Tiger Brands: Leadership Development That Never Stops

Tiger Brands Ltd.’s Chief Human Resources Officer Tswelo Kodisang shares his views on developing leadership, making tough decisions and learning from mentors. Below is the conversation with Africa Advisory Group.

Tiger Brands is the largest manufacturer of branded food products in sub-Saharan Africa. The consumer goods company employs around 16,800 people, has manufacturing operations in six African countries and distributes its goods across Africa, North America and Asia. Tiger Brands has grown across the African continent largely through acquisitions as well as through the distribution of its products, which include a broad range of categories from food, home to personal care.

We’re always learning as leaders. There’s never a time when it’s all done because challenges in the world are always evolving too.Tswelo Kodisang, Tiger Brands Ltd.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

We need leadership. As a continent, as an organization, as a company we need leadership. It’s really about having the courage to make big decisions, having the courage to set a really great vision, an ability to inspire. There was a leader of mine, a boss that I used to work for, and one of the things he used to speak about is, leadership is the ability to take the harder right than the easy wrong.

Being in the people business, the other bit is also that, if I think about the private sector, I think about education, I think about the public sector, we need to develop people. The key differentiator is going to be how we get our people along the chain of development. Leadership is about ensuring that we prepare our people for greater challenges, that we leave organizations better than we found them.

Q: How do you approach entering a new market, what leadership challenges do you need to address?

As a leader you need to understand that everything is not the same. Having leaders that understand that dynamic, that there isn’t a template that can be implemented everywhere in a blind way. One thing is that you will create a big gap between you and them.

While I say that, there aren’t fundamentally different types of leadership characteristics that are nuanced to any particular geography. The point is more about as a leader how do you ensure that you are effective in those different environments.

Q: How do you develop leadership?

Leadership can be developed. I believe in continuous improvement and continuous development. I don’t really expect to see a leader already as a cooked up finished article. But rather we want to see people that are very open-minded, that really want to assume the leadership responsibility, because it’s got its own challenges. People must really want to assume it and say I want to be a leader, I want to make a difference, I want to make an impact. One’s own aspiration is part and parcel of that. The rest of it is really giving people diverse, different experiences and different challenges and making sure that they learn from those experiences.

Leadership requires followship. Without followship you don’t have leadership. The way that we would develop our leaders is to give them different challenges, put them in different situations, give them the skills, or the experiences, make it a little bit formal so they can learn, and mentor them. And then make sure that through a combination of all of these things they will continue to grow themselves on the journey of becoming a leader. I don’t think it actually ever ends. We’re always learning as leaders. There’s never a time when it’s all done because challenges in the world are always evolving too.

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