Executive Search in Africa Observations


9 January 2020

Dear Clients, Candidates  and Friends

May 2020 deliver to you all your aspirations, achievements and goals as 2020 promises to be a very exciting yet challenging year indeed.

The December 2019/ January 2020  holiday season has resulted in many of us making the most of this two-week break before heading home and back to work.

I was blessed being in the Limpopo bush attempting to work at a patio dining room table surrounded by the chattering of wonderful guests, spotting a group of Kudus and then a family of warthogs, Mom and six babies bathing in the heat of the day in a watering hole just a few meters away was exhilarating that all thoughts of communication and updates fell by the way.

My guests and I realised we were blessed to  experience our unique African setting in such relative proximity to nature.


My recent visit  to Malawi in December 2019 highlighted the increased challenges in identifying, recruiting and attracting talent in and for Africa. Multiple factors in the geopolitical landscape of Southern and East Africa and Malawi  impacted on the once buoyant economy which is ailing, and business growth was being stifled by political protests which impacted businesses across the region. Socio political uncertainty  was increasing as the protests become more violent, organized and premeditated.


This appears to be a global trend and makes doing business across the world even more challenging, but history has shown that  the companies who can adjust will continue to thrive.


The Challenges

My considered assessment is that there is no reason to be concerned about the sustainability of the businesses in the medium to long term in this region.

The concerns to me as an established executive search consultant are immediate:

  • It has become more expensive to attract South African and African talent (the Diaspora) to this region. When I commenced executive search assignments in Africa, Malawi was the 101 of expat No longer.
  • South Africans are still in high demand as their remuneration expectations are still moderate vs. citizens from Europe, South America and the UK and who have not worked in Africa, whose only objective is to become millionaires as employees. This is not commitment to uplifting Africa.
  • Quality education in Africa is privatised and has become phenomenally expensive. The cost of education has now become a factor in the calculation of the total cost to company remuneration.
  • Competent, adventurous and ambitious candidates, from 25 to 50 years of age, see new and challenging career opportunities in Africa as career steppingstones often wanting to make a difference to the communities and countries in which they are employed and are often married implying family related commitments.
  • Another worrying factor for candidates is the new SA Tax legislation for South Africans working abroad. As of March 2020, all South Africans earning and living abroad, earning in excess of R 1 million will be liable for the highest level of tax liability in South Africa  – 45%. If  this is not paid in the country of employment, SARS will tax the employee in South Africa  up to 45% of the candidate’s remuneration earned anywhere in the world. I don’t agree with this changed legislation, but SARS is looking for money in the short term irrespective of the long-term consequences of financial immigration.
  • There remains  a dire need  for skilled, competent and hardworking young candidates, not old “expats” who previously accepted jobs in Africa after the age of 60 years old, were overpaid, living a ”Joseph Conrad life style as per his Heart of Darkness”” and retiring  at 70 years of age as millionaires and yet not leaving a legacy of positivity and skilled indigenous employees.
  • The expats don’t transfer skills and they put forth many reasons why they don’t or can’t and are often not required to do so.
  • African indigenous populations are no longer accepting a binary view that expats are rewarded more handsomely than themselves.


 Suggested solutions

  • Our continent requires business leadership to extract the full potential of Africa’s own talent pool. Investing in ourselves for ourselves.
  • The ambitious candidates predominantly from South Africa and the African Diaspora demand realistic value-based remuneration, credible and exciting career opportunities and corporate career challenges that hone their business skills to meet the many diverse demands of doing business in Africa and globally
  • They also want to have their families with them – there is a solid values base that is the foundation of family units whether it is gay or straight. This is where Africa continues to lose out. No gay couple wants to be arrested for their sexual orientation when contributing to the continent they were born in.
  • There is new generation of Africans, White and Black, male and female who desperately want to commit to our and their   This is not acknowledged by political or business stakeholders on the African continent.

Discriminatory employment legislation based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and Xenophobia, especially “where in Africa were you born” should be reviewed immediately.

  • Businesses seek candidates who can increase sales, through formal and  informal sales channels; respect indigenous cultures, introduce new and innovative ways of doing business, who understand and meet the ever evolving consumer demands, challenge the current ways of doing business whilst still sharing and partnering on skills, the excitement of new methodologies and nurturing indigenous talent. This is called out of the box thinking.
  • Businesses want candidates who can improve inefficiencies in the existing manual operating systems, automate processes and procedures, recommend meaningfully capex investments, reduce labour costs, review outdated legislation and improve the infrastructure required for the African powerhouse to meet the challenges of the future.
  • Businesses in Africa wanting to move from family owned businesses to extracting their own wealth should first professionalise the family businesses and then corporatize these same businesses to expand and attract investors.
  • Professionalising the business means developing and implementing the three PPPs: policies, processes and procedures fundamentally creating a saleable business -policies on how we do things here, standardization – we all do it this way, powers of authority – I am responsible not you, delegation of authority – ditto, accountability – ditto –  for the business making profit creating economic opportunities for all the stakeholders and close by communities whilst the talent, respecting the diversity of Africa retains the trust of the Executive and Board to remain agile  and responsive to the many diverse business environments and challenges in Africa.
  • Thereafter these very same business owners and their families  are enabled to corporatize their own businesses and attract PE partners of their choosing.


pinpoint one human resources continues to commit to all our clients in South Africa and across Africa as we are ourselves African – a 51% Black African female owned business – established in South Africa in 1999.


This is written and prepared by Clive H Viveiros in his personal capacity.