Applying the lateral thinking that started an Internet Bank to SA’s education crisis

Bob_HeadI met Bob Head in 2005 when he was parachuted into South Africa by Old Mutual to sort out its local subsidiaries. At the time Nedbank was recovering after almost going bust (Big Green had to pump in billions to stabilise the ship); Mutual & Federal was still a separately listed entity; and OMSA had its own issues. Head, an innovative thinker who ran one of the world’s first on-line only banks (Prudential’s Egg) did an excellent job in bringing Old Mutual’s disaparate parts closer together. Given his new employer’s sterling reputation in the online space (SARS) he hasn’t exactly been backsliding. But there’s another side to Mr Head. As you’ll read in this heart-warming blog. – AH

By Bob Head*

What if you got involved in something that was fulfilling, heart-warming, youthful, a real challenge, fun and a learning experience?

Not interested – please stop reading. Carry on being a couch potato and talking about how bad things are without lifting a finger. The world is not a better place for you.

Interested – well done. We do not like the ones who did not get this far. My name is Bob Head and I am a very lucky (English) man who has found something that rocks his socks off.

We all know the education in South Africa is not good enough. We can debate the score but South Africa came 133rd out of 142 countries according to the World Economic Forum’s assessment of basic education. There are 22,000 underperforming schools in SA according to government statistics. There is only one thing that fixes crime, corruption, education, health and creating jobs – education. And if you look at where revolutions tend to happen then more often than not it is disaffected youth. If we do not help then where will South Africa end up?

The key to making education effective is the Principal (who is often beleaguered – teachers and admin staff below, an overstretched education department above, customers (learners and parents) and the local community). You have seen those movies where an educator performs against all the odds. Well this is all about helping the Principal beat those odds whilst at the same time giving you more than you might expect.

I love the National Development Plan and it talks about increasing the capacity of the state – but how do we do it? It is not clear to me yet. So I was looking for something to get involved with consistent with it. I want to share it with you a group called Partners for Possibility (PfP). PfP has a programme where they partner a business person with a Principal and train them both up to work together (see The Principal does the business and I am there as a buddy – I listen, I suggest, I even get into action.

I am partnered with the most amazing principal in Atteridgeville (see and I can make a difference because my Principal and I have very different set of experiences. We have been trained by PfP to be able to work together. And we do.

I have been 25 years in board and senior executive positions. I have not been through a business training experience like this. PfP are looking for businesses to commit their people and their money. I did this out my wallet but we need business in there. If there are five big benefits for a business (the social benefits go without saying) then I would say they are:

  1. It is extreme value for money – basically consulting skills are built up where you have no power to force things through. And the cost is really minimal for the experience.
  2. You really get to know a community you would not otherwise know. And that community is where the growth is going to come from in the future.
  3. Schools have business issues. Trying to help resolve them pushes me to the limit in an environment that is alien. I am a much better person for it. Innovation and imagination is pushed as you try and help the school principals with their issues.
  4. It makes me feel how lucky I am (we all want our employees to feel that).
  5. It gives me energy and makes me feel young – the kids and the educators are great – and it is fun. These things come back into the workplace.

And what does it give me? Well I did a survey amongst the business partners that have taken part and here is a word map:

Bob Head - Word Map

The bigger words are the ones that got mentioned the most and the little words less often. I agree with all this with the exception that “Fun” should be the biggest word out there. This is just one hell of a pleasurable experience – tiring for sure but satisfying in the extreme.

84% of the business people rated the experience 8/10 or better (38% gave it a 10/10). One comedian gave it a 12/10.

Get out of your comfort zone and join us or, better, get your business signed up and join us. Make a difference and enjoy it. It is fulfilling, it makes my grey matter pulse and it is great fun.

*Bob is the Special Adviser to the Commissioner at SARS. That means anything the Commissioner and Minister tells him to do.

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