Mentorship – the forgotten tool for unleashing potential

Mentorship – the forgotten tool for unleashing potential

Alan Grey Mentor Meeting-2626_1This week the Foundation is hosting regional dinners to thank our mentors who have given so generously of their time. These dinners reminded me again of a quote I had first heard a number of years ago:“You will never maximise your potential in any area without mentoring. It is impossible.”

My initial reaction was that this view was  too extreme  but the more we have worked with Allan Gray Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Fellows, the more I have come to believe this statement with complete conviction. While education and skills development are the base from which one must work, they will not fully convert potential without the one-on-one relationships that transfer experience and most importantly, instil belief that audacious dreams are genuinely achievable.

As I reflect back on some of the most important decisions and developments in my own career, the input of mentors was critical. I would probably still be working in the mainstream financial sector if it were not for the wise words and courageous convictions of key mentors a number of years ago who gave me the confidence to take the plunge into the world of social entrepreneurship.

Thankfully, Mr. Gray himself had long been aware of the importance of this truth and so the Allan Gray Scholarship and Fellowship are built around mentorship as an integral aspect of the curriculum. Firstly Foundation team members play a mentoring role in working directly with Allan Gray Scholars and Candidate Fellows.  During the last two years of the Fellowship, senior Candidate Fellows  have a structured mentorship engagement which involves  a pool of some 150 industry leaders and entrepreneurs.

These mentor relationships have led to significant breakthroughs for the Candidate Fellows, one commenting that “mentoring has really shifted my perspective and helped me appreciate all people and that I can learn from anyone.”  It has also allowed access to opportunities, such as one Allan Gray Fellow who ended up incubating their venture at the business premises of their mentor. Yet mentoring is not just to the benefit of the mentee.  The Foundation’s Mentor Manager, Rebecca Pillay, is clear that mentors also benefit.  “They get to leave a legacy behind, stay relevant and connected with a younger generation and even expand their own community.”

Yet this culture of mentorship does not end with the formal Foundation team or mentors.  The dynamic then includes Candidate Fellows giving input into Scholars and graduated Allan Gray Fellows offering advice and learning to Candidate Fellows at university. All this generates a positive reinforcing cycle of mentoring across the full length of our talent pipeline and binds the entire community together.

More recently the long standing importance of mentorship is being increasingly recognised globally, where Buke Cuhadar from the Global Entrepreneurship Week Team makes the following observation:

“In searching for the recipe behind building successful entrepreneurial ecosystems, core ingredients such as funding, talent and technology are often cited as critical. As many Global Entrepreneurship Week hosts have discovered however, mentorship is a key element to healthy entrepreneurial ecosystems.”

While attending the Global Entrepreneurship Congress earlier this year, it was apparent that mentorship was being given increasing prominence, including stand-alone sessions dedicated to the discipline. At the Congress we met Ingrid Vandervelt, the current Dell Entrepreneur-in-Residence. She has one of the most compelling mentorship stories I have ever heard.  Driven by her desire to build a significant billion dollar company she realised the only chance she had of achieving this was if she found the right mentor.  Living in Texas, she was limited to two people who had direct experience of building such a business, namely Michael Dell, or Dell’s own mentor, George Kozmetsky. She chose the latter and as a result of her conviction and persistence he accepted, on condition that she pick him up at 5am for their meetings and that the first one she missed would be her last! Sure enough her intentional pursuit of mentorship was rewarded when she finally had the idea with the right potential and Kozmetsky was able to guide her into making it a reality.

While we might not all succeed in convincing the likes of George Kozmetsky to be our mentor, (although you would be surprised where persistence will get you!) there are other mentoring resources that are available to all of us.  Leadership author, Michael Hyatt talks about the different levels of mentoring and the first two are accessible to anyone.

1. Podcasts and Blogs

The knowledge age gives us direct access to some of the greatest minds in the form of blogs or podcasts for free. For example, Stanford E-Corner Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast has been a great source of indirect mentoring to me through providing access to the insights of global entrepreneurs on a weekly basis.

