Bridgestone South Africa CEO Jacques Fourie builds a strong team through high-level skills beyond the tyre industry
In just two years at the helm, Bridgestone Southern Africa (BSAF) CEO Jacques Fourie has transformed the company’s production and sales capabilities – a journey that continues to evolve – and is now turning his attention to ensuring that the business is supported by a strong culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging. This, according to Bridgestone South Africa.
Upon joining the company in June 2019, Fourie was met with a host of challenges facing the premium tyre industry, including an influx of cheap imports and a South African economy in recession. Internally, the company has embarked on a restructuring process to modernise its operations, increase efficiency and maximise profitability.
“We had to evolve beyond just being a supplier of a product to offering total solutions to customers across all our segments,” he says. “We had to become mobility pioneers, which meant we had to do things differently in every area of the business.
“This meant a complete repositioning of operations from a customer service perspective, to adopting more information technologies in our processes, as well as in the telematics-driven offering to customers to allow them to manage their fleets better and prolong the use of their tyres,” he says.
Streamlining the Business
Over the past year, coming out of a difficult 2020, the business has already seen an increase of well over 40% in volumes at its Brits manufacturing plant due to new technology investments and various other changes to ways of working.
In the midst of global pandemic, Fourie led Bridgestone through an arduous process of streamlining the business structure, implementing multi-disciplinary teams that proved to be more efficient, transparent and high- performing. The result has been a reduction in wastage, while quality and profitability are continuing to improve.
Fourie is hesitant to take credit for his contributions and owes the success to a transformed and diverse workforce, with many new appointments at senior level made in recent years.
“Promoting diversity in the working environment and the upliftment of people is more than just about gender and racial makeup,” Fourie says. “It is about a diversity of backgrounds, views and experience. I think we have succeeded in establishing a world class leadership team here at Bridgestone over the past year.
“I hire every person in the senior managed team personally and our teams are now delivering phenomenal results in terms of turning the company around from financial and a culture perspective,” he says.
Under his leadership the business went from a Level 7 broad-based black economic empowerment score to level 4, and in 2021 it announced a Level 3 certification – an industry first.
“As we sought out the talent to help the business reach its goals we realised we had to expand the pool of people we opened up to,” Fourie says. “We decided that the people we were looking for, even at the executive management level, didn’t necessarily have to come from the traditional places and traditional experience.
“Rather than have a strict requirement for someone with tyre experience, we placed even greater emphasis on skills and attributes, especially transferable skills, such as sales and managerial skills with a strong focus on values,” he says.
Raising the Bar
By raising the bar in what the company was looking for in those areas, and lowering the bar on having tyre industry experience, Fourie was able to attract a much higher quality of talent in key executive roles such as legal, HR, sales and finance, while improving gender diversity.
His approach has been to intuitively place people based on a holistic approach that combines their work experience as well as growth potential and natural talent. This led to him appointing Bridgestone’s first female Chief Financial Officer in South Africa, Prinisha Khoosal. Also, Thandeka Ngoma was promoted from her role as Head of Marketing to Consumer Sales Director, where she is now excelling.
Even in technical skills, a similar approach was taken where someone who might have refinery or manufacturing plant experience would be considered. This has a remarkable impact on the company’s ability to hire more women, such as the newly hired continuous quality manager Ndileka Arosi whose experience includes FMCG, mining and chemicals, but not tyres.
Balancing Old and New
In this way Fourie has filled all the senior executive roles making Bridgestone one of the most diverse tyre companies in South Africa from a race and gender perspective and enhancing the leadership’s ability to bring fresh insights and new solutions to old problems.
Focus has been on partnering with legacy employees who have been in the company for long stretches with people appointed from outside the organisation. The next phase is to develop people in lower tiers of management, promote them and fast-track their individual development plans in order to retain talented people with substantial industry knowledge within the company.
In addition to the Exco, Jacques is involved in this next rung of management appointees, however, only in the latter stages of appointment, when the competencies have been established.
“When I meet with someone who is being considered for a role, it is already established that they are competent,” he says. “I usually just meet with them over a coffee and try to establish if they will be the right fit for the company, from a culture and diversity perspective and most importantly, a values fit for our team.”
Jacques feels that while Bridgestone is ahead of its competitors in terms of diversity there is still a long way to go.
“As of July 2021, our representation across the company was 21%, exceeding our targets,” he says. “We are making good progress, and we want to reach 40% of female leadership in the near future.”
Persistent challenges include inherent biases that need to be unlocked through conflict management and dialogue. Additionally, while diversity can be more successfully implemented when vacancies arise, the challenge is in areas with low staff turnover, such as the retail business. Here, branch operations are small with long serving, loyal employees and the opportunity to make quick changes is not as high.
Despite this, there are many opportunities for change and one of the areas of greatest potential for long-term transformation is the Yes 4 Youth Graduate Programme.
Bridgestone initiated its participation in the public sector-run YES4Youth Development Programme in November 2019, placing 38 youth with degrees and diplomas in a variety of functions, such as sales, information technology, finance, procurement, and engineering.
This year, a second wave of 70 graduates was inducted and the programme was enhanced with a higher quality of candidates, better training and real work for them to do, in the head office as well as the manufacturing space.
“I met recently with the candidates in an informal coffee session, and I have had a chance to get to know them,” Jacques says. “I can already see that these talented young people have great potential to add value to the organisation and in a business of 2300 people, if you can train 70 people, you can move the needle very quickly.”