Capitalism has created many positive things for humanity, but some may say it is also the source of many worldwide ills. Will capitalism in its current form be a catalyst for positive change? Or will it continue to wreak havoc on the planet and disadvantaged communities? Is it time to rethink capitalism and shift our focus from shareholder value to shared stakeholder value? This is perhaps one of the most critical conversations in the world today, and it’s something that this episode’s guest does not shy away from. Joining Anne Pratt in the conversation is Thierry Pimi, the Executive Managing Director for Cummins in the Middle East and Africa Regions. Mr. Thierry shares what it means to be a people leader first, a business leader second, and how that translates to crafting a stakeholder-centered corporate strategy within a massive multinational corporation. He also shares powerful business lessons from his first role model – his mother – and the world-renowned leader, Nelson Mandela. So tune in, be inspired to rethink capitalism, and create lasting change in this insightful conversation.
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Rethink Shareholder Value with Thierry Pimi in South Africa
The World’s Most Critical Conversation
Greetings to all you future thoughtful, bold leaders. Thank you for joining us from around the world. I’m formerly from South Africa. I relocated abroad to attend a Harvard Leadership Fellowship in beautiful Boston in the United States of America. Our bold leader joins us from the city of Johannesburg, the City of Gold, on the Southern tip of the African continent. He was born and raised in Cameroon, a Francophone French-speaking country in West Central Africa.
He has spent more than two decades in the corporate business world in power generation, manufacturing, and mining. He is the Executive Managing Director for Cummins Middle East and Africa Regions as part of Cummins Incorporated, an American multinational listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Previously, he was Head of Cummins Southern Africa and spent time in the US corporate head office in the corporate strategy team. He is a passionate corporate chief who built a remarkable business delivering results, leadership excellence and impact through diverse, inclusive, and motivated teams. He puts people at the center of the business. We warmly welcome Thierry Pimi. Welcome to the show.
Bonjour, monsieur. Comment allez-vous? Welcome, Thierry. It’s so wonderful to have you with us.
Thank you so much. Bonjour. Ca va tres bien. Merci.
You are French. You were born and raised in Cameroon. Share a little with us about that early childhood upbringing. What shaped you?
I was born in Douala, Cameroon, the largest city, the coastal city, and the gateway to my home country, Cameroon, in the mid-’70s. I was born into a family of seven kids. I’ve got six siblings of three sisters and three brothers. We were born to a mom who was a princess from the village in the grass field region of Western Cameroon, and to my dad, who was an uneducated truck driver, but a hard worker. I was in a very loving family.
Both my parents were complementary. According to all of us, my mom was the smartest and the captain in the house who helped keep everything together. My dad was the breadwinner and a true inspiration to all of us. He is a person of absolute kindness. He had a lot of humor. When he was home, we were always happy and laughing. We were more scared to report to mom when we did something terrible than to dad. I grew up in Douala in Cameroon, and went to school in Douala. I went to college in the capital city of Yaounde. I then graduated from college and started my career.
That’s wonderful. What number child are you? How have your siblings shaped you?
I am somewhere in the middle. I’m the third child in the family. I was the second boy. I got one big sister, one big brother, two younger sisters, and two younger brothers. My mom has two batches of kids. The first batch was the top three: my sister, brother, and myself. There was a two years gap between my sister and my brother and then between my brother and me. After that, she had a five-year gap, and then she gave birth to the last four. So we consider ourselves the first batch. I’m the youngest of the first batch.
You’re in that top tier. You have some responsibilities for your younger siblings as well.
It was a loving household. All seven of us are family leaders in our rights. My three sisters all have kids and are married. My three brothers and I are also leading our own families. We are very close even though we are spread around the world. We do not miss occasions to visit each other with our families or to get together when the times allow us and when opportunities arise.
It sounds like a fun family. What strikes me about that is all of us, in some way, have some profound, life-defining moments when we are growing up. It’s something that shapes us. Can you take us back to a moment in time when it was difficult or where it was challenging? What, when, and where was that moment? How did you feel at the time?
