March 30th, 2010
02:14 PM GMT
That is the theme I wanted to explore with two of South Africa’s most prominent businesswomen – Cheryl Carolus and Wendy Lucas-Bull – who run a mega-deal investment company called Peotona.
Cheryl was a prominent anti-apartheid activist and then part of the team that helped Nelson Mandela and his party win the first democratic elections. She’s acted as the South African ambassador to London and head of South African Tourism. She’s now left the public sector and is running Peotona with three other women – one of whom is Wendy Lucas-Bull.
Lucas-Bull was the first woman to run a major South African banking group. Her successful turnaround of that company is now taught in business schools. She’s also familiar to many South Africans as one of the business gurus on the television show ‘The Apprentice.’
Over a cup of coffee at their Johannesburg headquarters, I was interested in finding out if they thought women did business differently to men.
Both of them said, "Absolutely!"
Cheryl stressed that women leaders were not necessarily ‘softer’ and it wasn’t just about ‘girly business.’
Wendy agreed with her business partner that women executives do business in different ways – she said women tended to be more ‘inclusive’ and by that she says women create a workplace that’s condusive to women, as well as men. She also said women created a more ‘sustainable environment’ in that they build businesses ‘that also look after some of the things outside of the business on which the business benefits.’
What exactly does that mean?
Both women used the example of how they run their company, which emphasizes community benefits for the mining companies (De Beers, French-owned Lefarge and Reunert) they have invested in. They tell me that they have set up trusts which benefit those communities who live next to the mines.
Their model is best explained, they say, with Reunert, a listed company and a leading player in the South African economy. They have set up a Reunert College which is a bridging year that helps pupils from the surrounding areas to get into technical colleges and universities. With their contacts in the business world they have also managed to get more sponsorship for this school and have tripled the number of students, they say.
Now all this sounds worthy and "nice and fuzzy," I say to them, but do they make any money?
They reply that they have some "incredible blue chip companies under our belt" and "we are investors in some of the biggest players in South Africa."
That doesn’t sound like "girly business" does it?
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