A conversation with Theunis Duvenhage – Head of Devices, Retail & Business Banking


My Leader

Thank you so much for these powerful questions, I have enjoyed working on them, I look forward to your feedback. 


We live in a beautiful, challenging, diversified and ever-changing country. Why should young leaders with high potential elect to develop their careers here, and not in other countries? 


One of the most profound statements I’ve heard was from my mentor and former Boss, Bob Tucker, who argues persuasively, at a very early stage of my career that, “Talent does not fight, it flees” This became one of the guiding principles in how I attracted, nurtured, challenged and developed talent throughout my career. I understood that a leader has to go out of their way to embrace talent, create room for it to prosper and constantly reward and celebrate it. In a corporate context, those companies that are able to do this, they are rewarded with great results because of the work they do with talented individuals. When you lead or manage talented people, you have to lead or manage them as you would a group of volunteers, ego could leave you tomorrow. These are the principles I’ve used to work with, lead and manage talent: 

  • Talent is attracted to a compelling vision of a better future;
  • Talented people need to know how their individual and collective talents can be used to solve intractable problems that will help towards that greater vision; 
  • Talented people need to be managed with a bit of nuance – they have to feel appreciated, understood and challenged; 
  • Talented people need to have the right environment, adequate resources, leadership support and the right leadership cover to deliver extraordinary results. They require empowerment and trust in order to deliver such results. 
  • Talented people need regular conversations to deal with challenges, problems, obstacles etc in such settings it is important for them to be heard. 

I have benefited from this approach and I have seen hundreds of colleagues, across Africa successfully pursue ambitions projects and I have been glad to provide that support. 

South Africa is at a crossroads- we may bounce back to give the world the miracle we offered, or we may slip further into conflict and underachievement. We require a Herculean effort, across many sectors, to lift South Africa towards a more equitable, faster, and more sustainable economic growth trajectory. This Herculean task will require that we attract, retain and challenge our best minds to solve some of South Africa’s problems. 

Unfortunately, i sense a lot of unease, anxiety and frustration from some of the most talented people across the public sector, private sector, community-based organisations and for not for profit organisations across the country. They feel unappreciated, disengaged and not part of the solutions we seek as a country. The leadership of the country, across all sectors, must reach out to talented people with these key messages: 

  • Let us build a society together where each one of us may find their colour in our rainbow, where more people find a place at our prosperity table and where all of our people see themselves in the picture of the future we are creating.
  • Our country’s beauty will be enhanced when we share it; its’ riches will be preserved if more benefit from them and our flag will fly higher when more pay allegiance to it.
  • South Africa belongs to all who live in it, let us not exclude anyone; let us not leave anyone behind; let us make everyone feel a sense of belonging, pride, love and loyalty.

Attractive as the option of going overseas is, I would love to persuade our most talented to stay and help us make this country a success. As the world starts to close out foreigners, South Africa needs to roll out the local red carpet for our talented leaders – give them the space to show their talent; appreciate their inputs; cherish their skills and expertise and challenge them to come up with the best innovations to solve South Africa’s intractable problems. 

President Ramaphosa has been a breath of fresh air, he is starting to demonstrate, in both words and deeds, that he sees the role of talented individuals to help us solve our problems. I urge those who are talented to put up their hands to answer the call of “Thuma Mina” from President Ramaphosa. 


“The World is Flat”, as the author wrote. And the unknown is always exciting and beckons to the adventurous. How do we retain our most talented young leaders for South Africa, but also for Africa?


Africa represents the last investment frontier on the planet. There are a number of amazing developments occurring on the continent that augur well for the future: 

  • The latest free trade agreement across Africa will promote much better intra African trade; 
  • The investment avenues opened by the China -Africa announced at the FOCAC summit will create new opportunities across the continent; 
  • The changing African consumer is driving lots of changes in the Retail sector 
  • The growing democratization and new focus on peace such as in Ethiopia offer Africa new investment prospects. 

