Q&A with CCBSA MD Velaphi Ratshefola: Reflection on riding the Covid 19 lock-down wave

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28 January 2021 – Managing hundreds of employees remotely has been a pressing dilemma for large corporations looking to maintain their productivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa managing director Velaphi Ratshefola shares some of the lessons learned in keeping people inspired, motivated and performing at their best while putting their wellbeing first.

Q: How were your staff members affected by the lockdowns?

Like many companies and institutions, CCBSA employees were truly tested in 2020. Companies face different challenges but nothing like this pandemic. While we were on our way to returning to profitability the pandemic hit, and the strain on our people was felt across the organisation, and mainly due to uncertainty. So as leadership, we had to work hard to bring back a semblance of normalcy and certainly by making quick decisions and communicating honestly, effectively and consistently.

With the onset of the pandemic, a portion of our workforce that was able to, was asked to work from home. This was largely office-bound personnel, as the nature of their work allowed them to be productive while not on location. However, with CCBSA designated as an essential service, our onsite staff, which make up a high percentage of our total workforce, were required to report for duty at our various sites, depots and warehouse operations. In either context, the pandemic added a significant stressor onto people’s lives and exacerbated the uncertainty they were already struggling with.

Q: What was your biggest people management challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic?

With the inability of teammates to meet face-to-face for an extended period, we had to rapidly start getting used to technology like never before. We made sure that those who needed devices received the appropriate equipment for their work, including access to data and any other tools of trade  they might need.

The lockdown took away the ability to engage directly and spontaneously with each other, something I must admit, many took for granted. By adding the layer of technology in all our engagements, we missed nuances from personal contact that can’t be replicated. So we had to ensure constant contact to ensure we remained engaged and connected.

Also, with people working from home, we were acutely aware of the risk of people being unable to delineate between their work time and personal lives, further adding to their stress levels.

Q: How did the approach to leadership change during the pandemic?

We, as the CCBSA leadership team, had to be very creative when it came to our meetings, as we needed to give our colleagues more inspiration and motivation than ever before.

While we have always advanced a supportive leadership approach, the unprecedented conditions we found ourselves in put this to the ultimate test. While urging staff members to maintain the highest level of productivity, we strongly emphasised the importance of self-care, emotional well-being and time management, to ensure that people allowed themselves to practice healthy habits and achieve balance in their lives.

Q: What alternative strategies did you use to get the most out of people while most were working remotely?

In 2018, we established Women@CCBSA and in 2019, we launched CCBSA Men of Honour. Women@CCBSA is a staff-led forum that serves as a network where women in the company connect with each other and access resources to advance their careers and have a meaningful work-life balance.

Through this remarkable programme, the ladies facilitate and run sessions made up of between 20 to 30 women per session. Common issues, like being a working mother, finding one’s voice and more distressing issues, such as violence and harassment, are confronted.

Likewise, CCBSA Men of Honour is a call-to-action for men to start looking within themselves in a meaningful way on the key issues including gender-based violence that South Africa faces. We kicked off with monthly group sessions hosted nationally, with groups of around 70 people in each session and discussing issues that range from work challenges, home pressures, parenting, and personal emotional health.

In 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, these programmes proved vital to ensuring the mental and emotional health and wellbeing of our team members and providing the support they needed to make it through this difficult period.

Q: How was emotional wellness fostered to manage the increasingly stressful conditions?

Through our Phofula Wellness support programme, we have offered mental health, self-care, financial management, domestic violence and addiction support through a comprehensive counselling programme.

A dedicated helpline is available for all employees struggling to cope with the many pressures of having to juggle working from home, while taking care of children, as well as the isolation of lockdown. The helpline is also available for our employees’ families.

Some people coped well, using the time to bond with their families and develop themselves. Others faced challenges and general anxiety around the economic and social turmoil that we have all been plunged into.

Through Phofula and our leadership and line managers being much more close and engaged with their teams, we were able to identify and manage challenges sooner and deployed the necessary support measures to help them through.

Q: How has the organisational culture changed in the year?

Our culture, at its core, is driven by the fundamental belief that people are at the centre of all we do. 2020 helped us amplify this belief and I believe we will continue like this into the future. We also ensured that our vision, to refresh Africa every day and make our continent a better place for all found expression in what we did – we recorded the highest score for customer service and customer loyalty since our company was started in 2016. This talks to single mindedness, visionary leadership displayed by our leadership team and the commitment and passion of our people.

We have also had to invest in our people’s safety and wellbeing by adapting our environment quickly. Without health, you have no life. So, every effort and investments were made to ensure our people in manufacturing, logistics and commercial or sales in particular, were protected. This meant allowing those who can, to work from home, while we provide a comprehensive hygiene and sanitation protocols for those working onsite. These protocols included the mandatory use of PPE, regular daily screening, insisting that those who have been at risk of exposure, test and isolate as required to treat themselves and protect others. Agility, flexibility and responding quickly to challenges became the order of the day. And our employees needed to know that as leadership, we are available to talk throughout.

