Henley alumna Catherine Wijnberg is on a mission to get corporates to do more than just pay lip service to the BEE codes

Henley alumna Catherine Wijnberg is on a mission to get corporates to do more than just pay lip service to the BEE codes.

HENLEY alumna Catherine Wijnberg is on a mission to get corporates to do more than just pay lip service to the BEE codes. She’s created the Absa Business Day Supplier Development awards to recognise, acknowledge and learn from companies who are not just getting it right, but who have adopted supplier development into their corporate ethos as a business imperative.

Now she’s asking fellow Henley alumni or current students to think of nominating their companies for one of the five awards before the process closes on March 25, 2019. The categories are: the newcomer award, the nation-builder award, the local manufacturer and small supplier award; the innovation award and the impact award. To find out more – or to nominate someone, go to

Her journey to make a difference began at Henley during her own MBA programme.

As she explains: “I was older than the rest, probably in my mid to late 40s. I was half way through my class when I realised that at as a woman who had run and owned businesses in five different sectors in three different countries, that I was unusual, but that I had something I could teach to other
women to be more successful.”

This evolved into Fetola, which set out to grow the economy by helping build small and medium sized businesses and now the Supplier Development awards.

As she explains: “One of the biggest issues we have in this country is not just the overwhelming negativity and associated feeling of powerlessness in the face of it, but especially the incredibly negative narrative about business and the mistrust that exists between government and business and between workers and business.”

The merging of the different BEE codes provided the perfect opportunity. Where before throwing money at the problem could win you points as a company, now you had to dig deeper and not only identify potential suppliers, but develop them to a point where they were on your procurement schedule and then actually buy from them.

Many companies struggle with this. Some still go through the box-ticking exercise, there’s still a lot of cheating and fronting going on, but there are companies who have adopted supplier development as a business imperative and implemented this at all levels of the business.

Wijnberg set out last year – at the inaugural hosting of the awards – to recognise these corporates, acknowledge them and, most importantly, learn from them.

“We were overwhelmed by the response we received last year and humbled by the fact that none of our winners actually regarded themselves as winners, which shows just how much learning still have to take place in this sector.”

Henley Business School Africa Dean and Director Jon Foster-Pedley praised the Supplier Development Awards initiative.

“Catherine is breathing life into precisely the type of lessons we hope will be learnt during the MBA process; reflecting on one’s own possible contribution to the community and then going out to achieve it.

“In this regard, the Supplier Development Awards are very similar to the precepts we teach through MBAid. Great business is business where we don’t just make profits for the shareholders but for everyone – and in the process lower the Gini co-efficient. That has to be the guiding mantra of anyone leaving Henley at the conclusion of their studies.

“We wholeheartedly underwrite Catherine’s awards programme and we hope that many of you will look to nominate your own companies in the various categories.”

Wijnberg believes it is only by developing the supply chain can South Africa achieve the twin imperative of growing the economy and transforming it.

“In a perfect world, there would be no poverty, unemployment or wealth gap. Our reality is far different. South Africa has one of the most unequal societies in the world. More than 50% of our population live on less than R1000 a month and almost 40% are unemployed.”

Small businesses could provide 90% of the jobs by 203, but they are an endangered species, with 75% failing in the first year and only one in 10 surviving past the first decade.

“We are at a crisis level, and unless we stimulate the economy and create real opportunities for small, black-owned businesses to enter the market, we are in real trouble. Couple that with the country’s shrinking customer base and you will realise that we need to do more to have a lasting impact. More businesses need to move beyond the legal imperative and realise they have a corporate and social responsibility to transform their supply chain. More businesses need to diversify procurement and actively engage in real Enterprise and Supplier Development initiatives.

“More businesses need to realise that not every business is ready for the aggressive demands of a supply chain and that Supplier Development must be a hand-in-hand journey where big business and SMEs work together towards a common goal,” she says.

When they get it right, she says, big companies will not just have changed the negative narrative and repaired the trust deficit with government and labour, but also increased the size of market which till now has been shrinking – and have created jobs.

This year’s edition of the Absa Business Day Supplier Development awards is now open for nominations until March 25. The awards ceremony will be held in Parktown, Johannesburg on May 22. “This is your time to be recognised, share your knowledge and help shape the future. I look forward to seeing the applications – especially from Henley Business School Africa alumni and students!”

Fetola’s Website

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