by Staff reporter

A passion for leadership

Momentum Retail's Khanyile Nzukuma on leadership, shared value and financial planning

Khanyile Nzukuma.png

Momentum’s Khanyile Nzukuma on leadership, shared value and financial planning
Recently appointed as CEO of Momentum Retail after a successful spell as CEO of Metropolitan Retail, Khanyile Nzukuma is an empathetic, innovative and passionate corporate visionary, with leadership in his DNA.

Managing a business is second nature to Nzukuma. In fact, you could say that destiny prepared him for business leadership from an early age.

“Growing up with entrepreneurial parents was my first exposure to business,” he agrees. “My father was a civil servant but also he had a general dealer business in the township, so I learnt a lot from that: how to manage money, how to make decisions, how to manage people. This helped me to get into management quite early in my life. I’ve been managing people from age 25.”

Add education to experience and you have a recipe for high-flying success in the corporate world. “Doing an MBA gave me a lot of understanding of the value chain of an enterprise. Of course, it’s important to have mentors all the way, just to guide you in terms of your stance in life.”

Asked to cite his greatest accomplishments to date, Nzukuma names three: “Transforming an organisation the size of Metropolitan in the four years I spent in that role was quite a milestone for me. Second, personally, is investing the time to be a good family man.

“Third, education: four years ago I finished my Doctorate in Psychology, which on top of work and family was a challenging undertaking.”

Now he is poised to use his background in sales, marketing, distribution and insurance general management to grow the brokerage and distribution businesses for Momentum.

The view from the top

Momentum Retail is probably the biggest division in the group; as CEO, Nzukuma has his work cut out. “It’s a typical value chain business, with product development, channels, marketing, finance and human resources, so I bring two core capabilities: First, to set strategy: you need to create a vision with your team of where you want to take this business to. It’s a very forward-looking view, thinking in terms of three, four, five, ten years from now, so there’s a whole process in terms of understanding the external pressures involved. It’s almost an outside/in approach. Then, once we form the strategy, the key is to create an operating model around it, and from there create a structure to achieve the strategy. Then you need to provide resources.

“The second part of my responsibility entails developing an inspiring culture for the business. Culture plays an important role: the CEO is the custodian of an organisation’s culture, so if you walk into a business and it behaves in a certain way, it’s your responsibility. The culture in your area is that way because of you, as a leader.

“In short, my role as leader is creating direction, providing certainty, getting the resources, monitoring the execution of that direction and then managing the culture,” he says.

To this end, Nzukuma has two primary objectives: “To change Momentum from being a sales-driven organisation to an advice-driven organisation that focuses on client engagement, and to bring about further growth in Momentum.”

Multiplier of excellence

Leadership is a topic on which Nzukuma has firm, clear views. “A leader should have empathy, humility and innovation. A good leader is a multiplier of excellence, not a diminisher of excellence. A good leader is transformational and gives employees the space to be themselves. This is quite a difficult thing—leaders have to be careful not to become egotistical, putting themselves first instead of allowing the people around them to step up to leadership as well.”

To become a better leader, Nzukuma recommends getting a mentor and really understanding your cognitive abilities from a leadership point of view. “Have your strengths and weaknesses assessed and get some formal leadership training. Then get as much practice as you can. The sooner you get into a management position and start to lead people, the sooner you’ll begin to make mistakes you can learn from, to improve.”

For first-time leaders, Nzukuma has the following advice to offer: “First, properly understand the context, the game plan, the environment you’re in; second, engage people as much as possible, which means listening. Often people walk into an environment and think they know. Third, establish some relationships, because otherwise you can’t move forward. Then you can come up with an action plan.”

Definitely one to practise what he preaches, Nzukuma is always seeking to grow as a leader. “I’ve always had a mentor,” he says. “To begin with, my father is my mentor in terms of walking the talk, in every way. Nowadays, I choose two types: a business mentor and what you might call a life coach, somebody outside work. Then, at any given time I’m reading something about leadership.”

