Naseem Kathrada brings a wealth of experience to his people skills


He describes his career as diverse after spending 33 years in various industries and roles.

Naseem Kathrada, who is now the director of human capital at Regent Business, says he has been a sales consultant, HR manager, HR consultant, general manager, managing director and CEO across many industries including real estate, retail, textile manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, wholesale and distribution and of course education.

“This has allowed me to gain experience and an understanding of diverse strategies and approaches, and I have found it really interesting to be able to apply learnings from different industries and roles into whatever my current role was.”

He adds that his entry into HR was mostly influenced by his fascination with understanding and working with people and the sense of being able to positively influence the path taken by those around him.

“I took industrial psychology and legal studies as my majors in my undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town. When I got to the crossroads of deciding between an LLB or advancing my industrial psychology knowledge, I guess I felt my ambition to lead would be better served in the field of Industrial psychology.

“I was fortunate in that my first permanent job was to set up the HR department of a company with 600 employees and no formal HR structure. That baptism of fire was the best thing for my early career, as it allowed me to experience the full gambit of what HR and specifically IR entails.

“My career has since gone full circle, as I moved from that position into entrepreneurship (training school and fashion retail, then private business (fashion retail, fashion wholesale and distribution, chemical distribution), and into corporate (chemical distribution) before returning to HR consulting and now back to a full-time role in HR.”

He adds that throughout his career, he always focused on the people element of any business that he was involved in, and the development of staff has always remained a priority for him.

Looking at his long career history, Naseem says remaining in one position for an extended period of time has been his biggest challenge. “I have always set myself goals which included making sure that those below me were empowered to do their jobs without me, and this inevitably led to a sense that my role became redundant. Of course, this allowed me to move on to the next opportunity, but I often wonder what my career would have been like if I had stuck to one industry or role.”

He also reckons the greatest challenge facing HR right now is navigating change and the rapid rate of change.

“I actually prefer to call them opportunities rather than problems. Disruption has become the norm, and from an HR perspective preparing the psyche of our leaders and colleagues to accept the inevitability of change and to give them the skills to embrace this change is the only solution. Rapid, constant change and technology are in my opinion the greatest game-changers. We are focusing on getting our leadership teams up to speed with the tools and psyche to embrace change.”

He mentions that the biggest disrupter – the Covid pandemic – had a massive impact on employee engagement as people struggled to get back to the old way (having experienced something different).

“Very few have landed on a solution for whether the best work model is remote, in-office or one of the many variations of a hybrid model. As a team, we have formed an employee engagement forum consisting of representatives from all levels of the organisation, and their primary task is to understand and positively influence employee engagement.”

HR in education

Academia, says Naseem, is changing the face of HR in the sense that it is now focusing on getting students fit for work. “This implies much more than imparting theoretical knowledge, which is often best learned on the job anyway. It implies preparing students to be more emotionally mature, aware and competent. It implies making sure students appreciate the need to think and problem solve and to be creative.

“The impact of this is that HR will need to deal with a different type of individual – one who is curious and hungry to learn and grow, and craves variety and challenge. So the focus for HR will shift from measuring performance to providing opportunities for growth and diversity, or risk losing this new employee.”

Naseem notes that academics have a particular persona and approach, which is different from industry. “This is particularly true in public higher learning institutions where regulation and methodology are the priorities. In industry, commercial imperatives are more top of mind. As a result, and this is a generalisation, the personalities in higher learning are different from the personalities in industry. However, those of us in private higher learning have the peculiar dilemma of having to deal with both of the above priorities and hence both personality types.”

So passionate is he about the development of HR in academics that he has recently submitted a motivation to do a PhD study on developing a work model for higher education.

After hours

When he isn't busy with HR in academia matters, Naseem is an avid traveller, hiker and generally enjoys any social sport. He is inspired by his Muslim faith and family and believes in inspiring others to be greater.

“My favourite saying is by Richard Branson that says: train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

He is currently reading articles in preparation for his PhD, but rates The Samsung Man’s Path to Success by Sung Yoon (former CEO of Samsung Africa) as one of his favourite reads. “I had the pleasure of interviewing Sung Yoon in a webinar for our students and alumni.The book is essential reading for any aspirant or current leader, especially if you are in Africa.”

His advice for younger students who want to have a career like his? “Find your passion as early as possible. Be ready to embrace opportunities that present themselves. Always remain true to yourself.”


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