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The Attitude And The Altitude

200 below zero and thousands of feet above sea level, CEO Suresh Kana tries to master ledgers and freezing ledges.

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Aspirant young leaders are often given the following exhortation: “It’s the attitude, not the aptitude, that determines the altitude.” Aptitude here may be somewhat underrated, but attitude is pitch-perfect. As for the altitude, it needs an exemplar to give the exhortation schtick. Suresh Kana, CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Southern Africa, springs to mind. He’s proved as adept at climbing the corporate ladder as he is at scaling some of the world’s highest mountains.

CEO of PriceWaterhouseCoopers Southern Africa, Suresh Kana, Johannesburg; 3 August 2011 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

If you think he’s an adrenaline junkie, you’d be wrong. A lifelong vegetarian and adherent to Gandhi’s principles, Kana exudes a quiet confidence. “In my personal time, I enjoy a good challenge,” he says. “Climbing and trekking are a passion and a hobby.”

In his 35 years at PwC, he has risen through the ranks from being the first black professional to join the firm in 1976 and its first black partner in 1986, to being the only South African appointed to the board of the International Audit and Assurance Standards in 1995, serving for nine years. He currently serves on the King Committee on Corporate Governance and other regulatory boards.

Yet despite reaching the pinnacle of success, for Kana there are always mountains to climb, professionally as well as recreationally.

Like his career, there’s been an interesting trajectory to his outdoor adventures. In August 2000, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; in December that year, he walked 400km in 10 days across India to commemorate Gandhi’s Salt March, which was undertaken in the 1930s to protest the colonial Salt Tax. Kana has subsequently led two groups—22 people in December 2004 and 15 in December 2009—to Everest base camp. Both groups comprised mainly young adults under the age of 23 with some school kids.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he admits, “but these expeditions are my way of mentoring young people and setting them on track towards developing into the leaders of tomorrow. They are taken out of their comfort zones and encouraged to think differently and innovatively, and to learn about themselves.”

Their trainer is Kana himself. “We train for about four months. The kids have to be at my door at 5am and show they’re disciplined and committed (do they know that their trainer is up at 3:08am precisely, six days a week, doing yoga and meditation?). You can’t simulate high-altitude conditions – it takes a lot of physical and mental preparation to enable you to face what’s there. By the time the kids write their exams in October and November, their parents tell me how focused and fit they are.

“We start the trek in Lukla, and once we’ve reached our destination at Kala Pattar, we’re 5,600m above sea level—that’s three times South Africa’s highest altitude and at freezing temperatures of about minus 20 degrees. We walk for about eight hours a day.”

All four of Kana’s children have joined these expeditions; two of them have gone both times.

So what happens on the trek? “Organization is key. The children are divided into groups of four and we operate according to certain acronyms. There’s the WAR (Watch and Review) Committee, whereby the sherpas ensure that the children are hydrated, are eating their meals and generally coping. ICU refers to any problems that arise—if so, steps are quickly taken to resolve the problem. For example, a weaker child is placed at the front and stronger climbers behind.”

What about the risks? “There are always risks, but we measure them in relation to the circumstances. This does not stop me as I believe there’s enough in place to assist when I need it.”

And measured against the rewards, “it’s a hugely satisfying experience—with a stunning view. On a deeper level, it centers me. Unlike the boardroom, mountains are vast areas of peace where all is still and nothing matters. It’s about pushing one’s limits.”

Yet he also draws distinct parallels between climbing and corporate life. “Both demand teamwork, risk and knowledge management, excellence, leadership and resilience. Both require you to master your emotions and focus on the task at hand. You have to determine how you are going to react to people and circumstances.”

How does this define his managerial role at PwC? “People rank high on my list of priorities and I have an empowering management style.” He’s not paying lip service; he has, at different intervals, headed up the HR, transformation and corporate social responsibility arms of PwC. “The firm invests heavily in skills development programs, and it shows: our students consistently rank among the country’s top 10 achievers.”

