Adam Craker: SA executive suite’s champion philanthropist lining up a Sleepout hat-trick

LONDON — CEO of 700-employee IQ Business Group Adam Craker, will be at Liliesleaf on 11 July to complete a hat-trick of CEO SleepOuts™. He explains why he wouldn’t consider missing the event, and shares his experience to help other participants prepare themselves for a night in the sub-zero temperature. – Alec Hogg

Well, in this update of the CEO SleepOut™ 2018, we talk to Adam Craker who is the Chief Executive of the IQ Business Group. Adam, it’s good to have you on the line, particularly as you’re a veteran of the CEO SleepOut™. Clearly, you couldn’t do last year because it was ‘ladies only’ unless you wanted to wear a dress but the years before, you were in there and I suppose you are better placed than most to tell us what conditions are likely to be on the 11th of July.

Well Alec, you’re absolutely right. I attended the first and the second conduct of the CEO SleepOut™ and it was absolutely brass monkeys – very, very cold. Nothing can prepare you for negative centigrade – usually, by about 2am/3am when it really gets very cold.

So, are you allowed to bring beanies? I’m talking about the other CEOs who are going to be sleeping out. How can they prepare themselves?

Absolutely. Beanies are an essential and as many layers as one can get on as I’ve found. Laying on a thin sheet of cardboard on the ground is just really impossible and in fact, in my first year that I did it, I really appreciated that when I had this prejudiced view of homeless people on the streets in winter (seeing them sleeping during the day out in the sunshine), I then realised that it’s actually pretty difficult in fact, almost impossible, and life-threatening to try to sleep in the early hours of the morning. That’s when you’ve got to be awake and active.

CEO SleepOut™ 2018 (Adam Craker of IQ Business Group)

What else did you take out of those two experiences?

Well, a number of things. I was reflecting on this yesterday afternoon. I was out walking my dog and a young man walked along the street. He was clearly homeless and he told me his story of how he had travelled up from Nelspruit five days ago, had been robbed as he arrived in Johannesburg, and had lost everything. Just seeing in his eyes – seeing the fact that he’d been sleeping rough for the last four or five nights – really brought it home to me that the experience that I’ve had through the SleepOut™ provides a connection, an understanding, some empathy and also a willingness to want to get involved. Not only myself, but the organisation I’m part of.

This is interesting because you do see things very strategically. That’s what IQ Business Group is all about. How do you see that kind of challenge – the challenge of the homeless – in South Africa? How strategically can one make an impact, apart from obviously participating in the CEO SleepOut™, which is an event of that nature? When you’re driving in your car and you see homeless people at the traffic lights, for instance…?

Well, it’s a massive problem, Alec and it’s a problem that is getting worse. Strategically speaking, I would say that the challenge that we face in terms of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and inequality is massive. As we know, South Africa has one of the largest Gini coefficients in the world and I think that itself generates awareness. It’s often criticised and I’ve been criticised directly for participating for one night. I’ve often been asked what difference can that possibly make? Well, it really has generated – personally – a much better understanding of the challenge. As I mentioned I think; from an organisation perspective, it’s not just me who takes part. So many other IQers in our business participate in the various events and fundraising activities. I think the approach that takes is that we start as an organisation, to want to get involved and have an impact on the societies in which we operate.

It’s interesting when you mention the criticism. Adam, looking through your CV and the amount of philanthropy that you do, I think anybody who criticises you has got to be talking from a position of weakness, given the various organisations that you’re involved in. Reflecting on it, as you say, I wondered where you got time to do your real job at IQ. What is it that drives you in this way?

We are a very purposeful organisation. We’re 20 years old this year. Although we are a for-profit enterprise we’ve concluded, along with many other organisations that simply being in business for the sake of business is not good enough. We’re a very young, youthful organisation and I think it’s become expected as part of our purpose to grow people, grow business, and grow Africa – that we have to be active in the social challenges that we face in South Africa. It’s no good for us to simply draw a line and focus on our shareholders. We have to have a much broader view of our impact on a broader set of stakeholders and doing something about the challenges that we face.

You do take that very personally. Let’s start off with CHOC, for instance. How did you get involved in the Children’s Cancer charity?

Well, in fact, it was one of our IQers who unfortunately had to depend on CHOC when her child was diagnosed with blood cancer and a number of IQers and others came together to support during that process. Unfortunately, the young child lost her life to cancer and we concluded that the work of CHOC and the support that they provided was so valuable, we wanted to do something about it. A group of IQers got together and decided that one crazy way to raise for money for CHOC was to dress up in animal outfits. They tried various types of different animal and concluded that cows with udders and horns was the best way, and the CHOC Cow’s movement was born. That really has been a phenomenal organisation.

That’s amazing. And, that’s all come from a few people in your company who thought it was a good idea.

Absolutely, and the fundraising that has taken place, and that now spans across what started with 94.7 into the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and in fact, we increasingly now see so many other events. I saw a number of cows at the Comrades Event just the other week so it has really spread and there are many more participants involved.

The Tomorrow Trust – another one that you’re involved with.