Q: What has been the biggest lesson in terms of people management in 2020?

The events of this year have demonstrated clearly that one cannot take anything for granted. In a fast-changing, unpredictable and uncertain world, you cannot afford to stay the same. Any organisation looking to thrive notwithstanding the challenges needs to learn to be agile, flexible and give vision and hope to its employees. For instance, our recruitment efforts had to continue, which meant that we had to develop intelligent methods to support people who started their new jobs virtually under lockdown. By the time some met their team members in person, they had already contributed significantly, thanks to a strong focus on regular engagement, helping our colleagues manage their work, as well as the company providing support to help them deal with their personal and work challenges. I am proud of what we have been able to achieve as an organisation and the new normal will include gems that we have learnt during 2020.

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Rakesh Rajbally

Managing Director: South Africa

Rakesh is C-Suite leader with 26 years of experience in General Management, Sales, Marketing, Logistics and Finance within the FMCG space. He currently leads the South African business for Coca-Cola Beverages Africa. He has a strong growth mindset and has successfully led CCBSA’s Commercial business unit. He is a sought after thought leader in developing & implementing revenue growth and route to market strategies in both modern and emerging markets. Under his leadership CCBSA recently completed a R6bn/ $400m investment in an Affordability growth strategy. He has also led CCBSA’s strategic and operational Customer management and recently achieved the #1 ranking across FMCG in the Advantage survey for 2 consecutive years.

Rakesh leads the CCBSA executive team that has been instrumental in successfully leading a large organization across major transformation changes including the merger of six entities to form CCBSA, the Sugar Tax introduction, Talent diversity strategy and other major productivity initiatives. He is a trusted partner and builds trust-based relations with business partners, stakeholders, and authorities.

His purpose statement “We have 2 hands, one to help yourself, one to help others” reflects in the many young leaders he has successfully coached and mentored.

Janett Forbes

Commercial Excellence Director

Janett is a seasoned financial, logistics, and commercial executive who joins us from Vector Logistics previously a division of RCL Foods where she held position of Finance Director.

Prior to this, Janett was part of the Coca-Cola family, having occupied various senior roles of Finance Manager, Category Manager, Revenue Growth Manager and Channel Development Manager within ABI in 2002 and 2016.

Janett is a qualified Chartered Accountant (CA(SA), has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Rhodes University in Grahamstown and a higher diploma in Accounting from University of Natal in Durban.

Desilan Pillay

Logistics Director

He joined the Coke system as a Unit Manager Designate at ABI Midrand in 2008. Desilan encompasses 20 years of management experience from companies including Afrox (Linde Group), the South African Breweries (ABI soft drinks and SABMiller – now ABInbev), and Unilever.  

He has a wealth of experience and a vast skillset within South Africa and across the African continent – all at executive levels. This includes, but is not limited to, project management, engineering, production (gases), packaging (FMCG), as well as operations management, financial management, sales and distribution, procurement, and planning (demand, supply, and production). Desilan has managed portfolios across end-to-end Supply Chain (Sourcing, Demand, and Supply Planning), Warehouse Management, Production, and Distribution, including Customer Care, After-sales and reverse logistics. He was also accountable for the delivery of service excellence in order fulfilment, cost of goods sold enhancement via strategic sourcing, and the overall cash optimisation (inventory) across the business. His most recent role before re-joining the CCBSA family is as the Chief Operations Officer at Anchor Holdings, one of the largest privately-owned warehousing companies in South Africa.

Desilan is a qualified Mechanical Engineer and has completed a Management Development Programme from UCT. His areas of expertise include building high performance teams and E2E supply chain and commercial acumen.

Desilan has been happily married for the past 16 years and has a 12-year-old daughter and 18-month-old twins – a boy and a girl. In his spare time, he enjoys seeing new sights locally and abroad. He is always planning his next trip to an exciting destination together with his family.

Nozicelo Ngcobo

Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability Director

Nozicelo started her corporate career in 1994 when she was recruited by Sasol into their Management Trainee Programme of the top 16 academic graduates in South Africa – class of 1993. In addition to Sasol, Nozicelo has since worked for listed companies such as Telkom SA, South African Breweries (SAB) as well as multi-national organisations such as Philip Morris International (PMI). In 2020, Nozicelo joined Coca Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) as Director for PACS.

Nozicelo has a demonstrable track record in successfully developing and managing corporate affairs and regulatory strategies for complex industries such as alcohol, tobacco and recently the beverages industry. Nozicelo has strong professional networks spanning more than 25 years in both public and private sectors. Her strategic insights, value creation, solutions orientation, strong business/political acumen, solid networks and ability to mobilise teams to successfully execute towards a common vision are just some of the many attributes she brings into any organisation.

Nozicelo is an advocate of human rights, animal rights and has a passion for youth/women empowerment.

