Young Executives, - Open Sesame!

WATCHING an orchestra for the first time you might have wondered what exactly the conductor does with a stick in his hand.

All the time, he just stands in front of the musicians, does funny and apparently random gestures with it. It appears so irrational for one to think that as an observer from the audience, you could replace the conductor if you were in his suit.

Anyone who has tried conducting a choir or orchestra as a first attempt will realize that “it’s not so easy”.

Getting to know Baronice Hans gives you a somewhat similar feeling. She is young, energetic and in charge.

At first glance, all that she does is wear a nice suit, spit instructions from her new office. It appears so easy and smooth that you think that you can replace her then and there.

Problem is that the conductor of the orchestra does a very important job. His apparently random hand-gestures are what keeps the musicians perform in sync with each other; his actions give them the right balance and, more importantly, transfer his feelings to them so that the music that is eventually expressed trembles with emotion.

What Hans does on the 4th floor of Standard Bank Namibia headquarters is a similar enactment.

She is one of Namibia’s youngest executives at Standard Bank Namibia’s retail department.

With a strong employee complement of 800 people under her, she has made a little piece of her own history – that of sitting in various board meetings of several top companies, before she was even 30.

You could think that you could be as good as the orchestra conductor. The fact is that you cannot and neither can your grandmother. Even if she were 50.

Baronice Hans discusses her rise in the corporate ladder, in a country usually seen as having less female executives and as having little female involvement in national development, in an organisation once regarded as having little local input.

According to her, it is not about gender or race that she has had to contend with but the perceptions that young and vibrant people cannot call the shots. And the opportunities are even….

PF: Who is Baronice Hans?

BH: I am a mother of three, a very proud to be Namibian wife, and in my mid- thirties.

PF: Give us a glimpse of your professional life?

BH: After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 2000, as one of the first two black CAs in the country, I worked my way up in NamPower to General Manager Finance, Treasury and Property Management in 2004 and joined Standard Bank as Chief Operation Officer (COO) in 2009 before assuming my current role as Executive Director, Personal and Business Banking in February 2010.

PF: Having been recently assigned from COO to Executive Director PBB in Standard Bank Namibia, what does your role entail and what is your vision and Strategy in SBN?

BH: I am responsible for the entire retail bank, which involves all branches in Namibia, business banking, SME and Commercial sector of business. I am in charge of operations IT and core-banking.

This includes home loans, vehicles and Asset Finance, as well as both their unsecured and secured lending products. Our vision is to lead in the creation of value for our customers, employees and shareholders.

My dream is to build an empowered team that excels in delivery. We have to be a customer and employer of promise. We want to see increased value for people, clients and shareholders.

Currently, one of my key challenge is leading a united team of more than 800 people, dispersed all across Namibia and sufficiently empowering these teams.

PF: What are the challenges that you faced and the opportunities that have been availed to you as you climbed the corporate ladder?

BH: More often than not, people’s perceptions have been the main challenges. Their perceptions about the profile, the look, and the feel of what a person holding a certain position should look like.

Age has been key. There is an expectation that one has to be certain age to occupy a certain position. I became an executive before I turned 30 which seems contrary to what most people are accustomed to.

Normally these perceptions were only challenging at the initial stages and in most cases I managed to convince them otherwise within a short period time. We are not defined by what others think of us but by what we think of ourselves.

PF: What major projects have you influenced to be undertaken by the bank so far and what impact have these had on the economy or on the bank itself?

BH: My previous role as COO was more internally focused. I headed the Africa-Rigour project where we looked at the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the bank in terms of internal control and process and that went very well. I am currently the Executive Sponsor for our Core banking replacement project. We envisage going live without new system during the second half of 2011.

PF: There has been a lot of talk that locals in the bank do not call the shots, despite numerous attempts by the bank to clarify this. You being one of the locals in the top echelon of the bank, what is your take on this?

BH: I seldom experience that; most of the calls we make are locally. There are certain issues which are at board levels, then certain issues which require the shareholder to buy in. Before coming, I was told that banks in Namibia don’t empower locals but I have not experienced that.

More heads are always better than one and; I am very open to sharing sound boarding issues.

PF: Where do you see the bank with regards to Vision 2030?

BH: We want to be an employer of choice. Standard Bank Namibia will be a leading bank of satisfied customers in Namibia. We want to be socially relevant.

Our Standard Bank Foundation has already started setting the pace where we account 1% of our profit to social development. The Foundation oversees the bank’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) which is giving N$3.5million to education, health and other areas of societal development.

We are already the leading bank on the African continent being in 16 countries. We aspire to lead in every market we operate in. With CSR, we are contributing towards Vision 2030. We want to align to customer needs.

PF: Generally, as a top female manager, do you see gender gap in salaries in the Namibian corporate world?

BH: No, absolutely not. I have never been in a remuneration discussion that used gender as basis.

PF: Are female senior executives like you satisfied with your level of involvement and influence in decisions affecting your departments and companies?

BH: By virtue of my appointment, as an executive, I automatically possess certain powers. I have powers that any board member of any background would have, regardless of gender or race.

