Donald Khumalo on transformation, the power of competition and 'The JSE Way'

Donald was mentored by some of the country's foremost business leaders.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange was undergoing its own transition when Donald Khumalo joined as HR director in 2016. New entrants had been awarded exchange licenses and days of the JSE being ‘the only sheriff in town’ were numbered. It was then that it embarked on a journey to redefine its vision, values and strategy. The five-year plan that emerged from those deliberations led to the development of the  ‘The JSE Way’ which is a culture transformation which seek to support the JSE strategic growth plan.

“The introduction of new exchanges was a defining moment for the JSE. We were the only exchange in the country for a very long time and, because companies could only list here and nowhere else, there was a particular kind of culture that became entrenched. And when the day came to start thinking about competition, we had to start changing our collective mindset,” says Donald. 

There is an air of complacency and arrogance that comes with having a monopoly, and this was one of the things that had to change. Donald says they went back to the basics and considered the views of clients whose perception of the JSE at that point was that they were just that – arrogant. 

The JSE Way

The JSE Way is predicated on five key elements - service, leadership, empowerment, efficiency and people – all of which will be aided by the agile  ways of work. To improve their service, they are now putting the customer at the heart of everything they do, from new product offering, processes, IT platforms etc. The previous way of developing products, for instance, was that the IT team, along with financial architects would develop products in isolation and, by the time they would have come up with something ready to take to market, the customer requirements would have changed quite significantly. Now, the aim is to be able to respond far more quickly to customer changing requirements  using the agile ways of working. 

The remaining key tenets of The JSE Way have a strong focus on human capital. 

Says Donald: “The leadership element hinges on expecting leaders to be visionary and trustworthy.  If employees  have deep trust in your leadership, half the battle is won. The empowerment element is about making sure every employee feels empowered to come up with ideas and solutions that solve the customer problems and help us generate revenue etc.  

“The efficiency pillar is about making sure all human and other functional resources are used frugally to deliver on our long-term objectives. The last pillar, people, simply refers to the goal of making sure they get the best talent, because ultimately that will be the main differentiator between ourselves and the competition.”

But transforming a culture is not something that can be done overnight. Donald admits that, given the legacy of the JSE, it was always going to be an interesting challenge to work with new and old colleagues to change the way they have been doing things and embedding the JSE Way. 

“People will tell you things like ‘we have been doing this for 20 years and its’ been working fine,’ So there is a fair bit of resistance in that sense,” he says. “But when people start to reap the benefits of the things you introducing, they see the value in what you are trying to achieve and it becomes easier. It’s different if you sell people dreams and none of it comes to fruition.”

Learned from the best

Raised in the dusty rural area of Bushbuckridge, Donald describes his current role as the most challenging he has had in his career so far working Nicky Newton-King (CEO of the JSE) and supporting the business in its growth trajectory and transition. But he is well equipped for it. After studying at the University of the North and proceeding to do an Honours Degree in Industrial Sociology and Human Resources, his first proper stint in HR came as a consultant for Phezulu Business Solutions. It was there that he laid the foundation for the rest of his career as he had to do research on key HR solutions and, as a first assignment, had to define the competency profiles for ABSA private banker. Within the same company, he was involved in recruitment, designing performance management system and so forth. It was experience he says he would not trade for anything. 

“It was the perfect opportunity to cut my teeth in the HR space. It laid the foundation for  my career thus far. It was where I learned how to put together proposals and do presentations to senior management teams of large corporates.” 

He thereafter joined MTN Group as a senior HR manager where he was fortunate enough to work under the supervision of Eva Kavuma and Paul Norman and gained invaluable experience that comes with working in the senior structures of a business that is a continental powerhouse. In his next role at Vodacom, it was another case of exponential growth as an HR professional as he was mentored by the current Vodacom Group CHRO Matimba Mbungela and served a s business partner to Vuyani Jarana who was the Chief Enterprise Officer at the time. 

“But the biggest growth period for me has come since joining the JSE as an HR director that is responsible for the end-to-end HR portfolio, which was a big step from anything I had previously done. Much the thanks must go to Nicky (our previous CEO) for this opportunity and for her stewardship and guidance." 

Failure to transform

One topic that Donald is passionate about is transformation and the slow pace thereof in corporate South Africa. Looking at the leadership of the top 100 JSE-listed companies, the number of black people and women in CEO roles seems to be diminishing and he attributes that to the lack of punitive measures for companies that fail to transform. Despite the mountain of research confirming diversity as a business driver, there are still too many companies in South Africa that willing to ignore that wisdom.

“At some point we thought we were making reasonable progress but now it’s starting to feel more and more like a voluntary process. The Commission on Empoyement Equity released their annual report in August 2019 and corporate South Africa is regressing especially in Top and Senior Management. If you are seen to be doing exceptionally well as is the case with Standard Bank under the leadership of Sim Tshabalala, for example, then hats off  to you, you are viewed as a case study for how transformation can be achieved and you don’t get any of the bad media coverage associated with failure to transform.  But if you don’t comply, there is barely a slap on the wrist. Perhaps you lose out financial incentives that come with having a better BBBEE scorecard but that’s about it,” says Donald.

For there to be real change, Donald says there has to be an element of consumer activism. Although, because of inequality and joblessness in South Africa, it might still be a pipe dream to expect consumers to boycott untransformed organisations.

"As for the JSE, we have made reasonable progress at some levels however we still have to invest extensively to have a fully transformed JSE," he says.