Michael John Wilson

Finance Director

Michael started his working career at KPMG as a Manager and Trainee Accountant from 2002 until 2006. After completing his articles, his highest position held at KPMG was Audit Manager and Office Administration Manager. In 2006 to 2009, he worked at BASF South Africa (previously known as Engelhard South Africa), where he was appointed as Site Controller – Mobile Emissions Catalysts Division. He also served as a Team Leader for Finance when the company changed its ERP from JD Edwards to SAP. In 2009, Michael joined Coca-Cola Fortune (CCF) as Finance Manager – Business Support.

In 2015, he was assigned to the CCBA integration team as a Finance work stream member and later that year, Michael was appointed Finance Manager for Marketing, Sales and Distribution. Michael relocated to Windhoek, Namibia in January 2016 as Financial Director for Coca-Cola Beverages Namibia. In October 2017, Michael returned to Port Elizabeth as Group Financial Controller for CCBA, a position he currently holds. He serves on a number of boards and audit committees within the CCBA Group.

In 2000, Michael graduated with a B.Com (Accountancy) Degree from the University of Port Elizabeth and a year later, he completed his B. Com Honours (Accountancy) at the same university. He was admitted as a Chartered Accountant (CA) in 2005. In 2010, he completed his Executive Development Programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

Moses Lubisi

Manufacturing & Technical Director

Moses has over 20 years of extensive experience spanning various industries such as Sugar, Food and Beverages, and Mineral processing, including 15 years within the Coca-Cola system, Moses brings a wealth of knowledge to this role.

His journey within CCBSA has seen him excel in positions ranging from Plant Manager, Regional Manufacturing Manager (Coastal) in CCBSA to Executive Director for Appletiser (Pty) Ltd. Before returning to CCBA within Group Office, Moses served as an Operations Director at Illovo Sugar (Pty) Ltd. His expertise lies in strategy formulation, governance and execution, with a focus on end-to-end value chain orchestration across manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and supply chain management.

Moses has held senior and executive management roles for over six years, overseeing regional and enterprise-level strategies, assets and resource allocation.

Agatha Masemola

Strategy and Performance Director

Agatha joined CCBSA in April 2020 from Absa Corporate and Investment Bank Africa, where she held various roles in the past nine years, including as Managing Principal for Strategy & Business Transformation and Chief of Staff to the Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Corporate Bank. She was a key figure in the build-out and integration of the Corporate Bank across 13 African markets.

Prior to joining Absa, Agatha was a Senior Management Consultant in Strategy and Innovation at Deloitte Consulting, South Africa. At Deloitte, Agatha worked on several executive-sponsored strategy and innovation projects across various sectors, as well as driving new business development. Prior to Deloitte, she worked in Life Sciences R&D for over ten years, both as a full-time researcher with publications in peer reviewed journals, and as a Portfolio Manager & COO for a biotechnology fund management, focusing on investment in early-stage biotech ventures and commercialisation.

Agatha holds a PhD in Medical Biochemistry from the University of Cape Town and has completed post-Doctoral research in South Africa and the USA. She obtained her BSc (Biochemistry and Physiology) and MSc (Biochemistry) from the University of the North. She completed a Management Advancement Programme at Wits Business School to help her transition from laboratory to business.

Agatha loves to travel and enjoys experiencing different cultures and sampling local cuisine.

Hannes Prinsloo

Country Sales Director

Hannes comes with a wealth of experience and strong commercial operations expertise stretching over 30 years within the Bottling system; truly an example of “home grown timber”.

In his most recent role, of General Manager Commercial, he managed the Revenue Growth, Route to Market, Category management, Channel Development and Knowledge and Insights. His previous experiences include that of General Manager Operations, District Manager and National Account Manager.

Among his career achievements, he counts being inducted as a Grand Master in 2021, which is a true testament to his passion for people, strong work ethic, and unwavering commitment to performance. The Masters are seasoned professionals in our core functions (Commercial, Logistics & Manufacturing) who have consistently delivered exceptional results in their 20-plus years of service in the organisation. CCBSA bestows its highest honour these professionals who have shown exemplary commitment, fortitude, passion, loyalty and most importantly, value-adding leadership.

In May 2023, at the annual Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) General Management Meeting (GMM) Awards, he was honoured to receive the CEO Award, which honours exceptional leadership that sets a clear example of consistently living our values. In his leisure time, Hannes follows a wide variety of debate platforms and sports.

Mkuseli Dlikilili

Human Resources Director

Prior to Mkuseli’s appointment to CCBSA, Mkuseli was Group Executive: Human Resources at Pioneer Foods, he  worked for leading South African organisations, including Eskom, SAB, Dulux and Portnet.

Mkuseli’s extensive experience in the FMCG environment includes playing a leading role in Pioneer Foods’ successful listing on the JSE and the integration of SA Dried Fruit and Ceres Fruit Juices. Mkuseli is passionate about empowering and developing people to realise their full potential, as well as contributing positively to all the spheres of their lives, and the accentuation of human dignity. He describes himself as an authentic, resilient, reliable, courageous, humble, principled and value-based person, and a committed Human Resources professional.