PF: The few women, who are in top executive positions, are giving it a ‘grandmother’ image. There are not many young and vibrant prominent executives like you. What should be done?

BH: Organisations place a lot of relevance on industry knowledge and experience. Most young people feel the need to frequently change jobs in pursuit of financial gain. I spent eight years at Nampower and this allowed me to understand the industry very well.

It gave me the insight to operate on executive level. Having served on the founding boards of Nored, CellOne and Fisheries Observer Agency (FOA) allowed me invaluable exposure in terms of shaping the direction of organisations.

I believe staying in an organisation for at least five years and getting to know the industry in the longer term is more advantageous than changing every two years and knowing very little about any industry.

PF: What is your philosophy as a female executive?

BH: I do not look at myself from a gender perspective. I am passionate with whatever I get myself to believe in. What inspires me is building teams and leading them to deliver.

PF: How do you describe opportunities for women in Namibia? What is really stopping women from occupying top corporate jobs?

BH: There is as much opportunity for women as there is for Namibia. Sometimes we do not see opportunities that are right before our eyes. Good Education is also very important backed with the right attitude.

PF: But does it really matter that we don’t have more female chief executives? Should more women be appointed to top jobs just to gratify state commissars, or to make a political point?

BH: I think that would be an insult to all women if we were appointed in top positions purely to prove a political point.

PF: Therefore, would you say business or government departments would be any more efficient, successful or socially responsible if more women were in charge?

Already there are some who argue that all this corruption around us would have been very low, or non-existent, if women were in charge of most top jobs in the country. Do female leaders operate differently in the workplace than their male counterparts? From your own experiences, is it true that women have a stronger need to get things done than their male executives?

BH: Women are individuals and have different characteristics and personalities therefore some women get things done others not necessarily. We are all individuals and get things done differently. We cannot paint women with the same brush as we would not paint all men with the same brush either.

PF: Would one be forgiven to think that there are other factors keeping women out of top positions that have nothing to do with discrimination or male conspiracies?

BH: Definitely. I do not believe that there are necessarily male conspiracies perhaps more incorrect perceptions. Perceptions can be changed. We are not defined by what others think of us but more by who we think we are. We can also not always look to blame others where we fail.

PF: Working mothers are considered as having more distractions and not as sharply focused on the job as single women.

For example, given a choice between a male who is 100% focused on his work and a woman of equal ability who has interrupted her career for motherhood, and takes time off occasionally for childcare, its scarcely surprising if a board chooses the former.

The obligation being that, a board or those making top appointments have to ensure the best outcome for the organization, not to advance a left-wing political agenda. How do you try to represent women in such decision making scenarios, since you are already in the board of SBN?

BH: I have found that whilst working mothers occasionally need time off to care for their children, allowing them some flexibility breeds the most loyal and committed employees. I am very much in favour of “family friendly’ organizations and have seen women perform at their best in such environments and promote it whenever I can. You can give a woman an afternoon off to look after her child but that same person one day can sacrifice the whole weekend to work and cover the space she has been away.

PF: Do we have enough pool of female management talent in this country?

BH: Namibia has an overall skills deficit. We cannot build our nation unless this is addressed. Quality education is key.

In Namibia, the majority of students especially women are studying the same courses. We need to do more research into areas where we lack skills and encourage student to pursue those qualifications.

We must look at how the private and public sector can work with tertiary institutions to get the right skills more readily available for the workplace.

PF: There are more top female managers, in the public sector than in the private? Is the male club in the private sector shutting women out?

BH: Although we need to grow the number of female executives I certainly cannot attribute that to male clubs shutting us out. That is certainly not the case here at Standard Bank.

PF: But one could also argue that the public sector is politically motivated in appointing female chief executives, so does that mean that the people charged with spending our money may have promoted some women beyond their level of competence?

BH: I would argue that it would be unfair to generalize and that this is not true in all cases and not necessarily gender specific.

PF: How do you describe Namibia’s leadership model?

BH: I do not see any particular leadership model in Namibia. Organisational culture tends to breed a certain Leadership model and to change that one has to appoint Leaders who think and act differently.

PF: From your own experience, are women in Namibia subjected to higher standards than men and have to work harder to be accepted at the same level of competence as their male peers?

BH: I find that to be true initially but as we establish ourselves and cultivate trust, my experience has been that the same standard of delivery is expected from both genders.

PF: The study by Professor Bullough showed that having high proportions of women in political leadership does not necessarily mean having high proportions of women in business leadership? Is that true?

BH: The two issues may not necessarily be related in the short term. If the political leadership put in place measures to empower the girl child then over time there would be convergence.

PF: Finally, if you were fired today, and a new person takes over your job the other Monday, what would that person do to your strategies, your team and your thinking? Would they keep everything? Or would they look at it in a way that you cannot because you were tied to it?

BH: I am very passionate about what I believe in and what I aim to deliver, and delivery entails focus. Therefore, I am sure a new person would have a different outlook, and different does not necessarily mean bad. PF