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Nelson Mandela, South Africa and Kolbe Corp


The Mandela era is coming to an end as his remaining days play out in a South African hospital and the rest of the world watches and waits.  It is truly rare for a man to play such a significant role in his own country, then become a beloved figure for his whole continent, and ultimately, a highly respected leader for the world.  As we look back and honor Nelson Mandela, let me share with you a Kolbe connection.

I was in South Africa exactly one week after Mandela was inaugurated in Pretoria, the nation’s capital, in1994. Remnants of the celebration still clung to the streets and revelers were quick to strike up one spontaneous tune after another to keep the festivities going.

The timing of my visit to Pretoria was not accidental.  Kolbe Corp had established a solid foundation of work there with some very significant, large corporations as clients. Much of Kolbe’s early penetration was through Erik and Wolfgang Schmikl, brothers who read about Kathy Kolbe in a 1990 Wall Street Journal article and attended Kolbe Certification training that same year.  They were working with companies like Vodacom, the largest cellular phone distributor in Africa and Eskom, the largest generator of electrical power in Sub-Saharan Africa.  They also counted the South African Reserve Bank, Toyota and Sentrachem, subsidiary of Dow Chemical, as their clients. Dozens of internal specialists in those companies became Kolbe Certified™ Consultants, as well as in ABSA, the largest South African Bank. 

Another major Kolbe client in South Africa was Stratagem, a diverse training and consulting company which is currently managed by Keith Garden.  Over the years, Stratagem spawned a number of other opportunities from members who broke off and joined other consulting companies.  People like Keith Hartshorne who joined MAC Consulting, offering specialized consulting services to blue-chip clients in the mining, metals and resources sectors around the world, and Geoff Ronaldson, a consultant known for team performance management. Ronaldson works not only in the mining industry, but also with the South African Port Operations and many others.

These industry leaders and professional consultants brought the Kolbe message to Africa, and introduced major companies to the Kolbe System™.  The work of these talented and experienced consultants, and others too numerous to mention, are what led me to South Africa so soon after Mandela’s arrival to power.

Mandela’s campaign promised to broaden employment in the country. He declared to the business community that he would bring people of all colors and experience levels into the work force. No longer would employers be able to exclude a candidate simply because they did not have the proper qualifications and training.  Rather, businesses would be required to provide the necessary training and to give applicants experience.

The companies that already knew about Kolbe experienced an immediate “Aha!” moment.  Mandela’s mandate required them to provide any necessary training for their new employees, which was expensive.  With the Kolbe technology, it was possible to know which candidates were a good fit to invest in.  If the job needed people who were thorough, detailed and specific, then people who led with the Fact Finder Action Mode should get a good look. If the job required someone to be organized, sequential and methodical, they should start looking for those who exhibited Follow Thru traits. Kolbe provided an effective screening process, not for purposes of exclusion or discrimination, but for inclusion and to set people up for success.

Admittedly, lack of reading skills limited some of the accuracy of the Kolbe assessments but our clients were still doing much better than those that just hired and trained the first applicants, putting them through training programs that might be unsuited for up to 60% of the population.  We even adjusted the Index for ESL audiences (AA™ Index) and South Africa became the biggest user of this instrument.

Working in the developing world brings its own cycles of activity.  Political surges sparked by a dynamic leader can lead to significant economic growth in the short run, as enthusiasm outruns limitations.  Because of his age and physical limitations, Mandela served only one term as president.  Many of his initiatives were not well administered by his successors and political fragmentation and corruption, along with the world-wide recession, have limited opportunities for growth in South Africa.

This is probably a good place and time to salute the Kolbe consultants, both external and internal, who are still laboring in South Africa.  As one who personally spent the first 10 years of his professional career working in the developing world, I can say with a certain authority that “I feel your pain.”  The entire staff at Kolbe Corp appreciates the professional relationship we share, and look forward to a day when, together, we can expand opportunities for growth once again.

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