CEO Junior Ngulube advises professionals to specialise then add to their toolboxes

Home » Strategy & Leadership » CEO Junior Ngulube advises professionals to specialise then add to their toolboxes

CEO Junior Ngulube advises professionals to specialise then add to their toolboxes

Jan 6, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

The ultimate high of Junior Ngulube‘s career was being appointed the CEO of Munich Re Africa. He grew up in the business starting off as an underwriter and rising to the corner office. That is the dream of virtually everyone who stays on in an organisation. He always had it as a life ambition to run the Africa business one day and it was a tremendous opportunity to get to lead that great company.

Courage

‘The low point for me was when the shareholders decided to close down Munich Mauritius in 2015,’ laments JJ. ‘I wouldn’t want to criticise shareholders but it baffled me that they decided to shut it down. It was a small entity but it was consistently profitable. However, the profits when converted to Euros were small and therefore the European shareholder decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble. That was a disappointing moment for me having watched the entity grow from the time we formed it in 1998. But as they say, there is no room for sentiment in business.’

JJ believes the key ingredient to successful leadership is courage. You have got to be able to make certain calls.

‘I think the appropriate term is ‘call’ rather than ‘decision’ because the term decision suggests that you have all the information. Often a leader is making a call with only 40% of the information and the rest of it is based on judgement. It takes courage and self belief to make those calls with incomplete information. When you are a leader, you have teams that will handle the daily activities and you do not need to involve yourself in those unless you are consulted. Your  focus is on the big calls and that is where courage comes in. And this often involves making changes which is difficult to do because I often say that only a baby with a wet diaper enjoys change.’

As a leader you listen to the input of your team and take it on board but must have the courage to tell the team that you have decided to do the opposite of what they suggest. You do not always need to agree with the majority. The call needs to be made early enough because if you think you can wait until you have 100% of the information necessary to make a decision, it will be too late and someone else will have done it. A leader is trying to take a business into the future and since he can see the opportunities. The job involves sharing the vision with the team and getting them excited about the possibilities.

JJ often reflects on Nelson Mandela in this regard. Soon after independence in 1994, the ANC hierarchy was pushing for the removal of sports emblems like the Springboks and replace them with new ones. After much debate, Mandela decreed ‘you chose me to lead, now let me lead you. The emblem stays’. A couple of years later, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park and it was a massive nation-building and unifying moment that would not have been possible if Mandela had been lacking in courage and agreed with his colleagues.

Strategy 

‘I would rather have a mediocre strategy that is well executed than a brilliant strategy that does not get off the starting blocks. If you look at some of the things consultants come up with, they are mind-blowing with all kinds of stunning Powerpoint presentations. CEOs also have the habit of wowing their boards with flowery language and grand plans which once approved and never get executed fully.  I would rather have a simple strategy that is ruthlessly executed.’

I think you need to specialise in something; become an expert in what you do so that you always bring something of high quality to the table. Thereafter, you need to gain new competencies because if you just focus on becoming say a brilliant engineer you will have fewer chances of being a CEO of the company. You need a wider breadth of expertise and competencies. Once you have mastered your speciality in-depth, you should look at other opportunities within the business.’

‘I can give you my own example; I was a crop insurance underwriter and if I only focused my energies on that, I would today be the world’s top crop insurance guy but I would never have risen to CEO. You need to add to your toolbox; in my case I got involved with the strategy of the business and later spent time in Human Resources. The most difficult job is HR; it is easy to settle a claim of R50 million then go to bed at night. If you are responsible for firing someone, you take that pain home and it will nag you for a very long time. I have heard people call HR matters ‘soft issues’. That’s bullsh*t. It is a lot harder than the other stuff we do.’

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – available here https://www.takealot.com/the-ceo-x-factor/PLID92980382

 

You May Also Like
Financial Minds: LinkedIn
Latest
CEO Rui Morais leads by listening

CEO Rui Morais leads by listening

Rui Morais had a significant role in this growth trajectory and in mid-2021 it was announced that he would be taking over as CEO when Ivan retired. Even though he was only 37 at the time, Rui says he wasn’t daunted by the task of being CEO of a listed entity with a turnover of R26 billion, because he felt he had the necessary support.

Kalnisha Naidoo appointed CFO of Lactalis South Africa

Kalnisha Naidoo appointed CFO of Lactalis South Africa

In an exciting development, Lactalis South Africa has announced the appointment of Kalnisha Naidoo as its new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), effective July 2024. Kalnisha brings over a decade of extensive experience in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry to the role, highlighting her strong track record in financial leadership and strategic management.

CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

CEO Ncumisa Mkunqwana’s journey from self-doubt to tenacity

When Ncumisa Saba-Mkunqwana fell pregnant in the second year of her articles at Deloitte in Gqeberha, she was determined not to let that halt her career. Committed to provide for her unborn child, she focused on crafting solutions rather than being fixated on the situation.

CA Leandra Matthews leads with empathy and excellence

CA Leandra Matthews leads with empathy and excellence

Among the lessons Leandra Matthews would give to her younger self is not to let your value be defined by someone else’s inability to see your worth; stand up for yourself more and trust your gut.

‘When I was younger, I really doubted myself and my sentiments would get muddled by ums and ahs when I was trying to express myself in meetings. In retrospect, if I prepared myself better, I would have been able to contribute quite positively to the discourse and not let my confidence drop,’ she explains.

Assurance Leader Stephen Ntsoane is passionate about touching lives

Assurance Leader Stephen Ntsoane is passionate about touching lives

Stephen Ntsoane was born and raised in Soweto, Johannesburg where he matriculated at Fonsluminis High School. He went on pursue a 3-year National Diploma in Cost and Management Accounting at Technikon Witwatersrand. Navigating his way to a Chartered Accountancy qualification, he did a 1-year bridging course at the University of Johannesburg (previously RAU) and completed CTA at the University of Kwa-Zulu- Natal through distance learning.

Amé Thwaits promoted to partner at EY

Amé Thwaits promoted to partner at EY

In an exciting development, EY Africa has announced the promotion of Amé Thwaits to the position of partner.

Amé is currently the EY Africa Innovation and Digital Leader in Assurance heading a division of 50+ people. She is a registered auditor (IRBA), signing audit opinions of various significant subsidiaries of listed entities. She has over 14 years of mining and financial services industry experience and SEC (PCAOB) and JSE experience.