CEO of PriceWaterhouseCoopers Southern Africa, Suresh Kana, Johannesburg; 3 August 2011 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

Kana’s other enduring passion is promoting good governance. The double dips of corruption and unemployment are of great concern. “Our credibility is at stake at a time when we desperately need foreign direct investment for growth and jobs. Corruption is nothing but a burdensome tax on the poor; it’s unacceptable.”

Nevertheless, he remains upbeat. “I believe that wisdom and truth will always prevail. It’s incumbent on a leader to be optimistic while recognizing what challenges you face. You become an authentic leader when you’re accessible and engage with people, aligning them to a common vision.

“At the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, South Africa came out tops for having the best accounting, auditing and corporate governance standards, as well as the best stock exchange regulations.

“We need to have this mindset of excellence all the time. This means planning for crises and having structures in place for disaster recovery—not unlike the WAR Committee and ICU processes that occur on our mountaineering expeditions.”

 

What would he say to other CEOs who merely play golf? “Whether it’s chasing a little white golf ball or a little white tip of a mountain, it’s what makes you wake up in the morning and look forward to your day.”

He’s looking forward to going to the South Pole next: any takers?

Entrepreneurs

31% Of Small Businesses Have Stopped Operating Amid Coronavirus: Sheryl Sandberg Shares How Facebook’s Latest Product Aims To Help

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The coronavirus pandemic has continued to take a catastrophic toll on America’s small businesses. According to Facebook’s State of Small Business report, 31% of small businesses and 52% of personal businesses have stopped operating as a result of the crisis. 

“What we know today is pretty sobering,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “We’re in a really hard economic situation that is hitting all businesses, but particularly, small businesses really hard. We also know how critical small businesses are for jobs—long before coronavirus,” she says. “Two thirds of new jobs in this country happen because of small businesses and so that means what’s happening with small businesses has always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”

Especially concerning is that only 45% of business owners and managers plan to rehire the same number of workers when their businesses reopen. That number is just 32% for personal businesses. 

“If these businesses are letting people go, it’s not that they don’t want to rehire them,” Sandberg says. “It’s because they don’t think they’re going to be able to. That’s a pretty serious thing for us to be facing.”

Businesses that have been able to maintain operations still face significant hurdles, namely access to capital and customers. Some 28% of businesses surveyed say their biggest challenge over the next few months will be cash flow, while 20% say it will be lack of demand. 

The report, conducted in partnership with the Small Business Roundtable, was based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees. It is also a part of the company’s broader data collection initiative with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Future of Business.

“We were already in the process of developing this report before the coronavirus pandemic hit,” Sandberg says. “We expected it to be a pretty rosy tale back then of low unemployment, flourishing entrepreneurship, and jobs growing all over the world. Fast forward to today and we’re in a very different position.”

An example of Facebook’s new Shops feature, which creates digital “storefronts” for businesses.
 
FACEBOOK

Now, the company is launching Facebook Shops, an ecommerce product that allows businesses to set up online “storefronts” on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can customize their digital shops, using cover images to showcase their brands and catalogs to highlight their products. And just as customers can ask for help when shopping in physical stores, they can message business owners directly via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, track deliveries and more. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post announcing the new product. As was the case with the survey, the rollout was planned prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated as businesses have turned to online tools to adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis. According to the survey, 51% of small business owners have  increased their online interactions with customers, and 36% of operational businesses are now conducting all sales online. 

“One of the things I find so amazing is how much of the activity has migrated online and that we’re doing things we never thought were possible,” says Sandberg. “If I had asked you or you had asked me, could I work entirely from home? Can my whole company go home? I would have said ‘No way.’ But we did it. Small businesses have even more entrepreneurial spirit.”

There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S., many of which are struggling to stay afloat amid forced closures and are still hoping to receive financial relief from the government. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs, 71% of Paycheck Protection Program applicants are still waiting for loans and 64% don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months. As of April 19, more than 175,000 businesses have shut down—temporarily or permanently—with closure rates rising 200% or more in hard-hit metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to Yelp’s Q1 Economic Average report.