A passion for people

What really motivates Nzukuma to achieve excellence in his daily work is a passion for people. “Getting the best out of people really fires me up,” he explains. “When I walked into this office about a month ago, I met a group of extremely passionate, brilliant, experienced people who have a high drive to tackle the challenges we face as an organisation. After taking some time to understand the business strategy, I’ve been having a lot of one-on-one meetings.

“After engaging people, not on strategy but on where they are with their hearts, they told me ‘we’re in this thing, we love this company, we’re passionate’, ‘I’ve been here for 28 years, whatever happens with this company, I’ll still be here’. That made me realise what this company means to the people out there. If you don’t make the right decisions and inspire them and get results, you would destroy their livelihood. We don’t employ just three thousand people, it’s three thousand families, and that’s what it is about.”

The role of CEO is not without its challenges, though. For one, the economic slow-down is a source of frustration across the entire insurance industry. “We can’t expand as fast as we want to. No matter how many new products you create, the lack of economic growth means it’s difficult to get new clients. As an industry, basically we end up churning the clients that we have,” says Nzukuma.

On a day-to-day basis, the sheer complexity of the insurance business is a monster that has to be grappled with. “The biggest thing for insurance companies is simplicity in execution,” Nzukuma explains. “We’re a very complex business and we dream big, in terms of all the innovations that we want to build. We need to get to a point where we simplify and choose a few things we want to do in a year. We need to simplify our innovations.”

For Nzukuma, one of Momentum’s most attractive attributes is its culture. It has a very informal, relaxed, flat structure, so you can make decisions quicker.”

Creating shared value

Part of MMI Limited, which listed on the JSE in 2010, after Metropolitan and Momentum merged in 2010, Momentum has a world-changing mission, which Nzukuma is poised to implement.

“The important thing about Momentum is that we’re focused on the high net-worth, affluent and higher middle-income segments of South Africa,” says Nzukuma. “We see ourselves as a trusted Financial Wellness partner for our clients, so we position ourselves to solve their unique needs based on their financial needs and circumstances. That talks to their present and future financial challenges, from daily expense management to helping them realise their dreams. All our solutions, from insurance to health, short term, investments, are all meant to ensure a holistic financial wellness plan for our clients. We do that through giving advice with sustainable outcomes.”

Nzukuma continues, “It’s becoming clear to us that we have to assist clients to change their behaviour and live more healthily and safely, so that they can actually live longer. If that happens, there’s a benefit for everyone: the client has a healthy, longer life with short-term financial benefits; the company benefits because clients get to stay with us for longer, and obviously there are better financial outcomes.

Generally, society also benefits because working adults participate in the economy for longer. You could say it’s about creating shared value. Insurance companies have been criticised for quite a long time for having a win-or-lose approach to insurance; the big thing now, and I think this speaks to our Multiply wellness and rewards programme, is about finding out how to make sure you can share value with a client while he’s still alive and contributing to the economy.”

For clients to remain loyal, of course, they have to be kept happy, which is where the personal touch has to come in. For this reason, transformation has enabled Momentum to keep in touch with a rapidly changing market.

“The market is becoming more interestingly diverse than it has been traditionally,” says Nzukuma. “More importantly, we’ve got employees that understand this emerging market segment and are able to devise solutions that suit these clients’ particular contexts. It’s very important in our business to ensure that we create solutions that speak to each segment, otherwise it tends to be a case of thinking for people and creating products which they don’t necessarily need.”

Employee buy-in

Momentum employees are regarded as a critically important asset. As Nzukuma puts it, “If you don’t have happy people, you’re not going to get the clients. We’ve done workshops with our staff on the meaning and importance of accountability and diversity because these are behaviours we want to see in the company. If you get your employees to genuinely live your values on a day-to-day basis when they interact with your clients, they become ambassadors for the company.”

