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Who’s brave enough to walk the path?

The path to reimagining the future has already been plotted, says FARHAD SADER, MD
of Old Mutual Wealth, and he’s confident that young South Africans, with the right support, are willing to follow it.

It would have been  hard to imagine 15 years ago – when the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? was released – that by 2021, electric vehicles would be fundamental to every country’s mobility, environment and manufacturers’ business plans. Where we are today is a story of bravery, tenacity and, importantly, timing.

In the movie, filmmaker Chris Paine examines the birth and death of General Motors’ (GM) first electric vehicle. It required no fuel, oil, muffler or brake changes and was, seemingly, the world’s first perfect car. Yet, six years later, GM recalled and destroyed its electric vehicle fleet.

Far from being a textbook businessman (given his eccentric and seemingly erratic behaviour, though some may beg to differ), Elon Musk has been credited for making electric vehicles mainstream by charting a path defined by boldness, foresight and a fearlessness to think big.

In my view, Tesla has shown us over the past 15 years that doing good need not be only about charity. On the contrary, building a business with a purpose that doesn’t compromise performance makes good business and good investment sense.

Musk has used first principles to relook at old problems and reimagine the future instead of accepting the status quo.

Like Tesla, the young challenger brand that shook up the car manufacturing industry from the top down, young South Africans have the ingenuity, perspective and purpose to shake up the old guard. Myself included.

The cynics may shout ‘wishful thinking’, but looking at the examples offered by Musk and others like Trevor Noah, Zozibini Tunzi and the heroic Nkosi Johnson can help us consider how millennials and Gen Z – the two generations that will dominate the workforce in a few short years – see their purpose in the world.

Young entrepreneurs across Africa are already looking at systemic failures and asking how they can be turned around. In addition, they are paying great attention to strategies that drive wealth and investment opportunities.

By encouraging the inherent creativity, problem-solving and entrepreneurship found in youths – whether through employment, mentor- ship, investment, funding or business incubation – we hold the human potential of solving some of the most pressing social and environmental issues at a profit, generating shared value for stakeholders, including investors.

According to PWC, in its report ‘2022: The growth opportunity of the century’, environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are becoming vital to global investment strategies, as employees, consumers and investors adopt a far more hands-on approach to responsible business, investment and consumption.

South African companies seeking to be on the right side of business strategy (unlike GM, for example) will need to actively find opportunities to empower young, brave workers to join the dots of where the world is headed and the changes that need to be made, as Musk did.

Conversely, companies that jealously protect short-term profits ahead of long-term ESG sustainability may find themselves subject to ‘who killed the brightest idea’, or worse – they may not even be in business in 15 years.

Farhad Sader, Managing Director of Old Mutual Wealth.