2. Books

Books are another means to gain insight into the thinking of powerful role-models and in recent times their falling prices have made these resources even more accessible.  One of the Foundation’s mentors took it as far as questioning whether any Candidate Fellow was sincere in their pursuit of an entrepreneurial path if they had not read the recent Steve Jobs biography – such was the learning contained within that one book.

Alan Grey Mentor Meeting-2897_1By expanding our frame of reference for mentoring beyond face to face interaction, we open ourselves up to a whole new world of mentoring.  And this should be extended further to leverage the power of peer mentoring. It is often quoted that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Who are those people in our closest circles that we are allowing such influence? There is unique learning that comes from spending time and sharing common challenges with likeminded individuals.  At times just the act of bringing Candidate Fellows together without any other input is sufficient to create an explosion of energy and ideas motivating them in ways which is difficult to achieve, even through carefully crafted curriculum.

In whatever form, mentoring has a profound contribution to make to the development of our full potential. In the words of Mr. Gray “The Foundation is about allowing people to dream. Not a dream that is impossible, but a dream that can be realised.” And one of the most important means to ensure that dreams are realised is to propel them with mentorship.

Share your mentoring stories with us in the comments section below.  We’d love  to hear how mentoring has impacted you.

Mentoring Resources:

Want to get involved in the Foundation’s mentoring programme? Find out more here

Futurpreneur provides useful resources, including resources for mentors, information about building mentoring relationships and resources for entrepreneurs.

In South Africa a mentoring movement is being catalysed by Give8hours

Shape the future series: Marian Salzman, trend spotter

Shape the future series: Marian Salzman, trend spotter

MarianSalzman_1This month as part of our celebration of women and as we continue exploring the mindsets required for entrepreneurial endeavour, we focus on the work of Marian Salzman.  In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Focus and profiled Nicola Tesla.  In this post we look at the attitude of trend-spotting which forms part of the Researching mindset under the pillar of Personal Initiative.

The researching mindset focuses on finding out a range of information about a subject or topic so that you can reach better understanding and make better decisions.  We define the attitude of trend-spotting as asking questions from a curious standpoint, looking for emerging learning that could build into future possibilities.

Marian Salzman is the current Chairman of the Havas Global PR Collective.  While Salzman might not have an actual fortune-telling crystal ball, she does seem to have an uncanny knack for predictions.  How does she do it?  She’s an expert trend spotter.  What exactly does a trend-spotter do?  Trend-spotters are people who notice and report on new fashions or activities that people are starting to do, or the way a situation is developing which then becomes a trend.

Described as having her finger on the collective pulse, Salzman has been rated as one of the world’s top trend spotters.  She has worked for companies the world over, keeping them up-to-date and even a step ahead of the market. This has made Salzman’s talent highly sought after – and incredibly valuable.

Salzman started off as a student of sociology with a keen interest and curiosity about the way all people lived.  Throughout her career, Salzman, through her curiosity and interest in people was able to spot those things which would later become trends.

In 1994, Salzman was a pioneer of the first “citizens of cyberspace” study which produced a snapshot of early adopters and predicted that America would soon be online.  She was one of the first people to use the internet and social media as a means to track and predict trends.  She opened a whole new world of information through trend-spotting and her innovative research approach that harnessed the online world.

Accredited with popularising terms such as ‘metrosexual’ (word of the year in 2003 and penned by British writer Mark Simpson) and ‘singleton’, Salzman’s career holds much evidence of her ability to spot that which will become part of the popular cultural landscape way before it does.  A great believer in creativity and the creative process, Salzman is an adviser to the Berlin School of Creative Leadership’s MBA program and is involved on the mentoring board of Brown University’s Women in Business.  Her social media research techniques give companies a new way to access exciting, emerging markets and offer customers a chance to share their wants, hopes and desires.

