I knew upon concluding my research on Walter Leonhardt, Financial Director of Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA), that this interview would add significant value to this publication. It’s not only his financial acumen as award-winning CFO and his work in transforming the organisation into the successful entity it is today that I found inspirational, but his humility, authenticity and love for South Africa and its diverse group of people. I spoke to Walter about the traits of a great leader, CCBSA, its successes, challenges and plans for the future.

Q: What would you put CCBSA’s success down to?
WL: I think the two main things are our people and the brands that we sell. We have passionate and committed people who are completely willing and eager to go the extra mile and do fantastic things. Most of our brands are familiar to the population – you can talk to anyone about Fanta, Sprite or Coke and they’ll know what you’re talking about. People also know that when they buy one of our products, it comes with the quality and consistency and enjoyment they’re used to.

Q: The buzzword for many companies in South Africa is ‘sustainability’. How have you managed to implement this across your business?
WL: We have made really good progress. We haven’t quite arrived, but over many years we have come a long way. All across our organisation you’ll find recycling bins, and we’ve made huge strides regarding our electricity and our water usage. Our water usage, as we benchmark it globally, is amongst the lowest in the world. We also have a schools recycling programme – an extension of our organisation – which we have been running for five years, and it’s growing from strength to strength.

Of late, we’ve been working with the Department of Education and the Department of Environmental Affairs and they’re quite keen to extend the schools programme across the entire country. At the moment we’re only operational in about 600 schools.

We’ve helped established a recycling factory in the country where plastic bottles are converted into raw materials to be reused in the new plastic bottles we produce.

Q: Foreign investors’ confidence in South Africa is low at the moment. What do you think needs to happen to restore investor confidence in South Africa?
WL: I think there are two things. Firstly, action needs to be taken against transgressors. We have a couple of examples of people, institutions, and firms that haven’t quite done what was expected of them. When these things happen, it shouldn’t go unnoticed or untouched. There needs to be consequences to actions. The second aspect is that the tone gets set from the top. Whether it’s a senior leader in an organisation, firm or in government, the majority would look at the example that has been set from the top and most likely follow that example. Unfortunately, at the moment there are too many examples that are not worth following. Government, as well as corporates, need to ensure that the examples leaders set are unblemished, ethical and honest.

Quick-fire Q&A with Walter

Q: Your wishes for South Africa?
1. I would like for diverse groups of people to have more interaction with each other.
2. I want South Africa to be a safe place where one doesn’t have to worry about one’s personal safety.
3. I wish South Africa would hasten in returning to strong economic growth.
4. I wish that all South Africans would start caring about the environment.

I play tennis with my wife and daughters. I love to cycle and take walks in nature reserves with my family.

Who or what inspires you?
Acts of kindness, compassion and forgiveness inspire me. An unsolicited or unexpected smile from a stranger also inspires me. When someone young and inexperienced does or says something which displays insight or wisdom and the application thereof, I find very inspiring – it gives me hope for the future.