Absa and IMD celebrate powerful partnership linking the African banking giant’s purpose with performance
“At Absa, our people are our business. An organization can have the best systems, processes, and strategies, but without strong, capable leaders the vision will not be realized. Our leaders help us grow and nurture our people, and understand our clients and the markets in which we operate. They also help us address the business and societal problems as an active force for good while we grow our business.”
This is the simple and powerful way Absa’s Group Chief People Officer Jeanett Modise summed up why it is still the human connection – and the development of both skills and character – that makes a business thrive.
Modise was speaking at an IMD Alumni Forum in Johannesburg which was both a reunion and a celebration of the special partnership that has set the benchmark for corporate human capital development on the African continent.
The Absa Leadership Academy’s Accelerated Development Program (ADP) was launched with IMD back in 2019 as a purposefully designed learning journey to address the unique needs of the African banking giant’s top talent. The program was started with the intention of accelerating the leadership potential of the bank’s talent and to add exponential value to Absa’s pan-African organization and beyond.
The program has been carefully curated and guided from the start by IMD’s Executive Director for Middle East and Africa, Hischam El-Agamy, who was a proud man in Johannesburg as the Absa-IMD’s alumni gathered to assess the impact of a program which has seen 462 Absa leaders exposed to the IMD’s bespoke leadership skills development training over the last four years.
El-Agamy told Absa’s alumni that the bank’s relationship was “more than a partnership”, and described how it was as meaningful to IMD as it is for Absa.
“Absa has become a role model for many organizations in Europe and the Middle East for what can be achieved when you invest in your leaders. You guys are amazing ambassadors not only for Absa, but for the whole African continent. You also brought to IMD a better understanding and reality of what Africa represents – and we appreciate you for that,” he said.
“We started with great ambitions, open to the opportunities we can create together. You brought your best people, and we brought our best people, The combination and diversity of Absa’s and IMD’s skills has enriched the partnership, and the match was amazing.”
“By 2075, one in three people of working age will be from Africa. The continent very much holds, in that respect, the future in its hands. It’s something Edward Pace has described as a ‘Youthquake’” – David Bach, IMD’s Professor of Strategy and Political Economy and Dean of Innovation and Programs
One of the major highlights of the forum was Absa’s IMD cohorts presenting their learning and impact projects from past ADP journeys, many of which have been adopted and rolled out by the bank.
Modise said that while Absa was confident it had ample skills and capabilities within the organization to succeed at the highest levels on the African continent and beyond, a partner like IMD was critical in helping to connect the company’s purpose with its business performance.
She added that developing human-centered leaders at all levels of the organization was important to an organization like Absa.
“Absa has the depth of capabilities we need. Yet, as we all work towards our purpose, we also need leaders with heart – leaders who put people at the center, who put their foot on the gas when they need to, but who also know when to lift that foot off the pedal when they need to. Leaders who love and care for each other and the people they lead,” she said.
“We operate in an environment characterized by constant change, complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Leaders must lead even when they don’t have all the answers, and we know there are no perfect leaders. That is where our collective diverse perspectives, knowledge, and experiences come together, and something extraordinary happens.”
Absa’s IMD cohorts have certainly been conjuring up plenty of real-time magic, with many presenting projects stemming from IMD programs which have subsequently been adopted and rolled out by Absa.
One such project presented by the Absa team in Botswana was the Motshelo Community Group Saving initiative, a group savings and lending project which was launched by Absa in June 2023. f
The Motshelo product is the first of its kind in the local Botswana market, as traditional credit policies failed to acknowledge informal groups as legal parties to a credit facility.
The product uses members’ saving patterns as a determination for credit affordability, with the accrued savings then stored in an interest-bearing account and used as surety for credit.
This ensures members can still pursue their financial goals using Absa Bank capital (loan product), while their accrued savings are safeguarded and continue to grow through time.
The product has been a key initiative under the bank’s pillar of being an ‘Active Force for Good’ and promoting sustainable development in the communities it operates in.
One widely acclaimed project, which meets Absa’s environmentally sustainable goals, is a waste bank solution which gives the informal waste sector the chance to benefit from the country’s economy and contribute to its GDP.
Another project presented at the forum was a smart queuing digital solution in Zambia which looks at online solutions in alleviating long bank queues to benefit customers and increase the bank’s revenue potential.
IMD’s Chief Digital and Customer Experience Officer, Louis Leclézio, announced the exciting news that, directly following on from its successful collaboration with Absa, IMD has now established a fully-fledged business and innovation hub in South Africa.
IMD’s Professor of Strategy and Political Economy and Dean of Innovation and Programs David Bach gave alumni a well-received Masterclass on ‘Africa’s Opportunity’ in an aging world with slowing growth in China and the West, where Africa represents the possibility of newfound dynamism, youth, and abundance.
“By 2075, one in three people of working age will be from Africa. The continent very much holds, in that respect, the future in its hands. It’s something Edward Pace has described as a ‘Youthquake’,” Bach told the audience.
Another highlight of a vibrant session were the inspiring leadership stories shared by IMD cohorts, among them Karien Bosman from the Transform 2021 class, who is Absa’s Lead Technology Partner for Everyday Banking Digital Technology.
In a personal story, Bosman relayed how she used an IMD training technique from the Transform program to help her overcome the trauma of detecting a cancerous lump.
Bosman said the IMD program made her realize that, even in her digitally driven world, human connection was still paramount.
“We received individual coaching, but what I loved is that it was a complete program. It was not just about finance, marketing, or theory, but about us as people as well. We had empathy and understanding for each other. This is something I took back to our teams,” she said.
“It’s important to have people understand one another before they work together. I realized I needed to know myself before I could lead others. In this respect, my experience with IMD was invaluable. They made me realize the importance of connecting with people. Understand your people first, and that’s a great recipe for success.”
Siphamandla Ntombela presented to the forum on his ‘Homie Wednesdays’ initiative to promote the bank’s home loans product in KwaZulu-Natal, for which he won a 2023 Absa National Excellence Award for innovation.
‘Spha’ credited the Amplify program for giving him the confidence to express himself to land a promotion to his current position as Manager of Direct Customer Sales for Home Loans in Kwa-Zulu soon after he enrolled with the IMD program.
IMD Professor of Financial Management Leif Sjöblom encouraged the Absa alumni to see how the ‘challenges and opportunities in FinTech’ could benefit the bank’s operations.
El-Agamy, together with Robert Benvenuti, Absa Head of Change, Transformation and Data, moderated working groups on the ‘Absa Leadership Competency Framework’ in closing the skills gap and on ‘Driving Innovation and ADP Project Implementation’.
Nadia ten Cate, Absa’s Senior Group Leadership and Learning Specialist for Group Leadership and Learning, had a powerful parting shot for Absa’s IMD alumni, saying, “With great power comes great responsibility. We are one of the only companies that develop our talent at such a high level. Cherish that but pay it forward.”