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Meaningful black empowerment is not driven by odes and characters but by a passion that emanates from the belly and soul of an organisation. It cannot simply be a parallel initiative, according to Clive Smith, CEO of Tsebo Outsourcing Group.

The company introduced its first affirmative action in 1981 and by 1996 was being hailed by the Black Management Forum as the most progressive unlisted company in the country. In 2005, it was given an AA Empowerdex rating, one of the first large corporates to attain that the double A status.

As Smith elaborates on BEE, his passion is palpable and it is not surprising to learn that the chief executive chairs the group’s transformation committee and the score card committee.

“We have consistently trailblazed, because we genuinely care and genuinely believe that the sustainability of our country the future of the industry and future economic growth are directly linked to black empowerment.”

It is, he adds, an imperative that calls on the private and public sectors to work as a team.

The group employs about 10 000 people on more than 2000 sites across the country and its operational arm stretches into North Africa and the Middle East.

Smith is quick to point out that by far the majority of employees are women and that most of Tsebo’s empowerment shareholders are female. And it is with obvious satisfaction that he reveals that the group was already well out of the starting blocks when the BB-BEE codes were recently gazetted.

“You must bear in mind that we had been applying our minds to empowerment 13 years before our democracy came into being and we had process in place when BEE was first mooted.”

He emphasises, however, that transformation is not brought about by quick fixes.

“It’s a long-term process.”

One of the challenges of the past five or 10 years has been to measure progress.

“There are lots of opinions about how this should be done but no perfect answer There are certainly some measurements that are broader based and better indicators than others. One of things we have fully embraced, are the BBBEE codes and prepared over the past 12 months for their arrival.

“The final codes on complex structures are imminent, and we are keen to apply them and announce our rating.”

Smith says Tsebo aiming to qualify as a level three contributor and says the immediate challenge will be to aim for a higher level.

He adds that, overall, the codes are fairly comprehensive, “a breath of fresh air in that we now have a single point of reference that addreses the public and private sectors alike.

“We are really looking forward to working with them.”

Some aspects of the codes are easier than others to achieve, and while some require the investment of money others require embedded work within the organisation.

“Our philosophy is that everybody in the industry needs to work together to enhance the situation, particularly in arenas such as preferential procurement. The big players have to assist developing suppliers and enterprises.”

An example Smith gives is of a grass roots vegetable c-op initiative in rural KwaZulu Natal, which aims to supply Tsebo’s urban sites and uplifts the local community

“Because our operations are so geographically spread, it is easier for us to get involved in these spaces.”

Besides the need to assist with enterprise development and help preferential procurement, he says another huge challenge lies in getting correctly empowered employees into real jobs at the right levels.

“We’ve learned the hard way that if you place a single black person in a team, that person soon becomes isolated, an island. The learning is to have a team in which those that are being empowered make up 50 percent as quick as possible, this then creates a dynamic culturally diverse team that can learn and grow together.

“We’ve also been through mentorship programmes but if you don’t get the dynamics right by managing the stress points, the process is doomed as people invariably claim to be victims of racism.

Smith says experience has shown that transformation is most difficult at middle and senior management levels and that it takes six to 12 months of careful change management to entrench change.

“Another factor we have learned is that for every two people you train and empower one will leave for a greater opportunity”

The group, he adds, is hugely committed to its corporate social investment programmes.

“We have, for example, put a lot of effort into HIV and AIDS education and counseling and we are really proud to be recognized among the top five organisations in me country for work in the AIDS arena”

Tsebo was born out of the Fedics Food Services Group which was originally founded in 1971 and has emerged as a giant outsourcing group mat encompass all areas of hospitality services and facilities management.

The Group’s shareholding is:-

  • Nozala Investments (Pty) Ltd 20.795%;
  • Nozala-Tsebo Trust 15.795%;
  • Group’s management 9.61%;
  • Ethos Private Equity 53.8 %.Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) members. Ethos, management and independent directors are represented on the Corporate Board.

Tsebo has three primary operating divisions: Catering operations including Fedics (Pty) Ltd and the Equality Group; Drake & Scull FM (SA); and Invalu (Pty) Ltd. In addition, there are two new divisions, Tsebo Cleaning and Tsebo Retail.

Tsebo recently acquired a 43 percent shareholding in the Wiesenhof Roastery

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