Nzukuma continues, “Of course, employees have their own financial, career and family needs, which makes them central to the client engagement process. They also need to use our solutions and understand how Multiply works, for example, how they benefit, so they can pass this knowledge on to the client.”

Momentum staff also make an important contribution to innovation within the organisation. “To encourage creative thinking within the organisation,” explains Nzukuma, “about three years ago we started a programme called MMI Ignite. In an organisation like ours, you can’t have innovation sitting only with certain people. To make it as inclusive as possible, we created an Internet platform for ideas: if people have any ideas, they are encouraged to share. Ideas are reviewed on a monthly basis, and every quarter we recognise the best ideas. We also take winning ideas and put them back into the business, because it’s important for people to actually see that their ideas are being used. This also forms part of our annual recognition criteria. It’s working very well.”

Financial Wellness

In order to grasp the nature and meaning of financial wellness to households across the nation, Momentum partnered with the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 2012 to compile the annual Momentum Unisa Household Financial Wellness Index and the quarterly Momentum Unisa Wealth Index.

“The Financial Wellness Index was a real milestone and an eye-opener for us because we got insights that divided consumers into four categories: financially well, financially exposed, financially unstable, and financially distressed. The results show that the financially well will have budgets, a financial plan, and a financial planner. The financially unwell often default on their payments, live on an overdraft, lack a budget, and have no financial plan or planner,” says Nzukuma. “We want to assist our clients to plan and manage their money, first, to meet daily expenses, and second, to meet lifetime goals. So clients have to learn how to monitor and prioritise their expenses and work within a budget. Then they must be linked to a planner who will work out a plan. Finally, they have to change their behaviour.” This is where the behavioural change, measurement programme Multiply comes in. “It’s one thing to have a budget and a financial plan,” comments Nzukuma, “but we need to make sure that the way we behave daily actually enhances our plan. If you’re going to take out short-term insurance today and tomorrow you go and cause a car accident because you’re driving at high speed, it’s not enhancing your financial wellness because then your rates may go up.”

The financial planner at the centre

Today, there are direct channels enabling people to buy products directly that it can be tempting to dispense with the services of financial planners altogether. That, in Nzukuma’s view, would be a mistake. “The reality is that not everyone can do their own financial planning. Yes, there are some solutions that you can self-execute, but long-term planning requires professional expertise. At Momentum, our strategy is to make all the channels available to a client, whether it’s face to face, a call centre, a website or an app, but at the same time we emphasise that eventually it’s prudent to sit face to face with an adviser.” Now Momentum has an integrated omni-channel strategy.

“In this strategy, the challenge is to keep the financial planner at the centre of the financial planning process, with the other channels enabling him to engage with clients he might not be able to personally engage with, himself. This will be a great asset to financial planners who don’t play in the social media and digital space. Our model will ensure when a client enters one of those channels, he can play around there, look at our information, but we will always ask if he wants to talk to a financial planner, and if he says yes, then we will connect him to a planner,” concludes Nzukuma.

Family man Nzukuma has been married for 15 years. He and his wife, a civil servant who works at the National Prosecuting Authority, and their two children (a boy, 15, and a girl, 11) have made their home in Cape Town since 2013. “We’re a working family,” says Nzukuma, “quite busy, quite into sports, the kids as well.”

But charity doesn’t end at home: “Twice a year I go back to the the high school I attended to give motivational talks. The township often lacks role models, so when I come and say to them that I attended this school 20 years ago, it shows what is possible”

Outside of work, Nzukuma is passionate about sport, motor-cycling and nature. “I’m quite into mini marathons – it’s important to keep fit – and I really enjoy motor-biking around the scenic parts of Cape Town. Whenever I can, I get away in my 4x4 off-trail.”

Furthermore, Nzukuma has been a Research Supervisor at the Milpark Business School from February 2012, guiding Masters students on research outputs. He also has been a business strategy mentor for two arts and crafts SMMEs affiliated to the Business and Arts South Africa (BASA).

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