In addition to this, Africa has a number of unexplored advantages, such as: 

  • Huge tracts of arable land; 
  • Power and electricity prospects from the Congo river; 
  • Oil and gas prospects in places such as Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana etc; 
  • A Young population that gives Africa a demographic dividend and 
  • The adoption of new technologies across Africa 
  • Great potential in the area of tourism 

All these are amazing opportunities for some of the brightest minds across Africa. These are opportunities for African entrepreneurs, intellectuals and corporates to: 

  • Use the latest technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence etc to advance Africa; 
  • Attract investment to develop Africa’s manufacturing potential;
  • Enable Africa to leapfrog older technologies; 
  • Develop Africa’s human potential 

I invite the very best minds of Africa to be midwives of Africa’s rebirth. 


South Africa has structural challenges, which inhibits broad based, fast-tracked, high quality education for all. How do we support our young talent across all geographies and races to compete effectively with countries such as India and China?


The future is now – the world of study and the world of work will change beyond recognition. The future careers of our children will undergo much change in the coming decades. 

According to The World Economic Forum reports, by 2020 there will be more than 1,5 million new digital jobs globally. In a world characterised by technologies that blur the lines between digital, physical and biological, our education system needs to evolve rapidly to meet the demands for a new type of knowledge worker. 

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution take root, the South African education system will need to be overhauled and transformed to empowers individual learners and to create lifelong learners. This is easier said than done, but there is no alternative as much of the way our children are taught nowadays was crafted in the early 20th century, this was the response to the demands of those times, but times have changed. 

In the words Gary Bolles, the Chairman of Singularity University, 

“We need to relook at the philosophy of critical thinking – that is teaching students and pupils at school and university to be apt in critical thinking, in design thinking. This is a different way of looking at problems and solving them.

He concludes, “To teach critical thinking, we need to strengthen the fundamentals of education, which are mathematics, science, language and looking at some of the other disciplines that enable critical thinking. Our education construct needs improvement.”

In an era driven and dominated by technology, we are not leveraging the potential of technology to address issues of access to quality education. Digital content solves not only our access issues but will also power new content that can future-proof our people, while enabling them to succeed. 

In the words of Pierre Auriel, “Digital education is vital to the country’s future, we cannot succeed by clinging to an outdated and broken educational system. It’s time to adapt and rethink how we share knowledge, learn and teach in the digital era,” 

He concludes, “Technology is almost inseparable from our daily lives, it has changed the world and will continue to evolve. However, the critical skills needed now and well into the future are not being developed and taught, leaving the youth with a challenging and questionable future.”

So, change is on us, what the fourth industrial revolution has to offer is infinite. Today, students are no longer restricted to desks, textbooks and school programmes. Future student will have access to countless videos, podcasts, learning models, apps and digital communities. As data costs go down and as internet access become more ubiquitous- this will be possible with access to the Internet and more so if the content is affordable. 

I spend a lot of time in China, I can see how they are preparing their schools, institutes, universities and the world of work to embrace the new technologies. More importantly I have seen how they have used new technologies to solve huge societal problems such as: 

  • Transport within China (High speed trains) 
  • Transport within cities (Bike sharing within cities) 
  • Payment technologies (WeChat and Alipay) 
  • Robotics, Nano technologies and Artificial intelligence to drive E-commerce 
  • Electronic cars to deal with pollution 

We have an opportunity to learn from China, to guide our children on career choices, to help marry technology with humans and to build capabilities towards a more sustainable future. 


“Patience is a virtue”, or so the saying goes. Young, frustrated people will differ. In fact – they might be very tired of waiting. How do we coach young folks from all spectrums of our society to work hard, study hard, and progress as a result?


