Someone once said that it doesn’t take a great editor to make a great newspaper. It takes a great owner.

LeadershipThe same could be said for any company – great owners, great shareholders, are critical. Executives are managers and it’s relatively recently that they have acquired the power they have.

Shareholders need to take that power back, and for that reason it is cheering to hear that former AngloGold CEO Bobby Godsell is poised to become chairman of Eskom, the national power utility.

Eskom is all over the place and it badly needs a dose of leadership. Its board members need to understand that they either make a contribution or leave, that meetings start on time and that members have read their packs.

It needs board members who are not afraid of the executives they are supposed to monitor and who do not rubber-stamp senior managerial appointments. In short, as Eskom isn’t being managed by a bunch of tough bastards it had better have a board of tough bastards.

There is some evidence that Godsell, behind the ruffled and shambly exterior, is a tough bastard. You do not rise to the top of the old Anglo business by being nice, and we know enough about Eskom now to understand that it’s a supply-chain business just like mining.

You can’t take any part of the chain for granted, which is what Eskom’s managers did and which is why we had a power supply crisis. Attention to detail is a critical habit a new chairman will have to bring to Eskom.

A new chairman will also need to ensure that the executives understand exactly what is expected of them and that nothing, not colour nor gender nor "potential", is to stand in the way of hiring the right people to keep the country’s lights burning.

None of the goals we have set ourselves as a democracy is attainable without a reliable supply of electricity.

Eskom would be lucky to get Godsell. So would we all. He is courageous and clever, and probably doesn’t need the board fees.

Source: Business Day (Johannesburg)
Editorial: 15 July 2008