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Africa is a diverse and wonderful place to do business in

A conversation with Deon Greyling

Deon Greyling, the Managing Director for BTS’s Middle-East and Africa branch, has been doing business in Africa for a long time. Growing and developing talent is a particular passion of his. He sees Africa as a diverse and wonderful place to do business in.

Although South Africa’s growth into Africa has been slow, he mentioned the need to speed up if we don’t want to be outmanoeuvred. On a recent trip to Angola, he mentioned that 50% of the travellers on the same flight were Chinese.

South Africa has not been integrated particularly well into Africa, maybe as a direct result of our approach of “importing” talent rather than building capability in-country. He challenged the group to question the assumptions that they have about Africa, and to go in with a willingness to learn. “Doing business in Africa is relentlessly contextual,” he said. “How well do you really understand the market, the people, the business?” The biggest shift in perception is from “let me show you how” to “teach me how”.

He presented an intriguing equation:
CQ = IQ + EQ + SQ – Cultural intelligence in Africa is a combination of intelligence, emotional awareness and both social and spiritual intelligence. He showed a picture of a team in Ghana who open with prayer every day. “Do you understand the culture of the country that you operate in? You have to get to know the person before you can do business.” He explained.
When you engage in Africa, Deon advised to think about 3 things:

  • Your words – what you say
  • Your hands – what you do every day
  • Your feet – where you place yourself every day.

He mentioned that most business travellers into Africa spend time in airports, hotels and the head office, and rarely go out into the market. It could cost you dearly if you don’t expose yourself to the realities of the country that you visit.

He mentioned 7 core attributes for doing business in Africa:

  • Have learning mindset;
  • Be curious about local ways rather than wanting to import your ways;
  • Centralise as much as is necessary, and localise as much as you can;
  • Social and spiritual intelligence is critical;
  • Understand that every country is unique;
  • Expat assignments should focus on developing talent;
  • Develop a strong talent strategy in country.

He proposed a process for getting this correct:

  • Define what great leaders do, and codify that as much as possible. Identify pockets of greatness in your organisation, identify the roles and behaviours that are critical. Be practical and pragmatic, but don’t dumb it down.
  • Assess what makes leaders great and ensure that the assessment is customised to ensure that it measures the right things.
  • Build strong experiences – Africa is revolutionary. They jump ahead rather than taking it step by step. Don’t hold back because you think “they’re not ready” – rather think about future business and create deliberate experience for employees to practice new skills.
  • Finally, execute great.

A final tip from Deon when travelling in Africa – take US dollars and don’t worry about the local currency!

Deon Greyling is the Managing Director for BTS Middle East & Africa. Deon manages the BTS operations across the Middle East and African continents. Deon also manages client relationships in addition to designing and facilitating strategic execution and business transformation programmes. Deon’s experience ranges across numerous industries including telecom, financial services, automotive, FMCG, mining and service organisations. Clients include Unilever, Coca-Cola, Standard Bank, SAB Miller, Vodafone, Old Mutual, Anglo American and Deloitte. His passion is to help clients accelerate their business results through improving their leaders and manager strategic execution skills – showing sustainable change and business impact. Before joining BTS in 2000, Deon was a commercial lawyer working within the financial services sector.

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