Transformation within Sea Harvest: A Story of Success and Commitment to Change
South Africa is a country plagued by past differences and inequalities, also reflected in our economy. The harsh reality is that far too many citizens have been left behind in terms of opportunities. However, the transformation within Sea Harvest is a brilliant example of how commitment to giving back, rural local area development and building a sustainable future starts with change in ownership, policies and upskilling opportunities for previously disadvantaged employees and the communities within which the company operates.
More than a decade of change started with ownership transformation
As explained by Felix Ratheb, CEO of Sea Harvest, transformation in the fishing industry is crucial. When the company applied for fishing rights in 2005, Sea Harvest lost close to 14% of its fish, which put the company in a loss situation for nearly two years.
In an interview with “Besigheid Wat Saak Maak”, Felix stated, “We almost went bankrupt”, but as he elaborated, a black consortium led by Brimstone, a black-owned and managed company that started on the Cape Flats, along with Kagiso started by Bishop Tutu, and Sea Harvest management bought the company from Tiger Brands, which assisting in allowing Sea Harvest to embark on its transformation journey.
According to Ratheb “Immediately, the company ownership credentials moved to 77% black-owned. At the time the company was at Level 4 BBBEE, but as explained by him “it was more about to reflect what is going on in our country”.
From 2009 the company has focussed on every level to transform and as stated by Felix, “Today I am proud to say we are a Level 1 BBBEE company in terms of the codes, and more importantly, we are 89% black-owned.”
The transformation within Sea Harvest is reflected in its staff profile with 98% of the staff being from designated groups. With the true measure of transformation reflected in junior management being from designated groups and involved in the managing of the company, Sea Harvest leads by example. When the company changed a majority ownership in 2008, only about 20% of the junior management profile was from a designated group. Today the percentage stands at 85%.
Transformation is also about casting the net wider
As Felix Ratheb explains, the management aspect is only one element of the transformation that has taken place at Sea Harvest. The company operates on the West Coast where it is the largest employer, and has shown commitment to developing a local supply network from SMEs in the area.
As the biggest driver of the economy in the region, when COVID-19 became prevalent on the West Coast, it also became the company’s challenge. The company shouldered the responsibility by dealing with all the important aspects of the crisis.
What lies ahead and where does transformation still lack in South Africa?
Felix has expressed his stand that a lot of work still needs to be done in the country, especially in terms of broad-based sharing of wealth. Sea Harvest has also taken on this commitment by starting an employee share trust. According to Felix, it started at 5%, but has diluted slightly as the company has grown. His personal stand on this is, “For me, it’s a matter of sharing more with our employees, to share the wealth that we create… If I’m able to share wealth with 3200 staff, it’s a lot more powerful than bringing in three, four transformed shareholders”.
His stand is also reflected in the Group’s actions. The company has over the last five years paid out more than R230 million in dividends and capital returned, helping to broaden wealth participation for its employees.
Skills development is another area of transformation where Felix believes more must be done to upskill people in the economy for participation at higher levels in the business.
Finally, becoming involved in the community is important. With a lot of crime, drug abuse and poverty still prevalent in the communities, the focus going forward should be on building schools, upskilling the community and creating opportunities which will allow sharing more wealth.
Sea Harvest started the transformation journey more than a decade ago and has made in-roads in broad-based participation, skills development and wealth sharing. Although a lot of work still needs to be done to bring Felix Ratheb’s vision of broader wealth sharing to life, the company is committed to this change to better the lives of South Africans through an inclusive economy.