Spotting trends as they begin to emerge or even predicting trends before they really begin to take off means that opportunities can be seized and fostered from the onset.  This attitude is a vital one to develop for would-be entrepreneurs because it ensures one is best able to spot those opportunities which may lead to entrepreneurial success.  What future trends do you think will be  key to unlocking future entrepreneurial endeavours?  I look forward to reading your comments.

Imagining against the odds

Imagining against the odds

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree, Spier, Western Cape.At the tender age of four Karidas Tshintsholo knew that he would have to forego luxuries such as new Christmas clothes and visits to the ice cream truck because he was now the man of the house. Karidas’ Mom – he calls her his golden lady – was left on her own to fend for the family when Karidas was only two. Sleeping in shelters and attending church so they could receive hand outs of clothes and food was their norm until they received a three-room RDP house from the government.

This little house situated in the Ekangala Township, east of Pretoria, is what Karidas and his mom still call home. Though little has changed in terms of their geographical location, a world of change has occurred in the sixteen years since Karidas took up his role as man of the house.

Neither poverty nor a congenital disorder – ectodermal displasia, which affects the carrier’s sweat glands, hair growth and teeth – could keep this young man from imagining and achieving the near impossible. Every time he’d come before a challenge, be it a horde of teasing school kids or an invitation to compete with the country’s smartest, Karidas would simply remember his mother’s words. She always encouraged him to forget whatever everyone else said and only believe what she said: that he was handsome and smart.

Recognising his potential, his mom worked hard cleaning, ironing and working on construction sites so she could afford the extra R400 per month to send him to the better of the two township high schools. He did her proud. He joined the debating team as its youngest member and that year the team went through to the national competition for the first time. He was also captain of the soccer team and excelled in athletics. His utter determination to do his best became especially evident when he came second in a race despite running with a broken arm.

It was only in Grade 10, however, that he started applying this determination to his academics. He was failing maths and realised that it was time to scale down on extramural activities and put in the hours. He told himself, “if I can put my mind to this and actually sit down and spend time with mathematics … I’m going to be able to do it.”

This mantra of putting in the hours soon paid off in other areas as well. He entered the Young Communicators awards competition  during 2011 and so impressed the then minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, with his team’s idea of self-propelling trucks that she promised Ekangala Comprehensive High School a laboratory. Unfortunately this promise is yet to be fulfilled.

Karidas’ belief in teams and working with people who are willing to work hard prevailed again when he entered the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee Schools Challenge in 2012. The teachers at their school advised them against entering for fear of embarrassing themselves, but Karidas only needed them to sit down and get as much economics into their heads as possible. Though they were up against teams from affluent schools where teachers came along to support the learners, their team was still the only one able to answer questions without the help of teachers. Again Karidas made such an impression that to this day he is on the reserve bank’s mailing list and is invited to all their noteworthy events.

This young man made similar impressions on his community. He was appointed youth leader at the age of 14 and soon after launched a myriad entrepreneurial initiatives because “with this money [he was] going to change [people’s] mindsets by exposing them to different things.” Today the initiatives he started when he was just 14 are still running, now only by young men and women whom he trained in advance to take over his role.

His long list of achievements, while very impressive, was not the only thing that stood out for the Fellowship Selection team.  It was his sheer determination. It was his sheer determination; his embodiment of a Foundation Pillar called Intellectual Imagination. This Pillar is “demonstrated by an established record of intellectual achievement; an ability to see the unseen, challenge the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently.”

Karidas succeeded in obtaining the Allan Gray Fellowship and gained access to the University of Cape Town where he is now studying Actuarial Science; what he calls the perfect combination of his two favourite subjects – maths and economics. Thanks to his dogged determination and sleeping only four hours a night, Karidas has also managed to become a co-founder of an entrepreneurial venture called Student Investor. This company, which is completely student run, aims to encourage a culture of saving and financial freedom among the youth through specifically crafted financial products and services.

