In this interview, we talked to Jan Bouwer, from Search Partners International/AltoPartners, about the results of the 2016 BlueSteps Executive Job Outlook report and his advice for candidates.

Many executives expect the number of executive jobs to increase in 2016. Is now the time to make a move?

In South Africa, and across Africa, we have a critical shortage of skills and experience at the executive level. This shortage, and also the fact that a key requirement exists to find local people and to adhere to the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Act requirements in South Africa, makes the talent pool more limited; but also creates the opportunity for executives to move more often between various executive positions.

The current poor performance of commodities in the global markets, and the fact that the local economies of many African countries are highly dependent on it, creates a further crisis for many companies within this sector. These companies need to assess their current positions and see how they can best re-focus during the economic downturn. For this, they need experienced leaders who have done it before or have the ability to navigate these companies through the difficult times. Many of these companies may decide to change strategy or to diversify in order to stay relevant. For this they often need new executive talent to embark in a new direction or maintain what they have in the most cost effective manner.

Foreign direct investment in Africa is also growing and with new entrants into the market. The requirement to have local leadership in place further strengthens the need for executives. We have also seen political changes take place in countries like Rwanda, Nigeria and Tanzania and with this we have seen new political leaders embracing change and creating a more positive climate for foreign direct investment (FDI).

jan_bouwer_executive_job_marketWhat global economic trends do you see having the most impact on executive jobs in the coming year?

The growth of the global economy will continue to lean on the US consumer, seeing that the US has the largest trade deficit. US demand will therefore continue to facilitate the growth of the economies of trading partners. The weakening of the currencies of developing countries against the US dollar makes US import trade with these countries a lot more attractive. Labor cost is becoming a lot more competitive compared to what it was, compared to other developing countries like India; therefore off-shore delivery from Africa is becoming a lot more attractive.

Commodities will remain soft in 2016, due to the economic downturn in China; therefore, the big resources companies in Africa will need to re-invent themselves in order to stay economically viable. Executives will need to have the skills and experience to deal with these trends in order to reposition their companies to maximize economic growth and sustainability.

How can an executive best present him/herself to get noticed by executive search consultants in today’s marketplace?

Executives need to make themselves visible within the industry they are operating. They need to ensure that their peers in other companies know about them and that they are known for being a specialist or recognized leader within their field. It is important to find the necessary networking opportunities to touch base with key role players outside their immediate environment. This investment in networking should happen over the long term and not only when the executive is seeking new opportunities. I’d recommend that executives build a compelling social media presence and use that to ensure that any of their articles, industry comments and/or PR is visible online.

What would you rank as the major challenges for executives at the moment, and what executive skills are in high demand considering those current challenges?

Africa is an extremely diverse continent, with 3,000 plus ethnic tribes, 2,000 plus languages and countries at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to political stability, reliability of infrastructure and maturity of management expertise. Big corporate players are present and some have been successful in establishing themselves, whilst others have been struggling.

Economic opportunities and business scenarios differ from region to region; therefore Africa is too big and diverse to follow just one approach.

Leading diverse teams, managing change and complexity, coaching, collaboration and engagement is a couple of the key skills needed to be successful in Africa. Executives need to take account of the traditions and different takes on life that exists from country to country.

African companies need to achieve a balance between international and local talent. This is often a key challenge for multi-national companies who need to build highly skilled and adaptable workforces when recruitment practice and regulations vary widely across the region. Executives therefore need to be highly adaptable and take note of what has worked for Africa and what has not before they make any key business decisions.

Why do you think most executives valued executive coaching and digital/social media training over other forms of additional training/education? Do you agree that this is the best way for executives to stay relevant in the job market, other than on the job experience?

These types of training are less threatening for executives as they can decide the pace and level of detail and interaction required. It also allows them to get access to real people who have done it before and have paid for their mistakes and can also share their success stories.

If you could offer one key piece of advice to today’s senior leaders, what would that be?

Always stay relevant as economic times and political situations will change and have an impact on your role within the company. Your suitability for the next career milestone will depend on how you have dealt with changing factors and challenges in your career to-date.


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