Gavin Watson, CEO of the BOSASA Group, has always worked for transformation. On 1 December he received an award recognising his achievements.
Martin Sweet, MD of PrimeStars Marketing, explained that Gavin was chosen for this third annual award because he had “stepped up and done amazing things for the country.”
In the audience were Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buthi Manamela, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu. Leaders of major companies were also there to see Gavin honoured for blazing a trail in empowering people and transforming business.
“Gavin is a white man with a deep-seated black soul,” said William Vivian, Founding Director of Regenesys Business School, when he introduced Gavin as the recipient of the 2015 award.
Starting with rugby to transform business
Gavin’s quiet activism first made waves when he and his brothers took on the all-white rugby establishment in the 1970s. Passionate about sport, rugby, people and equality, Gavin “illegally” played for the “black” rugby union KWARU. Even then he mentored others and inspired change.
Gavin’s drive to transform business began in 1996 when he acquired Meritum Hostels, an old mining house with only 10 people and a manual bookkeeping system. He renamed this apartheid-era all-white business Dyambu, meaning “rising sun”, and began transforming it.
Long before Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment was a government policy, Gavin implemented its principles in his businesses. Faced with a dearth of experienced managers from previously disadvantaged groups, Gavin mentored employees himself and provided training. He built a diverse but tightly-knit executive team who is still together today.
From Dyambu rose BOSASA, meaning “the future”. With a 95% black workforce, more than 4 400 skilled employees and operations nationwide, Gavin shows that true transformation in business is not only possible but profitable. However, as Vivian also pointed out, “Corporate social responsibility shares equal value with the BOSASA business drive, pervading every decision of the BOSASA Group.”
Gavin’s immediate family were missionaries among the Xhosa, and isiXhosa is his first language. His – and BOSASA’s – values of integrity and respect flow from his identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. Gavin combines deep faith with the vision and pioneering entrepreneurship to translate his convictions into profitable business practices. The result is thousands of lives changed for the better. No wonder that people inside and outside BOSASA call him Nkokheli (leader) or Tata (father).
Receiving the award, Gavin immediately called his team to the podium. What he said was typical of the man, “It’s not who I am, it’s how to build teams around you, … who are able to develop South Africa to where it should be. I am part of a team that’s been together for over 20 years. We are proud to receive this award. We’ve developed a group that has substance, energy, passion, and is committed to making a difference in South Africa.”