At the age of 20, Karidas Tshintsholo’s life story is already brimming with tales of overcoming and beating the odds. It doesn’t require too much imagination to guess what kinds of tales his next 20 years hold.

Written by Alexa Anthonie.

Purpose before profit: An interview with Mr. Allan Gray by Dave Marrs

Purpose before profit: An interview with Mr. Allan Gray by Dave Marrs

Mr. Allan Gray presenting
Mr. Allan Gray

This piece was written by Dave Marrs and originally appeared in the UCT GSB Business Review. Dave Marrs is a former Business Day finance editor who now runs the publication’s Cape Town bureau. He is also chief lead writer, a columnist and editor of the Bottom Line.

National elections invariably train the spotlight on governance. Equally predictable is that opposition parties will disapprove of what is revealed about the incumbent governing party.

It is therefore no surprise that the buildup to South Africa’s Election 2014 has seen a focus on corruption, maladministration, the wastage of public resources and financial scandals, most notably the allegation that President Jacob Zuma benefited personally to the tune of more than R200m from irregular ‘security upgrades’ to his home at Nkandla. While at least some of this can be written off to electioneering, there is a widely held public perception that moral standards have been slipping in South Africa, not only in government but across society, including in the business sector. Far from having been suppressed by the 2008 global financial crisis and subsequent recession, the straitened times appear to have increased the amount of fraud and general unethical behaviour taking place in society. The lament that is frequently heard is that the country has lost its moral compass; that South Africans no longer share a common set of ethical values.

In the case of business, this is seen to be reflected in the widening pay differential between company executives and the average worker, and conflict between trade unions and the corporate sector over retrenchments and what should be considered an acceptable return on investment.

Violent confrontations such as the 2012 Marikana massacre, when 34 striking platinum miners were killed and 78 wounded by police gunfire, point to a complete breakdown in the relationship between some companies and their employees, despite their adherence to basic employment regulations, the existence of liberal labour laws that grant trade unions free access to the workplace, and the widespread application of corporate social investment programmes in surrounding communities.

The government’s response to such incidents has been to pass legislation covering, among others, black economic empowerment, minimum wages, employment equity and increased regulation of the extractive industries.

These ostensibly benefit employees, local communities, and the state through royalties and free carry arrangements, but tend also to make it more difficult to do business in the country. There are indications that South Africa is no longer a preferred destination for foreign capital seeking investments in emerging markets, for instance, with the mining sector in particular experiencing damaging disinvestment.

It is clear that to avoid a downward spiral of disgruntled employees, a pressurised government attempting to legislate the nation to prosperity, and capital flight, a social compact is required to achieve consensus on a way forward that benefits society as a whole. Key to this is the re-establishment of a value system that is accepted by all, and it is in the long-term interests of business that it takes the lead in this endeavour.

It is for this reason that the establishment of the Allan Gray Centre for Values-based Leadership at the Graduate School of Business is such an important development. The centre, which has been funded by Allan Gray, founder of Allan Gray Proprietary Limited and co-founder of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, and his wife Gill, will explore new ways of doing business based on purpose and sustainability, with the intention of creating dignity and belonging in the workplace.

To Gray, values-based leadership involves a fundamental questioning of the principles by which many firms have been doing business, and the chair will explore what is required for the generation of new business and economic practices that are geared towards adding more value to society.

While this corporate philosophy of first trying to make a positive difference to others may seem inconsistent with running a profitable and successful firm, Gray says that nothing could be further from the truth.

‘Acting in society’s interests can be and is good business. Over 40 years ago Allan Gray was founded with this conviction and ethos, yet has managed to prosper in South Africa’s intensely competitive field of asset management,’ he says.

The Grays’ involvement with the GSB started about three decades ago, when they endowed a Chair for Strategic Management, and Allan Gray Limited contributed by managing these endowed funds.

