• Shining through

    Good leadership is founded on transparency and building trust, says MD and country cluster head for BASF in Southern Africa, Benoit Fricard

    Shining through

    In 2016, global chemical giant BASF reorganised its market area focus on the continent, dividing its operations into four country clusters: southern, east, west and north-west Africa. As part of this reorganisation, Benoit Fricard was introduced as the group’s MD and country cluster head of BASF in Southern Africa.

    Having worked in France, Brazil, Germany and Slovakia, Fricard brings a distinctly international flair to the company’s South African headquarters in Midrand, Gauteng. He says his role there is somewhat a culmination of those he’s had before. ‘Previously, I held more specialist roles. In Europe, I led the sales and procurement teams for performance materials, and in Brazil, I was the GM for performance materials. This role in South Africa gives me the opportunity to broaden my leadership scope to include managing different production sites, business and functional units.’

    BASF has been present in Africa for 90 years, and in South Africa for 50. Over time, the firm has developed a diverse workforce, and one of Fricard’s challenges as a leader is to bring out the best in all the people, despite the inherent cultural differences. Structurally, he says, BASF South Africa has shaped a unified leadership team, made up of the senior leaders who represent the company’s various countries, business units, functions and sites.

    ‘By strengthening this team, it then becomes easy to entrench business goals and values across the region with one voice,’ he says. ‘I always seek to drive the “One BASF” approach – one company, one goal, one values-driven programme, and a common set of targets and goals. Our “Grow Africa” strategy strongly focuses on expanding our footprint on the continent by creating an inspired entrepreneurial culture to meet our customers’ needs and strategically position ourselves to penetrate existing and new markets. In support of this strategy, we have introduced an internal programme called #BASFChooseSouthAfrica, a BASF values-driven programme.’

    As a leader, Fricard believes in transparency and in basing his relationships on trust. ‘The key to this is being open to having honest conversations, and to receiving – and responding appropriately to – constructive criticism. This keeps me authentic, and allows me to grow and develop while giving me the courage to take tough decisions and make the necessary changes,’ he says. ‘For employees to understand leaders, they need to know who you really are on the inside. Many of our interactions are superficial in that we sometimes place [leaders] on pedestals. There’s a lot of strength in being vulnerable as a leader because our vulnerability shows our teams who we truly are at the core of our being. Humans mirror what they see, and when a leader is vulnerable, they open the door for others to be comfortable in being open too.’

    As BASF South Africa MD, Fricard leads the firm’s operations in the region, focusing on its strategic plan for operational excellence and local customer-centricity. He says the company’s immediate priority in the country is to seek steady growth by further understanding the political environment and the local chemical industry in which it operates.

    ‘BASF has deeply invested in the transformation of the company in South Africa, with a substantial footprint with regards to our production sites and our people. We need to sustain this by further growing our presence and the resources we have.’

    In support of the company’s transformation and BEE initiatives, BASF South Africa was awarded Level 5 BEE status, with 30% black-women ownership and a procurement level of 80%. This 2018 scorecard, Fricard says, shows the company’s long-term commitment to the country. ‘As a multinational organisation in a highly competitive market, we can be proud of what we have achieved. We will continue to scrutinise the scorecard elements to see how we can even better meet our customers’ needs in the future.’

    For Fricard, empowerment means much more than mere points on a scorecard. ‘I am convinced that all employees can positively contribute to BASF’s success, as individuals and as a team,’ he says.

    ‘Through supporting the team’s entrepreneurial spirit, the business can succeed, because we each take ownership and accountability for our work. I’m passionate about creating a space where people can find and develop themselves through the activities that they do, for the good of the company. This will then ultimately contribute to each employee reaching self-actualisation, by owning their career journey and creating a fulfilling and purposeful work life at BASF.’

    He uses his own career to illustrate the point. ‘When my term concludes at BASF South Africa, I would like to leave a legacy for the values and principles that I so strongly stand for,’ he says. ‘I also want to impart my leadership traits and career growth story, which illustrate that, through being open and authentic, every employee can reach their highest ambitions and attain any leadership role to which they aspire.’

    By Mark van Dijk