the conversation Mr. Formby had with Africa Advisory Group.

RMB is a division of FirstRand Bank Limited and is part of one of the largest financial services groups in Africa. RMB has an extensive deal footprint across more than 35 African countries. The bank has funded several infrastructure and resource finance projects, mergers and acquisitions, and infrastructure developments across the continent over the past decade.

There’s no doubt environments are getting more complex. One has to be prepared to change.James Formby, incoming CEO at RMB

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

What leadership means to me I guess is enabling others to do their jobs well and empowering them to make the right decisions and acting as an adviser to them to help them solve tricky problems.

Q: What has helped you become a leader?

What has helped me become a leader has been the organization I’ve worked in. I’ve been here 17 years and the organization is one that doesn’t focus on hierarchy. It focuses on professional teams, on stature not status. That’s been a key part of my learning in terms of leadership.

Stature is something you build, earn. It’s not given to you. We’re not looking for leaders who want status.

Q: What leadership qualities do you look for in your team?

The leadership characteristics I look for are people that are humble, people that are not driven by title of job, but people that want to build and give to the organization.

Q: What is RMB’s outlook for Africa?

RMB is very bullish about Africa, South Africa and the rest of the African continent in terms of economic growth. I think that clearly it’s a continent where there is a lot of change and it will always go through its ups and downs, both political, economic with commodity prices moving quickly. And I guess part of leadership is adapting quickly to these changing circumstances. We want to build for the longer term and we think that the longer-term growth story is very much a good one for Africa as a whole.

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