Then Walter Baets and his wife, Erna, published their book Rethinking Growth: Social Intrapreneurship for Sustainable Performance, and Gray says he was ‘astounded to find an academic echoing my colleagues and my own thoughts on the matter as practised by Allan Gray Proprietary Limited ever since its formation 40 years ago. That was largely how the centre came about – a meeting of mutual minds.’

However, the search for someone to fill the chair took several years, with a selection committee ‘scouring the world’ to find the right person. Gray even approached Harvard Business School for advice, and was warned that filling this sort of post was particularly difficult ‘because you cannot know that the person will fulfil the vision’, and that it was best to appoint someone the school knew. ‘That was the conclusion the selection committee eventually came to themselves. I was delighted when they suggested Walter… It was the perfect solution.’

Gray says his own philosophy of doing business started ‘more as a way of thinking’ when he started Allan Gray Proprietary Limited in Cape Town in 1973 with just himself and a secretary, rather than as a formal vision. ‘I believed in leading by example and not in writing down a lot of guidelines and telling people how to operate. Anyway, it wasn’t then necessary because we were small enough to all be in one office and the ethos could permeate the organisation almost by osmosis.’

However, this changed in 1989 when Allan Gray and his son William, along with Alan Gilbertson and Andrew Veglio, founded Orbis, the global asset management business, and launched the Orbis Mutual funds in 1990. ‘We realised that with our opening up offices in other countries the ethos was not as easily perpetuated and we had to write it down, so we formalised it for both Orbis and Allan Gray Group Proprietary Limited, which now have what I suppose are their founding principles. In the case of Orbis, the focus is on a core values document, which is what we are trying to achieve.’

Gray says these core values coincide with the GSB’s values-based leadership approach ‘in a narrow sense’, as ‘we try to stick to our knitting, which is excelling on behalf of our clients in professional asset management, whereas Walter’s philosophy has a much broader approach.’

Values-based investing entails finding companies that are managed by people whose driving motivation is to ‘really make a positive difference’, Gray says, not only for their shareholders but to society overall. ‘I am very much attracted to that type of company, as a great, sustainable investment.’

However, he believes the values applied to stock-picking are more tertiary than the core values required for successful and sustainable management. ‘When I decided to start my own business I sat back and asked myself: “What’s important; what do you want to accomplish?” Having worked in asset management with some great firms, we were competing against other firms to excel in investment management, but I never met a client in eight years. I felt we were missing something, because our driving motivation was just to beat the market.

‘The global financial crisis really showed the weaknesses of the blatant capitalist philosophy that was expounded in the business schools of the US for decades – that if the president of a company sought to maximise shareholder value everything else would fall into place, and that this would promote the well-being of society. As if it was automatic.

‘The obsession with profit was what led to the excessive remuneration of executives and the culture of stock options, and of course the increasing gap between the haves and havenots. The market crash was a very important shift, because it brought out the awareness of what was going on in society at large.

‘At Allan Gray we set out to create wealth for clients and give them a sense of financial security, not only to provide the best returns, but to meet their needs. The stock market is driven by greed and fear, and we wanted to meet real needs, not wants.

‘What investors need is the feeling of security that comes with a good rate of return without too much risk. That became our rationale, the sense of purpose for the business. We set out to win the trust and confidence of our clients by excelling on their behalf and being very client-centric.

‘We are able to grow assets under management, which of course determine the fee, simply by getting a good alpha; if we outperform the market by five percentage points per annum our assets under management grow by 5% per annum more than the market, which is rather nice for expanding your revenue base.

‘There should never be a conflict between the asset manager and clients. If the firm succeeds for the client, it will be successful. If we do something clients don’t like, I would rather know about it so we can correct it.’

Gray says making a profit has never been an end in itself, but a consequence of pursuing a sense of purpose; to really want to make a difference, not only for clients but all other stakeholders, from employees to the community, the taxman and society at large. ‘It is only if the client is satisfied that the firm is enabled to help more and more clients. Maximising shareholder value is a crazy philosophy because it’s short term; it’s not sustainable.’