This is probably why my siblings and I are so close. A critical defining moment that was quite a crucible in our childhood was when we lost our dad on a fine day in March 1987. I was barely twelve years old. Our family was broken by the news that our dad had passed away. He was traveling to the village. He was only 46. He was attending a memorial celebration for one of his friends.
He was very active during that weekend around that event. As he was walking home to his own house, he had one of his heart attacks; his heart was pounding, and he passed away. Unfortunately, it happened in the village. He was not near nor surrounded by people who were equipped with the ability to provide first aid and medical support. We were all very young. My mom was only 35. My youngest brother was only one year old. I was twelve.
To be very honest with you, I didn’t understand the full impact of that event at that moment. We went to the village and had the funeral organized. This was in March. I was barely in middle school. That would be the equivalent of probably sixth grade. I’m not sure. What struck me was how different our life started a few weeks and a few months after my dad passing.
In Cameroon, where I grew up, the school year is from September to June. Between June and late August is summer vacation. He will take us to the village. We will get accustomed to our culture and spend time with our grandparents. Then, two weeks before school resumes, we will return to Douala. He will go by the furniture for the new school year and things like that.
The first school year following his passing, we had no furniture. Mom was depressed. She had been a seamstress for a few years, but her only income was insufficient to sustain us. His death was sudden. They have not planned for that. We were late in registering for school and getting furniture. I started noticing the difference with dad not being around. How that impacted me so early was seeing how much sacrifice my mom put forward to keep us together.
Although she was a village princess, she grew up in her auntie’s family. She was not treated so well growing up in that household. From her experience, she didn’t want to send her kids to some extended family. She decided that she’ll keep us together, and she would bring whatever she was earning from her small seamstress workshop home for us to put food on the table. There were days when she didn’t know if we would have food the next day.
I remember she was hiding in her room in the evening to cry on those days when she was unsure how tomorrow would turn out. I remember one of these evenings catching my mom by surprise in her room. She was sitting in the corner of her room, crying. When I opened the door, she quickly wiped her eyes. I had to come close to her. I don’t know what I was going to talk to her about. I noticed she was crying. She tried hard for me not to notice. What struck me at that time was seeing how much she wanted to shield us. For me, my siblings, and my sister, the realization of how much she put herself forward to protect and provide for us made us mature quickly.
I grew up in a tough neighborhood where most healthy young boys my age would go to the marketplace next to our community to work as porters on weekends to get money. Many of my childhood friends dropped out of school for that because their parents were equally poor. They didn’t have a parent who was as conscientious in keeping the kids at school. My mom knew the natural bridge out of poverty was a good education. She worked about 9 to 10 hours a day from Monday to Saturday. She worked for as long as I can remember without taking a single day of vacation to ensure that she could at least feed us and that we could go to school.The real bridge out of poverty is good education. Click To Tweet
That made me realize the sense of sacrifice she was making. As a young boy in a tough neighborhood, I wanted my mom to be proud of me. That translated into my behavior so early, my determination to do well in school, be a good boy in the neighborhood, and understand the sense of sacrifice. We will talk about it later.
These are the mid-’80s when also, in South Africa, there was a lot of struggle for freedom with the ANC. We heard a lot about Nelson Mandela. So I started thinking about the life purpose of being a good boy and being a good leader identifying a cause, fighting for your cause, doing good, and using your life for the greater good. My dad’s passing early impacted me, especially seeing the leadership of sacrifice, hard work, and integrity that my mom demonstrated for us.
That’s a very inspiring story. I’m sorry about that incredible loss at such a young age. Listening to you, it’s incredibly hard. It shaped you and propelled you. Your decision about your mom being proud of you, I’m sure she is super proud of you. You qualified as a mechanical engineer. You did a Master’s Degree in Business Administration in the USA in Indiana, and then you did a certificate of mining in British Columbia in Canada.
What struck me about that is you’ve gone on to handle this incredible business world of complexity. To what extent is it much more than a high test score? On the one hand, there is this incredible loving kindness. You grew up in this wonderful family of solid purpose and good values. On the other hand, you went this analytical left-brain route of finance, strategy, and complex business. How much more is it than a high test score?
