THE Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber is to undergo radical transformation of its governance structure in an effort to reposition itself as a critical and publicly visible stakeholder in the local economy.
This is one of a number of discernible changes that newly elected chamber president Mandla Madwara and his deputy Neil Hart have committed to implementing as soon as possible, Madwara told The Herald in an exclusive interview this week.
"The chamber is a very important economic role-player in this region representing a very important constituency,” he said.
"This is a 10-minute city, and people here need to engage more and talk to each other constantly about solutions to the challenges facing not only the local economy but the socio-political terrain as well.”
His first port of call, though, would be the chamber, where restructuring and repositioning was needed, he said.
Madwara is managing director of Triangle Events SA, organisers of the Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa; chief executive officer of Bedevco, a local BEE company involved in IT and energy; and chairman of Zonwabise Holdings, a BEE partner with Sun International in Emfuleni Resorts, which runs the Boardwalk Casino & Entertainment World.
He and Hart – the founder and incoming chairman of advertising agency Boomtown – took over the top chamber roles from Spec-Savers founder and manager Bryan Dowley and Uitenhage Despatch Development Agency chief executive Nomkhitha Mona respectively.
Speculation is rife that Dowley and Mona quit due to clashes and dissatisfaction with the overall performance of chamber chief executive officer Kevin Hustler.
Madwara, 51, a former Port Elizabeth city councillor who recently served on the chamber’s board of directors, would not be drawn into discussing the rumoured conflict.
However, he said a restructuring of the chamber’s governance model would take place, with specific focus on the review of responsibilities between the chief executive and the president.
This might impact on the permanency of Hustler’s position, he confirmed.
"It actually makes sense that the chamber’s governance model has got to be addressed to also go in line with corporate governance today and the current model of doing business and so, yes, it is one of the things we would want to look into,” Madwara said.
He admitted expecting the proposed changes to ruffle some feathers but, he said, it had to be understood that this was not about certain personalities.
"The timing [of the proposed restructuring] is also important so that it does not create a perception that it is about an individual but that it is about the needs of the organisation, irrespective of the occupier of the position. But we will have to address it as soon as possible.”
Was Hustler’s position likely to be converted from full-time to a contract term then? "It is a possibility,” Madwara said.
Also informing the proposed governance model restructuring was what Madwara described as an emerging trend in the nature of the chamber’s membership, which he said was increasingly being characterised predominantly by young and emerging entrepreneurs.
"It’s an exciting development that, to me, reflects that a lot more young people are keen to make an impact in the local economy as business people – a positive indication also that the local economic conditions are changing for the better.”
This emergence and burgeoning of budding SMEs driven by youth implied that the chamber needed to respond to their needs more expansively and efficiently while continuing to provide meaningful service to its other class of members – big business and industrialists, he said.
"The business environment is changing and so the chamber has to create a balance and be sensitive. Indeed, the fact that the chamber decided to appoint me coming from a small business is an indicator of that change.”
Madwara, a former liberation struggle activist with a stint in exile, and an active ANC member, would also like, through his planned local economy stakeholder engagement, to knock the labour unions "back onto the fairway and possibly onto the economic green”, especially as far as the government’s youth wage subsidy plan was concerned.
Madwara said the labour movement led by Cosatu was completely off course in its opposition to the subsidy plan.
"The question of youth unemployment is going to need all of us – business, unions, political parties and other institutions such as the IDC – to get together and say, ‘guys we are going to get out of our comfort zone’, and say what it is we have to do to create jobs for our youth.”