As Neren Rau nears the end of his second contract period at Sacci, the academic turned CEO’s greatest conundrum is whether he will be able to devote enough time in future to grow the organisation further.
“I am in the process of weighing my options. My contracts have been three and three-and-a-half years, so if I sign another, I will be going on ten years. I do love working at Sacci and I may continue to do so , but I have to measure that decision very carefully as my priorities are slightly different from when I started,” says the father of two young girls aged two-and-a-half years and seven months.
“I have very young children, so I can’t cover the country as much as I believe the Sacci CEO needs to in order to show support to our chambers across South Africa. I am doing this, but I think it needs to be done on a more aggressive basis,” states Rau, who, it is good to know, still gets nervous when his boss, Sacci president Clive Manci visits unexpectedly, as he did on the day Engineering News interviewed the Sacci CEO.
Rau explains that heading up the chamber is about being able to deliver what the organisation needs as it grows, pointing out that even though the organisation does not work seven days a week, it is a seven-day-a-week job.
“We need to watch what is going on every day of the week all the time,” Rau highlights, adding that the media is always looking for comment and it is important that the media also represents a business view.
“That’s the first battle for us; getting the media to represent a business view, because the labour unions are in [the news] every day. It is a tough battle for organised business, [because] it is always two [against] one, as organised labour and government have an alliance,” notes the CEO.
The Road to CEO
Rau, who attended Avoca Secondary School, North of Durban, said when choosing what to study at university, he was “pushed, I didn’t jump”. He initially studied computer science as “at the time [it] was a big thing”, but “very quickly realised that computer science was not for me”.
He graduated with an honours degree in finance from the University of Natal in 1992, to the benefit of business. From 1995 to 1998, he studied towards his master’s degree in business management, which he received from the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), in Johannesburg.
Born in Overport, a suburb of Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal, the 43-year-old moved to Johan-nesburg to teach at the Technikon Witwatersrand in 1993 and, thereafter, lectured for eight years, also working at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown.
“To some degree it wasn’t a choice [to enter the academic world]. When I studied honours in finance it wasn’t a known discipline, so I did struggle to find a job outside academia. It was a great experience, but I was challenged because I had no experience,” Rau reveals.
Therefore, he had to put in extra work to gather knowledge outside the classroom, spending time at advertising agencies, for example.
“In retrospect, [being a lecturer] is something that you should focus on at the tail-end of your career, rather than the start. But, nonetheless, it was very rewarding and prepared me for my public speaking role at Sacci,” says Rau, who believes that every person he comes across has an impact on his career and who he is in one way or another.
“At Wits Technikon this was my immediate superior Willie Vos. He is the one that put me on to RAU when I wanted to further my studies and convinced me that I could study in Afrikaans. He was very supportive and growth orientated.”
Further, Rau says every Sacci president, during their term, has had an extraordinary impact on his career. “They have impacted not only the strategic direction of the organisaiton, but my development. I have learnt so much from them with regard to maturity of perspective; that is the greatest lesson I learnt from them all.”
Leading up to his role as Sacci CEO, he also worked at the National Treasury when former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel was in charge and for the Reserve Bank, where he was part of a new division to deal with crisis management and contingency planning.
When representing the Reserve Bank, he encountered members of organised business – Sacci – and labour at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
Because of his time at Nedlac, he learned to appreciate the importance of maintaining a strong financial services sector, but also that, in this economy, this was only one half of the mix; the other half dealing with development and transformation challenges.
Therefore, when one of Sacci’s directors approached Rau to apply for the position of CEO, he saw the organisation as an opportunity to “effect change in terms of that dualism”.
The Sacci CEO says there have been many milestones during his time at the chamber, highlighting the start of his career when “we tried to raise [the organisation’s] profile very quickly from 2008, going into 2009”.
“The first indication that we were getting somewhere was in 2009, almost a year after I became CEO [in June 2008]. We hosted an event where the major political parties were present,” said Rau, adding that “all the big names came” – Gwede Mantasha, Helen Zille, Bantu Holomisa and Mosiuoa Lekota.
“That was an indication of a possible turning point but also a motivator to pursue much greater objectives,” says Rau.
A more recent achievement, he adds, involved having Jean Guy Carrier, the chairperson of Sacci’s global parent, the International Chamber of Commerce, which is not very well known in South Africa, attend Sacci’s annual convention in 2012.
“We also had the State President [Jacob Zuma] attend the Sacci Annual Convention for the last two years running,” Rau points out. This year’s event will be held from October 22 to 23 at the Gallagher Convention Centre, in Midrand.
Despite being undecided as to whether or not to stay on at Sacci, Rau is certain that the organ- isaiton has tremendous future potential. There-fore, “I have to measure the decision very carefully”.