Employees of these businesses are disproportionately affected, with 74% and 70% reporting not having access to paid sick leave and paid time off, according to Facebook’s survey. For hotel, cafe and restaurant employees, those figures are over 90%.

Facebook, which relies heavily on small businesses for advertising revenue, was among the first major tech companies to provide much-needed aid. On March 17, the company announced $100 million in grants for small businesses, the majority of which will be distributed in cash, with some ad credits for business services. Of those funds, $40 million will be distributed across 34 American cities, with 50% being reserved for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. The other $60 million will be distributed to small business owners throughout the world. In addition to financial assistance, the company also rolled out various product offerings including digital gift cardsfundraisers and easier ways for businesses to communicate service changes to their customers. 

Small businesses are resilient, even during times of crisis. According to the report, 57% of businesses are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future, with only 11% of operating businesses expecting to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist. 

“The report raises awareness about the struggles small businesses face from the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies and co-executive director of the Small Business Roundtable. “But small businesses have brought us out of previous economic downturns and they will do so again.”

Maneet Ahuja, Forbes Staff, Entrepreneurs

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Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business

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Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.

Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.

“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”

Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking ediblesher celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.

Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.

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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.

The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.

“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”

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Op-Ed: How Nigerians Can Unlock Their Potential In The Digital Age

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By Uzoma Dozie, Chief Sparkler

Nigerians are some of the world’s most creative, energetic, and entrepreneurial people. We are rich with talent, enthusiasm, and passion.

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track-record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, this comes down to the lack of effective solutions in the market to support the lifestyle and finances of Nigerians and our businesses. For too long, we have been underserved by the traditional physical retail environment, which is limited by bricks and mortar infrastructure and legacy technology – the weaknesses of which have been laid bare by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy

While Nigerians are being underserved by current circumstances, there is also an exciting opportunity to start filling a gap in the market.

Nigeria’s digital economy is thriving, but it remains informal. Nigeria has a population of 198 million people – 172 million have a mobile phone and 112 million have internet access.

Many of us access social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram through our phones and use them as valuable sales tools, especially female entrepreneurs. Data and digital applications have the potential to revolutionize the daily lives of millions of Nigerians.

Therefore, new digital-only solutions are required. These should not just focus on finances though – they have to be intrinsically linked with everyday lifestyles, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes.

Let us take one example. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence have long been used to provide financial advice. But these chatbots could do so much more and evolve to provide support for more sophisticated usage, such as a personal adviser or lifestyle concierge.

Furthermore, these solutions should not just support Nigerians at home, but the ever-growing diaspora across the world.

Introducing Sparkle

The opportunity to play an integral role in transforming Nigeria’s digital economy and lead the charge in growing the digital economy across Africa inspired the creation of Sparkle.

Sparkle was founded with five core values – freedom, trust, simplicity, inclusivity, and personalization. We are adopting these values and embedding them in everything we do.

We will be leveraging technology and data to create and apply new digital-only solutions which bring more Nigerians into the formal economy thereby benefitting Government, businesses, and individuals.

Starting with the launch of a current account, we will co-create with our customers and collaborate with our partners to improve our services and increase our user base. We embrace collaboration and we are

working with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Microsoft, Visa, and PwC Nigeria, to achieve our vision.

In addition, we want to create a more inclusive economy and break down barriers by accelerating the role and influence of female entrepreneurs, many of whom already operate in the informal economy with the help of Instagram and other social media apps.

At present, we are facing a global crisis in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a strong digital infrastructure to ensure the economy continues to function. It will likely completely change the way we operate and conduct business in the future.

COVID-19 has only reinforced our belief that new digital solutions like Sparkle are required now more than ever before to serve Nigerians, boost the formal economy, and unlock potential in the digital age.

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