Mardia van der Walt Korsten
Mardia van der Walt-Korsten
At a recent Business Forum, Mardia van der Walt-Korsten outlined how she has built the T-Systems Computer organization into a “company with a soul”
When she was appointed CEO some three years ago, she says she was not only the first woman CEO appointed within the global giant, but she was also a psychologist with a background in Human Resources. “I knew nothing about computers. And I was faced with a personal journey in which I had to ask the question. Do I want to create a successful capitalistic organisation or do I want an IT company with a soul?.”
She says to achieve success one must set “audacious goals” but achieve them with “empathy”.
She believe a “pervasive lack of moral leadership” in all spheres of society is responsible for the current global crisis. She points out that of the world's 100 largest economic entities, 51 are now corporations and only 49 are countries. “The three richest men on the planet control more wealth than the poorest 48 countries”. In the USA the top one percent of households have as much wealth as the bottom 95% of households.
Quoting Mother Theresa, she said: “This is one sickness that money can’t cure. In fact, when money (or the pursuit of wealth and material goods) becomes more important to individuals and society than the sanctity of human life, or love or spirit, wealth can bring pain and suffering and death.”
Van Der Walt-Korsten believes that a prerequisite for moral leadership is a “spirit of service” to nation, family and community combined with a “drive for excellence”.
And why the drive for excellence? “To practice ‘capitalism with a conscience’ you need a performing organisation and a performing society to uplift the rest of society,” she says.
Creating a business with soul seems to have worked at T-Systems. In 2005 the organisation was losing 14% of its revenue year-on-year. It remained profitable but had lost significant market share. Mardia faced the challenge of radically redefining the company and changing its “loss of relevance” in the South African market. By 2008 the revenue had grown by 68 percent and their sales targets had been “overachieved” by 197 percent. T Systems target of R1 billion for 2011, which most had labelled impossible to reach, was achieved two years ahead of schedule. target will be quickly trebled.
How did it happen? “I know nothing about computers but I know a lot about people,” says Mardia.She refuses to take credit for the turnaround. “Its about team effort.” She said the first step is finding out what you don’t know. “Then you choose your top team that know all the stuff you don’t know.” And that team needs to steep itself in the leadership philosophy of “leading with a spirit of service. Responsibility is collective and success is collective.”