Leadership is key in everything we do in our family, community, and business. We were fortunate in that neighborhood to have a mom with that much foresight, and she was so smart to understand that she would bridge us out of poverty. She’s incredibly proud. All four sons are engineers. Everybody is an independent adult running their own life.
You are right about running a complex business because it is not a high test score. Running a business, especially in a big multinational, is all about the values you are operating with. This core value came to me. I usually share with people that my leadership role model is my mom. She didn’t have higher education, but her sense of integrity, hard work, and sacrifice in giving herself to her kids, in this case, and at a broad level, for her community all of those inspire me to do the same.
In a business cycle, you can connect the dots easily when you have that bigger purpose that you are chasing. Business, at least not for people like me, is not just about the shareholder. The stakeholder goes broader than the shareholder. If you’re making business decisions with all the stakeholders’ interests at heart, which could include the employee, the people that are working for you, the communities around which you are operating, how you better that community, the customers, the suppliers, and the shareholders, you make a better decision overall.So if you make a business decision with all the stakeholders' interests at heart, you will make better decisions overall. Click To Tweet
In this case, having a high test score, understanding finance, and understanding notions of management strategy become the tools. You use those tools better when they’re anchored into solid values. For me, that’s how I translate my education and analytical skills into my leadership while running a complex business.
That’s interesting. How would you define your purpose? What is your purpose with Cummins? As Exec Managing Director looking after Africa and the Middle East, how do you define purpose? What is your purpose in your region?
I reflected on this a few years back. I talked about my purpose in terms of my leadership purpose. In that regard, that was like, “What am I on this earth for? What was I sent on earth for?” It was not an easy exercise because I did this after starting my career for a few years and creating a family.
I realized that this is a single purpose, whether at home, in the community, in my political engagement, or at work. I aim to inspire, support, and protect people around me to become the best they can be. I would like those I come across to be better for having met me, whether they work for me or with me. That’s especially the people who are the most disadvantaged. Although she was a village princess, my mom was not educated because, in her generation, her father prioritized sending his male kids to school. The young girl was good enough to be prepared to get married, have kids, and cook for her husband.
For me, values of inclusion, especially for those who are female or those who are the most disadvantaged in some circle, which could be disabled people like my youngest son, inspiring them, leading by example, supporting them, helping them, guiding, mentoring, coaching, protecting them, and standing up for those so that they could become the best they could be. They can reach their full potential is my life purpose. I see myself, first and foremost, as a people leader than a business leader. I try to do this at work, home, community, and all the circles where I’m committed.
That’s an interesting perspective. You work for an American multinational listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s listed on the S&P 500. It has a $24 billion revenue business. In your region, you have about 2,000 people you’re protecting, inspiring, and supporting. Can you share an example where you’ve had a challenging moment with your board of directors, your corporate head office, or your investors? Is there a challenging moment you can share with us around trying to communicate that particular issue but also convincing them about ensuring that you will deliver all the returns and meet the financial and strategic goals? What is that moment? Have you had to convince them? Are they cynical? How does that work?
First and foremost, I have to say this. I am very fortunate to work for a company that has strong values. It’s good that my values align with the company’s values. In Cummins, we are more than 100 years now. There is a long history of visionary leaders at Cummins who have put the community and people first. It could go back to J. Irwin Miller and Tim Solso. By talking to these people, I was inspired. I also see the company’s values, including caring, integrity, giving back to the community, and innovation. My values align with those, so it’s not difficult for me to stand up for the causes I identify with within Africa. I’ll give you a couple of illustrations in a moment. It’s because they generally align with the company’s values.
It has sometimes been very difficult, especially since coming back to Africa and meeting businesses in Africa. In particular, you must know that Africa presents one of the biggest business opportunities for big equipment makers, engines, and power generation in what we do. Also, Africa is not a country. It’s 55 different countries with different regulations and levels of regulation and emancipation.
