He has to be one of the least well-known South Africans, yet he is influential, wealthy and successful. He is well read, well-travelled and well connected, with a clear sense of purpose to make a difference to the big picture. His aspirations are: “To create a more just society in which one day I can say I played a role in its creation. I make no bones about my entrepreneurial drive which has made me a very rich man but I don’t want to die a very rich man, I want to die as a man who used his resources in a small way and changed the world.”
Dr Iqbal Survé explains further how he practically incorporates these aspirations into his daily life. Every day he affords himself a few minutes of meditation in the mornings and in the evenings, then asks himself the following questions: “What good will I do today?” and then in the evening: “What could I have done differently?” At the end of his life, he wants to be proud of his answers to these two questions, and feel “that there is no deficit with respect to having made a difference in this country, the continent and the world,” he says.
Sitting with this successful man that recently saved Independent Newspapers from its downward spiral under Irish rain; who regularly enjoys dinner with leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton, as a founding member of their Clinton Global Initiative; who co- Chairs the WEF Global Growth Company Board; who is a founding member of the BRICS Business Council; who is a council member of the Global Agenda Council for Emerging Multinationals and the World Economic Forum; and who has accompanied all 4 South African Presidents since democracy to global conferences and state visits; was most interesting. It sparked a feeling of hope for our continent and its potential, to know that leaders like Survé have always and still do back Africa, and put their money and energy where their mouth is.
He is not an ordinary leader and thinker and supports a different mindset for leaders, which is probably exactly what we need in order to take this country and continent to the next level. Do not expect status quo when he walks through the front door. If you do, you might as well walk out the back door.
The change of leader at the UCT Graduate School of Business serves as an example. As Chair of the School he knew they needed someone that would create a programme to enhance leaders’ capacity to manage complexity. This individual also needed to understand social relevance of teaching and content, entrepreneurship and had to improve on the School’s ability to develop innovative thinking in leaders. They appointed Professor Walter Baets in 2009, and what movement has occurred at UCT Graduate School of Business since this change? They employ 25 more people than in the past; they have more money than they have ever had; they have all the accreditation from across the world that a business school needs; and their content ranks with the best out there, which is amazing considering the funding available to UCT compared with a Harvard for example.
The message to leaders is that what they needed the new Director to achieve reflects those attributes that are crucial for leaders that want to lead successfully in our country and continent that is in a transformation phase – politically, economically, structurally and socially – against the backdrop of a global, complex village. Leaders of today have to be schooled in complexity management, Survé believes. Many would not necessarily name former President Mandela as a brilliant complexity manager. According to Survé who knew Mandela well from several angles, “His strength was that he was able to simplify complex issues so easily and disarm people in that simplicity because he was able to solve the relevant problem.”
This according to Survé is where Mandela was so brilliant.
Survé has a very interesting and unique background and career that prepared him well for the current role he plays in Africa. This journey included being a medical doctor as part of a support team for the late Nelson Mandela, together with being an entrepreneur and philanthropist friend to the icon; being a “mind-coach” for Bafana Bafana (when they did so well in the mid-nineteen nineties) and the Olympic team; developing post-traumatic stress disorder rehabilitation programmes in support of young people that were scarred through torture and imprisonment during apartheid; and being a serious entrepreneur as founder and CEO for Sekunjalo; and much more.
With all his exposure and rich background, fortunately he is a leader that likes to share: “I am one of those people that like to share knowledge and information.” But, according to him there is a tendency or belief that by keeping information exclusive one has a competitive edge. About this he comments: “I actually don’t subscribe to that. I think we should open up information, even to your competitors, and that is actually going to make you far more effective.” His advisors often get nervous when he publicly states what he plans to do. In his view it boils down to confidence, really believing in what you are doing.
This confidence becomes almost indestructible when informed by an ability to think simply and universally, in a way that successfully navigates movement through a very challenging, complex, fast paced world, which can be compared to a roundabout that is still seen in some public parks. Children get on to these structures and spin it around, faster and faster. They then jump off, feel dazed and get back on again. The environment can be compared to this – it spins around and is getting faster all the time – pace is picking up; everything impacts on everything; and if leaders don’t discipline themselves to go to the center but remain on the outskirts of this spinning environment they will eventually be flung off.
Survé agrees and adds: “We all move away from the center at times, be it when we buy a fancy sports car, a boat, becoming angry in times of stress. Holding the center together is very important. Part of the movement I am trying to foster in SA is to get more leaders into that center. There are those that become very wealthy and successful with their businesses, but in time they will suffer because they haven’t taken the time to go to the center.”
In SA and globally, going to the center is not necessarily about holding a powerful position but rather about a powerful attitude that automatically manifests in certain behaviour, which in turn results in the development of certain attributes, which are eventually entrenched into the very character and being of a leader, forever. So called success becomes synonymous with such a character. Survé describes this kind of character with reference to leaders like Nelson Mandela, Nkwame Nkruhma, Patrice Lumumba, Albert Luthuli: “These leaders have in common humanity, respect and dignity for all. They were fearless and were prepared to sacrifice their lives in pursuit of their beliefs. They were values driven and committed to a society which treated people with equality and dignity. They shared more than just the resources but also their thinking and did not have a sense of personal entitlement. They were visionaries in that they crafted the future according to their principles and values no matter how difficult the journey to get to that perfect future and that perfect world which had harmony and peace and dignity for all that lived in it.”
In short this attitude is about a passionate desire to master universal principles and big picture context that governs and maximises everyday life situations and experiences, relationships with people, decision making (choices), confronting of barriers (obstacles), and movement towards full potential of self, others and society. This is the attitude that a Nelson Mandela adopted; this is the attitude Dr Iqbal Survé adopted; this is the attitude all leaders in South Africa, Africa and beyond should adopt if we are going to move this continent forward successfully.
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