Primedia's BEE strategy for success

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Transformation and Black Economic Empowerment affects all industries, and while companies are making an effort, the general feeling is that progress has been too slow and that changes have, in some cases, been purely cosmetic. "It?s a frustrating process, and the plethora of legislative interventions, implies that most organisations are merely playing a numbers game. They show reluctance to implement true equity, which is integral to the achievement and maintenance of real transformation,' says Steve Ratlou, Executive Chairman of the Primedia Out of Home Division.

"We need to recognise that transformation should be dealt with based on the individual organisation, and cannot take place in isolation of the company in question. Commerce needs to see serious change as a business risk that must be invested in effectively to secure a company?s future, improve its Employment Empowerment credentials, ensure long-term growth and the continued transference of skill,' reiterates Ratlou.

"BEE requires dedication and valuable input from senior management, investors and other stakeholders. Primedia Outdoor?s, model of empowerment is premised on that of the Mineworkers Investment Company, our black shareholder, and has five empowerment tenets. These are: Equity and Ownership to influence strategy; management control by deploying specific individuals to deal with the day to day running of the company; training and skills development through setting and achieving EE targets, and Social Investment. We have never deviated from these empowerment guidelines.

The process is overseen by an internal Transformation Committee, with the mandate to execute empowerment programmes within the company, set realistic targets and deadlines, monitor the progress and continuously evaluate new opportunities to perfect the company?s BEE credentials.

This calls for the genuine investment of, and into, the company?s resources - its people. It?s important to evaluate existing staffing compliments to ensure current employees remain part of the organisation. Having said that, we have identified that it equally crucial to change the recruitment profile of our company, to allow more people of colour to enter the organisation. Failing to do so, would risk perpetuating and maintaining the status quo, which is not a desirable outcome at all.

Primedia Outdoor has begun by setting viable and attainable equity targets. We have set performance criteria for senior management, putting current executives through a leadership evaluation process, so they are equipped to effectively mentor those ascending the ranks.

For example, one vital challenge for us is to see more women move up the executive ladder. Extensive training and mentorship programmes have been implemented, and our Transformation Committee is monitoring the progress of this and other initiatives, addressing the gaps reflected, as soon as they appear. Targets are imperative to the process. Once set, they must well monitored, to ensure the targets are practical and adjusted to the natural evolution in any business. At Primedia Outdoor, we consider the targets as "moving? so they remain realistic and sustainable.

While we are getting our own house in order, our transformation process is also extended to our service providers. We support established and emerging black-owned and managed businesses, developing them into autonomous entities. This includes the sub-contracting of operations functions, such as the flighting of billboard faces, repairs, maintenance and servicing of structures, to former employees.

We helped establish and facilitate the running of these new businesses with continued technical, financial and legal assistance. The programme is in its fifth year of existence and, with an investment of over R8 million to date, has had a success rate over 70%.

Change is never easy and while overall transformation is a long process, the upside is that there are clear signals that it is needed and must be effectively implemented. It must be noted that many companies are making a concerted effort, and Primedia?s advantage is that we have been conducting the process for a while, making a lot of progress.

We have also failed along the way, learnt valuable lessons, and formulated new plans to keep moving forward. Transformation is a much-needed economic necessity that will not go away until it is properly addressed in all industries. Primedia Outdoor?s ultimate goal is to be regarded a leader in transformation in the outdoor media sector; a goal with no chance at compromise.'

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