TENDAI BHEBE IN BULAWAYO
“Your personality is your business card. I have learnt that how you leave other people feeling once they have had an experience with you is your trademark”.
This is one philosophy that the new Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) chief executive officer, Nicholas Ndebele, has carried all his life.
Ndebele, who was appointed as ZITF CEO this month told Business Times that he has learnt the “essence of pragmatism and not to allow perfection to stand in the way of good enough”.
“So, willingness to take risks determines whether one stagnates or moves forward. Successful people have a higher risk appetite than their not so successful counterparts,” Dr Ndebele said.
The executive’s other philosophy is “I have learnt the power of consensus building and leading from the middle’.
But, one thing people don’t know about the executive is he has a height phobia.
“I am terrified of heights. I therefore struggle with air travel,” he told Business Times.
Asked what the appointment as ZITF CEO meant to him, the executive said:
“It means hard work. I am privileged to lead a team of experienced and passionate executives with a board that is widely experienced, passionate and forward looking. So, the board has charged us to drive a strategy that is anchored on transformation to ensure not only that the business survives but that it thrives notwithstanding the challenges associated with such a time as this.”
Ndebele is navigating a turbulent and uncertain Covid-19 period exacerbated by a macro-economic environment that is still fragile though “green shoots are showing on the back of recent strong performance in agriculture”.
“Covid-19 pandemic has particularly created a textbook VUCA cauldron – characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity,” he said.
The executive is undaunted.
“We are not taking off our jackets to cry more freely. We are not daunted by the complexity associated with this pandemic. The case to the contrary is true. We are excited to superintend over this national asset at a time such as this,” Ndebele said.
“We have rolled up our sleeves to come up with a tactical plan – the Business Recovery and Continuity Plan whose revenues have supplemented whatever support we have received from the major shareholder the Government of Zimbabwe to take us this far after the cancellation of our major events last year. We continue with our preparations at the home of exhibitions for ZITF, Mine Entra WaShen and Sanganai/Hlanganani 2021 to contribute significantly to the transformation of Zimbabwe towards Vision 2030. Health and safety are a priority in all this.”
The ZITF has been rescheduled to August 23-27.
Ndebele said there will be a pilot hybrid format, where the virtual element complements the physical for both the exhibition and concurrent conferences.
“This hybrid platform will accommodate exhibitors, visitors and stakeholders who are unable to participate physically either because they cannot travel to the actual show or are hesitant to do so. Our attitude is that complementing the physical with a virtual platform will augment the value of our events,” he said.
Ndebele said ZITF’s new vision will be to place the customer, instead of the product, at the core of our business.
“…. the most important step is to understand customer needs, anxieties and expectations and we then orient both digital and physical offerings towards them.”
Prior to joining ZITF as a sales executive, Ndebele worked for the country’s biggest brewer, Delta Corporation, Old Mutual, Telecel and Population Services International.
“So, before selling space at ZITF Company, I had sold virtually everything from promises, beer to condoms,” he said.
He said despite the Covid-19 pandemic he is ready to take the ZITF to greater heights.
“As the industry leader, the current devastation wrought by the pandemic, has taught us first and foremost to prioritise health and safety of our staff, exhibitors, visitors and stakeholders,” Ndebele said.
“Accordingly, our preparations for ZITF 2021 are built around health and safety. We have enlisted the guidance of the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Bulawayo City Council’s Department of Health to draw a robust Covid-19 Risk Management Plan whose implementation road map is overseen by a Special Board Committee for continual tracking and stress-testing.
“We will lead with courage in implementing this road map. The pandemic has also taught us to partially reinvent ourselves and embrace emerging digital business models.
“We recognise that technologies such as the likes of Artificial Intelligence driven match-making engines, big data, and the internet-of-things have emerged and are here to stay and support face-to-face events.
“Navigating the unprecedented challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic has been a big challenge.
But, I believe that every leader has acquired their experience through doing stuff, at times uncomfortable stuff that takes courage and principle consistently.
“I have acquired an inner fortress that stands me in good stead for these turbulent times.
“So, good communication skills, humility, compassion and integrity to motivate subordinates and curtail workplace dysfunctional conflict will be vital going into the future.”
I wish somebody had told me to read Moses’ story in the bible to get acquainted with the vagaries of leadership in times of crises.”
Asked which book has left indelible lessons and helped shape your views in life, Dr Ndebele said:
“I like biographies. So, Barack Obama’s latest one “A promised Land” which amplifies the nexus of risk taking, preparation, hard work and success. It foregrounds my belief that nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.”
The executive is currently reading “The Ride of a Lifetime” by Robert Iger and “All Rise – A Judicial Memoir by Dikgang Moseneke.
“Both very interesting reads,” Ndebele said.
He was born in Bulawayo but grew up in Shurugwi on a farm, revealed that as he was growing up , he always dreamt of being a lawyer.
“I thought and still think that lawyers are clever people. I, however, think marketers have superior emotional intelligence,” he said.
The executive draws inspiration from a number of people—learn a lot from a wide cross section of society whose lives are well grounded on values.
“I am inspired by intelligent, hardworking, disciplined, courageous, loving and faithful people – young and old. Entrepreneurs always inspire me a lot particularly because of their risk appetite that is invigorating. Our own Strive Masiyiwa (the executive chairman and founder of Econet Wireless) is a case in point,” the executive said.
“Globally, look at the recent race to space by Virgin’s Group’s founder Richard Branson, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla’s Elon Musk. They have this insatiable appetite to push the boundaries consistent with Nelson Mandela’s exhortation that “there is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than what you are capable of living”.
The executive doesn’t regret anything that he has experienced because he draws lessons from such experiences.
“I take it in the chin and move on. I am an optimist and a consensus builder. I subscribe to LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner’s philosophy of compassionate leadership. I believe leadership is a serious responsibility and a privilege that is also transient. I like easy going folks who don’t take themselves too seriously. However, I am terrified of heights. I therefore struggle with air travel,” he said.
In his words of encouragement to young professionals, Dr Ndebele said respect amplifies one’s personal and professional relationships.
“In Ndebele we have a profound descriptive word that encapsulates everything a young professional needs “ukuhlonipha” or “matyira” in Shona. “Ubuntu” or “hunhu” manifest through respect. If you possess that respect – “ukuhlonipha” you go far in personal and professional relationships. It doesn’t diminish but rather amplifies your intelligence, creativity, discipline, courage, love and faith.
“They say once you are on the north of 40 you develop love for news and current affairs and I am no exception. Additionally, I have a voracious appetite to learn new things so I like reading a lot and interacting with smart and positive people who do not take themselves too seriously,” he said
Ndebele is married with three children -two girls and a boy. He is a Christian, a gym enthusiast and budding golfer.
The executive holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree majoring in Business Leadership from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) of the University of Pretoria, an Executive Development Programme from the same university, an MSc Marketing (graduating with Distinction) and Post Graduate Diploma in PR from the National University of Science and Technology, an MBA from Midlands State University and a Bachelor of Business Studies from the University of Zimbabwe.