Lessons in leadership by someone who was in the driving seat

Rhodes>Perspective>2013 Archive

I was delighted to be asked to write a review of a book entitled “In the Driving Seat Lessons in Leadership” authored by a business hero of mine ever since I was student at Rhodes University in the 1980s.

Brand Pretorius, who was then Managing Director of Toyota South Africa Marketing, came to address our Business Administration class and it was apparent to all of us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed commerce students who were going out to conquer the world of business, that here was a man of the utmost integrity and an authentic person to boot.

Although the book has two main parts, ‘My journey in short’ and ‘A roadmap for leadership’, there are in my opinion, three distinctive components, namely Brand’s formative years, his business experiences at Toyota South Africa and McCarthy Group and lastly his leadership lessons.

The reader would probably have liked to have had a little more devoted to the business experiences, but Brand is upfront in saying that these were to be dealt with in just enough detail to set the scene for what is to follow and is in fact the essence of the book, namely lessons in leadership.

The key aspects that emerge from the first part, ‘My journey in short’, are Brand’s acknowledgement of the two most important women in his life, his mother and his wife, Tillie, and how a family can have a profound impact on the right values and how you conduct yourself, whether it is socially or in business. He also highlights the importance of a good education and in his case the benefit of doing a Master’s degree in an area that was his passion, marketing and motor vehicles!

From his business experiences, the influence of wise leaders who took their time with him, hard work, teamwork and people engagement, come through time and time again.

Many people might be surprised to discover that even Brand (who some business commentators saw as having the Midas touch), went through an exceptionally tough period when involved in the challenges with Retail Apparel Group (RAG) and the almost catastrophic consequences for the McCarthy Group. Whilst one might be tempted to dwell on the strategies adopted and financial issues that contribute to turnarounds and business closures, the lesson to be learnt here is that just as people are what make for good times, it is also people who get you through the bad times!

The most powerful section for me in the ‘Roadmap for leadership’ part is that devoted to “servant leadership”. This chapter should be prescribed reading for any leader! It is regrettable that too many leaders today have forgotten that leaders are there to serve.

Brand is an example to show that nice guys CAN make it in business and in fact are most likely to be the epitome of significance (as opposed to success). Even though the servant leader may get battered and bruised in the process, there is no doubt that those who live out the philosophy and lead by example, will take the organisations they head, to places many believe is not possible.

Brand concludes very notably by showing clear justification for this philosophy by making reference to Charles Handy, who said “The job of leadership is almost impossible these days. It is too big. There are no secrets and everything is out in the open”.

It is also important to take out of the book the recognition that South Africa has many challenges. However, in acknowledging that, Brand says that business has a fundamental responsibility to lead by example, no matter what. The title of the book is therefore apt. Business leaders cannot and should not abdicate their responsibility. Of course, it is how the car is driven that is important.

Written by: Owen Skae

Picture credit: www.leader.co.za
'In the Driving Seat Lessons in Leadership', written by Brand Pretorius is published by Tafelberg. This article was published on www.leader.co.za.