Gray says he was always intrigued with Japanese philosophy, which recognises the importance of a range of stakeholders, the ecology and society as a whole. ‘I think in many ways they are closer to the solution than the Western extreme. But the Japanese philosophy has not proved sustainable either. Perhaps the Chinese will get it right – they have seen the benefits of capitalism, the free market economy and the greater productivity that comes with entrepreneurship. To their credit they have adapted their system to embrace the best of the Western philosophy without ditching their own. It has been quite a good combination so far, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold it together.’

Gray believes values-based management has broader connotations than just business. ‘The greatest values-based leader in Africa’s history must be Nelson Mandela. If the Allan Gray Centre for Values-based Leadership helps to spread Madiba’s philosophy through the wider society, that would be great.’

Thinking Outside the (Glass) Box this Women’s Day – the importance of female entrepreneurship

Thinking Outside the (Glass) Box this Women’s Day – the importance of female entrepreneurship

Class of 2012 Graduation
The women of the Allan Gray Fellowship’s Class of 2012.

On the 9th of August 1956 approximately 50 000 South African women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act, or what commonly became known as the pass laws.  Historically, women have always proven to be iconic figures in bringing about change.  Despite this, employment statistics and entrepreneurial activity do not reflect this.

In a 2011 paper titled, Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, author Lesa Mitchell reports that in the USA, women were basically half as entrepreneurially active i.e. involved in starting a business in a given month, as their male counterparts (on average 0.44% men versus 0.24% women in the working-age population.)  Additionally, the overall share of entrepreneurial activity sits at 64.7% for men and 35.3% for women.

Closer to home, the South African early-stage entrepreneurial activity gender gap hasn’t changed since 2002.  According to the South African Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report 2013, the relative proportion of female early stage entrepreneurs has shifted 1% from 41% in 2002 to 42% in 2013. And at the highest level when was the last female winner of the South African EY Entrepreneur of the Year?

Dell in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute released The Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development index for 2014 which is a 30-country analysis of the conditions that foster high-potential* female entrepreneurship.  South Africa was placed 11th in this ranking with a score of 42 (tying with South Korea and China).  In a country that aspires to leadership in gender equality as enshrined in our constitution, this is not good enough.  As a country crippled by unemployment and therefore even more dependent on the well documented benefit of high potential entrepreneurship we cannot tolerate half our population not fully maximising their entrepreneurial potential. Simply, we need more high-potential female entrepreneurs!

The report provides the following recommendations as opportunities for improvement:

  1. Breaking up monopolies in the business environment that crowd out newcomers; and,
  2. Improve the use of and investment in new technologies.
  3. Increase opportunities for and shift attitudes towards women in senior management and decision making positions.
  4. Develop and support programmes that promote female entrepreneurs’ equal access to finance and the resources to grow.

Women have always been told about breaking through glass ceilings and glass walls, however, I prefer the challenge posed by Geri Stengel in the title of her book: Forget The Glass Ceiling: Build Your Business Without One.

As we celebrate this woman’s month and the tenacity and bravery shown by those who marched on 9th August 1956, the challenge we put forward is that we need to grow and encourage not only entrepreneurship, but specifically high-potential female entrepreneurs1 who are actively creating and growing enterprises which are creating sustainable jobs.  With around 55% of the Allan Gray Fellowship being female, the Foundation is ready and waiting to take advantage of this shift. What’s your contribution to unleashing this pool of potential?  I look forward to reading your comments.

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1. High-potential Definition: The Gender-GEDI identifies high potential female entrepreneurs as women who own and operate businesses that are innovative, market expanding and export oriented. Through their entrepreneurial activities, high-potential female entrepreneurs not only contribute to improving their own economic welfare but to the economic and social fabric of society through job creation, innovative products, processes, and services, and cross border trade.