Yes. Well, that’s education-based (NPO) and we got involved with the founder, Kim Feinberg probably now seven or eight years ago and we decided that the work that they do with Saturday school and holiday programs, and the social support that they give to orphaned and vulnerable children was just a fantastic way to engage as a peer services business. We’re dependant on the education system to produce talent for us – that we want to employ down the road – and we helped the Tomorrow Trust with strategic planning and engagement. One thing led to another. We have an annual event now where we take away each year, about 100 or so Grade 10 learners from the Tomorrow Trust. We take them off into the Magaliesberg and we spend the weekend teaching them and preparing them for their careers – giving them options and exposure to all sorts of different and exciting prospects for what they should be doing after their studies are complete.

Changing lives. I guess it’s a similar thing with the National Mentorship Trust. We’ve got one more to go after this one still, but how did you get drawn into this?

Well, the National Mentorship Movement is now a two-year-old program. I was asked if I would participate through the board and help with the formation and structure. We work very closely with the Youth Employment Service (the new initiative that’s come out of the CEO Initiative) and one of the things we’re very focused on is making sure that the youngsters that get internship opportunities actually stay in the employment environment and don’t disappear back. And so, we’ve been helping the National Mentorship Movement with the planning and structuring and now, with the execution and scaling of that enterprise, and recruiting business leaders around the country to participate in the National Mentorship Movement.

The initiative that Business South Africa and President Ramaphosa have put together – the ‘Yes Initiative Youth Employment Service’: is that going to support or is the Mentorship Movement going to be able to play into that?

Yes. We’ve introduced the two together and we’re working with Tashmia Ismail-Saville, the CEO at Yes, to really find ways of leveraging the competence that exists in both sides and the Youth Employment Services are really looking for ways to activate and create sustainable engagement. We’ve got one-million young people that the Youth Employment Service are looking to bring into the internships over the next three years so at this point, there is some cross-funding and support between the two activities.

You’re also a member of Partners for Possibility, an organisation that I’ve had exposure to – going back some years – and it’s interesting to see that they’re winning awards now all over the world. Isn’t that good stuff?

Yeah. They’ve had some phenomenal recognition and I think quite rightly, around 700 schools and school leaders have gone through the Partners for Possibility program and really, the realisation there is that we have 25,000 state schools in South Africa of which, the Department of Basic Education classifies some 20,000 of them as being dysfunctional. Partners for Possibility takes the view that the leadership of those schools through the headmaster or headmistress that runs that school is really, an enterprise management role. Why not bring business leaders together with school leaders to assist them in enabling them and running those enterprises as schools more effectively. Most effectively, that’s a two-way street in terms of the conversations that take place with the business leaders to evolve and learn about the new marketplace that they have to operate in. It has become a very, very successful (and as you said) world-acclaimed leadership development program.

Alan, given all of that…given the exposure that you have to the philanthropy world, why get involved in CEO SleepOut™? What makes it different?

I think that as you know, CEO SleepOut™ came out of Australia. In fact, it was set up in Australia 11 years ago to bring an understanding and recognition to the challenges of homelessness. One of the greatest issues that we face in terms of young people being able to step into or out of the informal economy into the formal economy is the risk of getting engaged and stepping forward. We decided that this was just a fabulous way to bring much greater consciousness into the work environment, to bring business leaders together to focus on the issues, and to bring attention through the organisations that are involved. It’s a program that has expanded significantly involving schools, businesses, civil society, and faith-based organisations, and I think it’s a great way to drive awareness and education in the country, of the issues that we face.

Have you decided yet who your guests are going to be on the 11th of July?

I have. Yes. In fact, I’m taking the CEO of the Tomorrow Trust (James Donald) with us who is going to be joining me. I’m taking one of our partners from IQ Business who has been very involved in the program over the years but has never attended and we’re taking a young learner from Redhill School who has become (last year) just the most amazing school advocate for the program at Redhill School. He’s a young star and he’s accepted my invitation to join us and to be at LiliesLeaf Farm on the night.

The historic Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia will host the annual CEO SleepOut on 11th July 2018.

Well, it promises to be an amazing occasion for you and your guests. Finally, though, I see on Biznews that you’ve set out some challenges. Now, you used to work at Dimension Data. Back in the glory days (I suppose you could call it), you are challenging the CEO of Dimension Data to come along. What does that mean?

Well, that means that I think the team there – Jason Goodall and the team – need to really get engaged and involved. They have been involved. In fact, Brett Dawson was involved in previous years and I think the baton now gets passed over and we’d love to see some of the DiData team getting involved, coming along, and getting the backing of their organisation to support the CEO Sleepout.

As the President of the IMD – that great business school alumni in South Africa – there must be lots of members there that you’d like to see coming along as well.

Yes. Believe it or not, we have 900 alumni from IMD in South Africa that have attended – not only the MBA programs but the various executive courses in Lausanne, Switzerland. If you can afford to go to Lausanne, Switzerland for your education then you can afford to give at least one night and sponsorship for the CEO Sleepout.

So, we look forward to a rush of entries from the IMD crew. Lovely talking with you, Adam. I look forward to seeing you on the 11th of July. I suppose that we should be hoping that it’s not too cold a night.

I’m not sure if it’s going to be cold but I’m sure the chatter will be heard. Thanks very much, Alec.

Adam Craker is the Chief Executive of IQ Business Group.