Traditional South African business tended towards the accumulation of power and decision-making in the hands of a few senior managers (usually white) with middle managers waiting in line to move up the corporate ladder over time.

Post-apartheid, things have started to change – especially under the influence of the myriad of MNCs which have flocked into the country. Hierarchies are breaking down somewhat and younger middle-managers are looking to become more proactively involved in decision-making.

Thus the best advice to give is for a manager to be seen to be in command of the facts and the subject matter but to ask for input and opinions from the team. Be authoritative but not authoritarian.

The biggest change to have impacted at middle management level over the last few years has been the introduction of a new cadre of black professionals into most companies. This new breed of managers has been enabled to make corporate progress through the use of affirmative action programmes, where companies have actively sought to develop a more representative and racially diverse management team.

It would, again, be very naive to pretend that these policies of affirmative action have been universally well-received amongst existing white management teams and many whites will complain about inappropriate individuals being selected for a particular position simply because of skin colour, rather than ability, knowledge or aptitude. The issue of affirmative action is one of the flash points of modern South African business and must be approached with great caution and sensitivity.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in South Africa

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in South Africa. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in South Africa and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips