When Peter Mountford was appointed CEO of Super Group in July 2009, he had his work cut out for him. The group had annualised losses of approximately R1.5 billion per annum pre-taxation. Its borrowings had escalated to R4.3 billion and there was virtually no shareholder’s equity left in the business as a result of aggregated losses. But, by 2017 the group boasted a turnover of R30 billion and a market cap of R12 billion.
If you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If you're decisive, then you have the chance to be a leader. These are two sides to the same coin.
- Narendra Modi
A number of actions had to be taken to bring the business back to profitability. One of these was firm leadership – from Peter himself, but also across the management structure of the organisation.
Here are Peter’s three lessons in leadership – particularly when business isn’t going well, and changes need to be successfully implemented for renewed growth and focus.
1. Be responsive and innovative
According to Peter, this should be baked into a company’s DNA. It should be second nature to everyone, from each business unit’s management team to on-the-ground employees. But it starts at the top.
“It’s paramount to understand customer needs and to put customer responsiveness first. Our selling proposition is more a process than a product; the type of activities that we’re involved in are integrated into procurement, warehousing and distribution for most of our clients. We therefore need to be a highly responsive organisation, understanding client needs and bringing innovative solutions to the table. This starts with me, and is embraced by our entire exco and management team. We lead by example,” he says.
2. Strong leadership is all about balance
“We’ve learnt that no one person can be everything an organisation requires. That’s why teams are so important. The best teams are balanced across a number of key competencies. For example, I bring customer orientation and focus to the table. We have strong subject matter experts from each of our divisions, as well as a new business development team. This is a large business, and there’s a lot to know and understand. That takes a team – it doesn’t need to be a large team, but it also can’t be one person,” he adds.
Super Group has also taken the view that the best skills suited to a job aren’t always the most obvious ones.
“Our most senior marketing executive comes out of a 20-year background in breweries and running consumer and supply chain businesses at Bidvest. He has the capability required to put together a board-level pitch, and he’s supported by new business development colleagues. We’ve learnt that our sales executives need to have strong supply chain and FMCG backgrounds in order to understand the underlying needs of our customers. They are then supported by a team with more sales-specific experience. Everything is about teamwork and balance. That’s how you achieve results,” he says.
Related: What leadership style are you and will it get results?
3. Maintain a ‘small business’ mindset
“As a large organisation, we’ve ensured that we remain quick, decisive and entrepreneurial in our decision-making processes. We’ve resisted bogging the organisation down with administrative processes and documents, such as daily sales forecasts, daily order covers, daily cash flow forecasts and so on.
“We run a small executive team at group level, and we’ve kept our decision-making process highly efficient. This doesn’t mean we ignore our financial dashboards – we read them carefully and always have a handle on our numbers, but we haven’t added bureaucratic processes for the sake of them.
“We’ve had a long and strong relationship with our non-executive directors too, and have developed a mutual trust and understanding of our strategy and modus operandi, which has worked well because it allows us to make decisions quickly.
“Key to the success of this operational strategy has been to carefully ensure that absolute management control is retained over all of the businesses within the group. Each business has a CEO who is directly accountable for all aspects of the businesses, removing the danger of a centralised decision making process that undermines the entrepreneurial capabilities of businesses in various territories.
“This takes trust, and building up excellent CEOs and MDs, but the results speak for themselves.”
Peter Mountford’s personal mantra is ‘leadership by example, decisiveness, integrity and customer responsiveness above all else’. Do any of these elements resonate with you, and if so, how can you implement them in your own leadership style?