What is Dolly’s operating philosophy? What are strategic issues in the case study? Eskom’s Window…
What is Dolly’s operating philosophy?
What are strategic issues in the case study?
Eskom’s Window of Opportunity
35 At first, Mokgatle was sceptical about taking up the opportunity to become one of the first black people, and the first black female, to enter the state-owned company. All that she knew about the company was that it did not pay taxes, as her childhood home had not had access to electricity. However, after consulting with her tax law professor, Henry Vorster, and Judge Dikgang Moseneke (a colleague from the BLA), she decided to accept the offer, reasoning that she would be part of a critical organ of state, and have the opportunity to help change the white male organisation from within.
Mokgatle entered the company as a legal advisor at the most junior level, and was immediately incorporated into its rotation system. The system was designed to give legal advisors exposure to all of Eskom’s operating divisions, and through her experiences in this process, she was able to start climbing the corporate ladder.
Mokgatle “cut her teeth” as a legal consultant to the distribution division, where she learnt a great deal about electricity generation. 36 She travelled all over the country, giving advice to regional managers on every legal problem they encountered. This often involved going to Afrikaans-dominated areas, such as the then Eastern Transvaal (later renamed Mpumalanga) and Bloemfontein in the Free State, where she had to contend with racial and gender-related prejudice, as well as doubts about her knowledge of Eskom and the law.
The obstacles that she initially encountered caused Mokgatle to question whether she could, indeed, handle the job. But her manager’s confidence in, and support for, her helped Mokgatle to confront the challenges, and gave her the opportunity to excel. She managed to develop such strong relationships with the Afrikaans managers that they awarded her the legal manager’s award. This experience affirmed her decision to join Eskom, and gave her hope for the country; proving to her that barriers to acceptance were in the mind, and could, indeed, be broken down by means of communication.
However, it was Mokgatle’s last rotation, in the transmission division, that had the greatest impact on her future with Eskom. After receiving a warm welcome from her colleagues, who were eager to teach her about the operation, she “fell in love with” the division. That said, the experience came with challenges of its own. She recalled a particular incident which required her to send a legal letter to a farmer in Harrismith. On receiving the letter, the farmer telephoned the regional office to berate the manager for letting a “swart vrou” 37 do his work for him. Undeterred, Mokgatle met with the farmer to discuss his legal situation. “We ended up having lunch together… in his dining-room,” she laughed.
38 In transmission, Mokgatle’s legal work furthered her understanding of the challenges – both legal and practical – facing Eskom’s projects, as well as the potential for the division to expand beyond South Africa’s borders. She was involved in the development of electricity export agreements with the Zimbabwean government. She also participated in the drafting the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) agreement between Eskom and Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, with the aim of creating a market to generate and distribute affordable power to customers in the region, 39 . (See Exhibit 1 for more information about the SAPP.)
In 1995, as senior legal counsel in the legal department (having been promoted several times since she joined), Mokgatle went on maternity leave for the first time, despite this being the birth of her third child. (Her work and study schedules had not permitted her to take leave for the births of her first two children.)
However, she was again unable to take her full leave, because, during her absence, she was promoted to the position of senior general manager of corporate affairs – an executive appointment. At the same time, she was asked to take over line responsibility for the legal department. With effectively two full-time jobs under her control, she returned to work almost immediately after the birth of her child.
Mokgatle’s Leadership Qualities Revealed
In her new appointments, Mokgatle began to show her true leadership ability. Mohammed Adam, Eskom’s general counsel in 2004, said that he had experienced Mokgatle’s leadership of the legal department as participative and sensible, in that “she [knew] when to listen and follow, and when to be tough and lead”. He added that, despite being strong and independent, she would try to include the team in finding solutions to problems.
40 She was highly ethical (“Beyond reproach” was how Adam described her 41), particularly when it came to corporate governance. Adam was struck by her honesty and openness, and by the fact that she was not embarrassed to ask questions or for guidance when necessary. She recognised and acknowledged expertise in others and looked to them for advice – knowing that this did not compromise her leadership position. At the same time, she remained decisive when she had to make a decision.
42 Mokgatle exhibited discipline in herself and the way she managed her teams. She would do what needed to be done, and was not shy to make her voice heard. She would give eachindividual a fair opportunity to deliver, and was careful to give due consideration to the situation in which individuals operated when assessing their performance. At the same time, however, she was intolerant of poor performance if she judged the circumstances not to prevent this.
43 These abilities were recognised in 1997 when Eskom’s board of directors promoted Mokgatle to the position of senior executive of corporate affairs. As such, she was tasked with developing “corporate-style” divisions, and taking accountability for the auditing, legal and communications divisions. The divisions had previously reported directly to the chief executive of Eskom, Allen Morgan. He found that Mokgatle’s leadership of the new corporate affairs division, including its line reports, significantly lightened his load, and this contributed to his decision to put her forward for the position of managing director of the transmission division in 1999.
Leadership of Transmission
44 Although heading up transmission would technically be a lateral move for the senior executive of corporate affairs, the division was one of the three pillars that formed Eskom’s core business (the other two being distribution and generation). Mokgatle, therefore, considered it an honour to be recommended for the position.
Her appointment to the post had not been a foregone conclusion, however. The Electricity Council (Eskom’s board) did not unanimously choose her for the job. Some members were concerned about her lack of technical and operational experience, especially in light of the fact that the division was in financial trouble and had not been able to deliver “general business results” in 1999.
45 But Morgan persisted, and Mokgatle was selected. She later commented, “Allen Morgan took a risk – putting a lawyer in charge of transmission.” 46 His support later proved integral to her success in the division. Throughout her time as head of transmission, Mokgatle felt that it was Morgan’s constant support that enabled her to succeed. When necessary, he defended her to the board, and did not blame her for any difficulties that she encountered. Placing his trust in Mokgatle, he consistently encouraged her. She explained that he never made her feel as though she was being watched. He gave her encouragement when she needed it, but made sure to keep his distance at other times.
Piet Faling, the previous curator of transmission, had implemented a “process-organised” 47 structure, giving all employees “self-accountability for delivery”. 48 This meant that the business was divided into processes that delivered customer-focused output, such as matching electricity supply and demand. However, the manager in charge of a process had no authority over the people or functions performing the process. Though a “custodian” was nominally in charge of a pool of “resources” dedicated to carrying out a process, the people involved did not report to him or her. 49 No-one had responsibility or accountability for physically delivering anything, noted Pat Naidoo, senior general manager of transmission at the time.
Faling’s structure was supposed to focus on the customer as the principal stakeholder. Instead, claimed Naidoo, the division was in a state of general chaos and “delivering only darkness”. 51 Eskom’s management had become deeply concerned about the survival of the transmission division. Divisional staff members were unsettled, and needed a change of leadership.