One of the biggest gaps that currently exists is the gap between our generation and the millennials coming through our ranks. We have quite well entrenched views about them, and they have the same about us. This divide us unnecessary and unhelpful in many ways. As I’ve engaged with them, I have found a new world, different paradigms and unique perspectives. I’ve found a huge cry to be understood, appreciated and most importantly not to be pigeonholed or stereotyped. Through such engagements I accepted, with all humility, that not all things will move at the pace of our times, nor follow the trajectory we are used to or follow the order we were used to. In return I find that I could persuade young people on those things that are universal and are timeless. The end product of these engagements have been better mutually beneficial outcomes that accept the following: 

  • Studying hard and studying smart; 
  • Working hard and working towards a larger and more noble objective; 
  • Progress might involve academic and career success whilst it can also be progress in creating a more humane and sustainable society. 
  • Patience is indeed a virtue, but equally faster change is necessary for progress. 

All of us must engage in this dialogue, be energized by its possibilities and be willing to compromise whilst staying true to fundamental principles. As millennials will be about a third of the global workforce by 2020 and growing exponentially from there, we will need to change our approaches and organisations to accommodate their outlook to the world. 


If you could share one event in your life that contributed most to mould you as a leader?


The most profound event in my life, that has mounded me was my father’s intervention in my early life. At 18 years old, I had been expelled from school, I was in and out of jail, I was trying to leave the country and I was part of an angry group of young people prepared to make South Africa ungovernable and apartheid unworkable. Some called us the lost generation whilst others referred to us as the marginalized youth. Regardless of the labels, we were very angry, and we could not be persuaded or convicted differently. 

My father, intervened, he realized and appreciated that the role of a leader is not a title held but an influence felt. He saw that his task was to engage us, with others, to show us a different future than we saw for ourselves. He also realized that a leader can never fully influence unless he or she is also willing to be influenced. Through our engagements with him, and others, we were able to appreciate the key foundations of leadership. Up to that point I had never really fully grasped the enormous responsibilities that come with being a leader. Through these conversations and all future conversations, he laid the key foundations for my leadership journey. 

These foundations have remained my North Star throughout my life. Here are some of the foundations that have moulded me as a leader: 

  • To lead is to influence and be influenced; 
  • In taking up any leadership role, a leader has to have the humility to accept that trust is earned; loyalty is earned and leadership itself is earned; 
  • As a leader you celebrate publicly but you reprimand privately; 
  • As a leader, you are responsible to ensure that the people under your leadership succeed in your personal and professional lives; 
  • Leadership is lifelong learning and development and that we as leaders have to continuously improve; 
  • A leader has to be exemplary in their behaviour; 
  • Every opportunity to engage with your team, is an opportunity to lift morale, clarify positions, receive feedback, reinforce the strategic goals and inspire the people to achieve their personal and professional goals; 
  • A leader has to demonstrate competence, integrity, probity, humility and empathy; and 
  • Treat all of your staff with dignity and respect, regardless of their status, race, gender, religion and culture. 

These foundations are aptly captured by the words of Kouzes & Posner, “… Each leader, or potential leader has to place the people at the centre, be responsive to their needs, respectful of their wishes and accountable to them. This requires us as leaders to be selfless in our contribution, inclusive in our decisions, humble in our behaviour and inspiring in our actions. If we do this, our joy will not be in how exalted we may be; how elevated our positions are, how much wealth we can amass, and how much power we can have …it must come from a deeper and special place, where others benefit, grow, or prosper because of our actions…. that’s true leadership.”

Over and above my father’s key foundations, I have used this as my leadership standard or barometer. This simple yet profound description of true leadership clearly goes far beyond the leader’s position and outlines a set of behaviours expected of a true leader and most importantly, the noble and pure motives that should propel such behaviour. 

I hope I can live up to my father’s expectations by always being up to this leadership Standard. It will be the people I work with, who can determine whether I measure up to that leadership standard. Should I come short, lowering the standard is not an option, I should redouble my efforts to meet the requisite standard. Regular feedback from my staff will help me stay the course and realize my leadership potential.