In conversation with Peter Vundla

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Peter Vundla

former founding member, Managing Director and Chairman of Herdbuoys Advertising. He currently chairs AMB Capital, Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital and Luna Films.

Peter currently sits on the boards of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, Zara South Africa, Special Olympics of South Africa and the National Children’s Rights Committee.

Peter has previously sat on the boards of, inter alia, Sanlam, Wesbank, Sentrachem, Foodcorp, AMB-Foord Asset Managament, UNISA, Allianz Insurance, National Chemical Products and New Africa Investments.

Peter is a former Chairman of Mail & Guardian and has served on media boards such as the Marketing Federation of South Africa, the Institute of Marketing Management, Freedom of Commercial Speech Trust and the Advertising Standards Authority.

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Financial Mail Long-term Achievement Ad Focus Award, ABSIP Pioneer of Empowerment and is a fellow of the Institute of Marketing Management.

He holds a DPhil and DCom, both awarded Honoris Causa.

If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Peter Vundla:

Based on my existential experiences I would say to my younger self: “Speak your mind, but don’t forget to develop and nurture relationships”. None of us can thrive alone on an island.

In a society that has become increasingly materialistic, I have learnt that it is important to understand that you should do good. The money will follow. However, in the process you should always remember to not spend money you have not earned.

Your values anchor you, but remember that at the epicentre of all values is your integrity. Your integrity is your most important guiding factor. People may not always like you, but they will respect you when you retain your integrity.

If you want to be successful watch who you keep company with. Keep close to winners and avoid losers. You become who you associate yourself with. With that, always remember to remain positive, but be prudent and do your homework!

Could you share an inflection point in your life and the lessons you learnt in the process?

Peter Vundla:

 Inflection points vary in size, impact and occurrence. The one that comes readily to mind is when I was spearheading the establishment of a break-away advertising agency from an established white-owned agency, at a time when white-owned agencies dominated the market. That was at the apex of my business life.

The most important lesson I learnt in the process was: It is not going to be easy. Period.

Could you share an ethical dilemma you have faced and how you dealt with it?

Peter Vundla:

I was once in the middle of a legal battle and had appointed a legal firm to represent me. Somewhere in the process the partner assigned to my case requested me to make payments directly to him and not the firm. In return he would reduce the fee for the legal services rendered.

The easiest thing to do was to take the reduction in fee and go down the path of least resistance. I advised him that I believed that making that offer was unethical. Essentially he wanted to make me complicit in stealing from his firm, so I also told him that I felt insulted by his approach. By approaching me in the first place he was suggesting that I would join him in the unethical behaviour.

I indicated my discomfort in moving forward with him as the lead lawyer in my case. I do however still feel uncomfortable about not having taken it further and reported the incident to his senior partner.

What advice would you give to someone who needs to build ethical courage?

Peter Vundla:

 I would start by pointing out the consequences of unethical behaviour.

In addition to suffering reputational damage, which could be irreparable, your self-respect will decline and you may find yourself being not able to sleep soundly.  There is of course also the possibility that you may end up serving jail time.

In organisations, unethical behaviour inevitably contribute to toxicity. That impacts on the productivity of organisations.

You must do the right thing, but understand that while ethical behaviour wins one respect, you may also make some enemies in the process

What is your biggest concern around leadership today? How should we address it?

Peter Vundla:

I think that we too often see lack of delivery as a result of leaders being overly focused on consensus building and consultations. While consultation is important, it can also paralyse the system if one is not careful.

In addition, there seems to be an increase in a lack of courage of conviction, which is an important characteristic of great leaders. That, together with a lack of value driven leadership and paucity of new ideas create a vacuum into which “False Prophets” can step and take the moral high ground.

Given the context of our country, we need to see selfless servant leaders at the helm. Sadly, there are not many of those leaders around.

To address these challenges we need to first review our processes of appointing/electing leaders. We also need to focus on how we develop leaders through our institutions. Education is key, as is mentorship and instilling values.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing boards today?

Peter Vundla:

There is still a great lack of diversity in Boards, both from a race and gender perspective. Having said that, Boards have to deal with dynamic markets and a weak economy, a mixture of over and under-regulation, costly compliance, the risk of misreading international expansion and managing the relationship with auditing firms. On top of these, many Boards also have to deal with weak management.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur who wants to set up business in SA?

Peter Vundla:

Firstly, you must understand that you are on your own and that you must be willing to make the necessary sacrifices. This includes doing adequate research. Don’t look to government to help you succeed. Network, build relationships and seek alliances. Mentorship is also important in your development as an entrepreneur.

To succeed, you need to postpone gratification. Do not spend money you have not earned.

What is the biggest leadership lesson you have ever learnt?

Peter Vundla:

To be a leader is to serve.  

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