A passion for people
Being passionate about people and their wellbeing is essential in Themba Nyathi's role as the general manager of Human Resources (HR) at MTN. He is also a non-executive director.
"I got into HR by default. I wanted to be a lawyer. While at school I did a project at the National Union of Mine Workers and dealt with issues that affected mineworkers. This interested me and I felt a desire to work in a profession that advocates bettering the lives of people," he said.
"After graduating in 1994, I worked at Old Mutual selling policies. In 1996 I worked at Absa for two years. I joined Telkom in 1998 and worked at Sappi in Mpumalanga as HR superintendent until 2000 when I was recruited by MTN."
Nyathi's role is to create an environment that helps employees grow and develop.
"It is my duty to make sure we have the right resources in terms of skills and the right environment for the people to realise their objectives. When you have the right environment, it enables people to perform and grow.
"Employees come to work with ideas, knowing that these can be implemented and supported. There is also the need to recognise people's contribution to the organisation and fully support them to make the organisation also realise its goals.
"The environment has to be proactively designed, created and motivated by the leadership and management," he said.
MTN was launched in South Africa in 1994 with operations in Africa and the Middle East. Plans are under way to invest in other countries. In this country, MTN has a staff of at least 3500 people, and it employs about 13000 people in its 21 countries of operation. MTN has more than 68,2million subscribers in total.
"I have been in Human Resources for 13 years and I have worked in my current role for the past three years. I am in charge of at least 60 staff members," he said.
Working in a company that is growing in the developing world has posed several challenges in Nyathi's line of work.
"The challenge is in applying MTN's HR polices as dictated by SA to the other countries where we have operations," Nyathi said. "I had to come up with a framework for all the MTN countries on best practices, with regard to issues such as recruitment, rewarding, culture, and ensuring that these guidelines are used for the whole group. A minimum requirement we enforce is that every staff member receives medical aid."
Localising the employment equity is a challenge to implement in other countries, so it is crucial to be aware of their local environment and sensitivities.
Other issues that arise include: leadership, culture and the talent war.
"In regard to leadership; great employees thrive under great leaders," he said.
Nyathi has a BA degree in industrial psychology from Wits University and is pursuing his MBA with the Business School of Netherlands. This has kept him updated with his profession. "I also network a lot to ensure I am up to date with what's going on in the business world."