Sometimes, it’s challenging to do business ethically in many places where we do business. I’ve decided to pull out of a sweet market for us. I’m deciding to close an entity in a place if we cannot operate ethically, if we cannot pay our factory, or if we are subjected to inconsistent regulation, abusive taxation, and, sometimes, corruption. We’ve made those decisions.
Why were these decisions sometimes tricky? It’s because I have sometimes set up those entities. I led the setting up of those entities and hiring the teams only a few years later to deciding to close the operation because we’ve run into unbearable challenges. We couldn’t continue to do business and grow profitably whilst keeping our values. These were challenging times.
I have to admit that the discussion at the board level is always very supportive so long as I bring the rationale and put the rationale forward. There is alignment with the company value. To speak to you, for instance, about South Africa, South Africa has been and is still one of the most advanced economies on this continent, with some of the largest opportunities for us in Cummins. Yet, during the apartheid years, we choose to exit the country. We didn’t do business in South Africa. We exit the country.
We set up an engine manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe, next door, in 1982, shortly after Zimbabwe’s Independence. It was when Zimbabwe was a much smaller market than South Africa. At the time, that was our leaders’ stand to oppose the regime there. We only came back after 1994 when the country achieved freedom and started reinvesting in the country. This is to show you how consistent Cummins has been in doing business.
We’re facing the same conundrum in places like Angola, where the challenges of running a business in a certain way. When those challenges peaked, we decided to unplug. Our parameter to enter a country and market is not justified by the size of the share size of the market. It’s also things like how these countries are rated around human rights, gender inclusion, ethnic and tribal diversity and inclusion, and things of that nature. Running a business here has been difficult. Making those decisions is sometimes tough, especially impacting people or employees I have hired and inspired.
I can hear that. Is there a specific example, whether it be Angola or wherever? What was the context if you could take us through a specific example?
I would take the case of Angola, for instance. Angola is Africa’s 2nd or 3rd crude oil producer. It is among the top ten economies in Africa. After almost 30 years of civil war leading to the death of Jonas Savimbi in 2002, the country started a very high growth phase on the back of crude oil export. It was growing double digits year on year. We set out to set up operations in Angola in early 2011. It was pretty difficult to find a local partner, but we eventually did and set up operations there. We hired a team, developed people, and trained qualified people. It was a mix of external hires and an internally developed team.
The market continued to be challenging. We had customers who were willing to buy, but we couldn’t pay our plant because there was no availability of Forex. We couldn’t have access to the dollar to pay for our plant. Most of our products are manufactured outside of the continent of Africa in our factories in India, China, the US, and Europe. We import these goods and then sell big projects. We install the goods. We provide technical support and aftermarket for our customers.
It was becoming more difficult. We could have access to Forex, but we had to do it in unethical ways. It was easy to say, “We are not going to do that. It was January 2018; we lost a lot. When the kwanza crashed, we lost millions of dollars because of the devaluation. Our money was stuck. We had millions of kwanza in the country that we couldn’t get out of. That got me turned. I have to convince our senior leaders that give me time.
I am an Afro-optimist, so I believe in Africa. As a returning African, I feel at home everywhere in Africa. I made the point that it’s about time. Angola is going through the first peaceful transition of power in 40 years. That was from late 2018 to early 2019. There was a lot of promise of policy changes that, in my view, were going to change the dynamic of Forex. I was able to convince our senior leaders to give us more time.
Unfortunately, the naira continued to tank. Even with the change of regime, the policy didn’t come. João Lourenço, the new president, started focusing on being fair about trying to clean up corruption. It was too big a task, and we continued to lose a lot of money, which wouldn’t make business sense. I had to make the difficult decision of closing the operations in Angola and letting go of dozens of employees we had hired and developed.
We managed to send some of them who could have family mobility to South Africa or countries where they could pursue their careers. It was very painful for me as a leader and as a returning African who had promised them a career in one of the best companies in the world to tell them that we were going to close operations. That’s our story in Angola. It was a tough dilemma for me.
Those were a lot of difficult decisions. I’m hearing that, where possible, you were re-deploying people in other countries like South Africa. How do you think this pans out in the end from a people point of view, a leadership point of view, and a business point of view?
My principle was that we would be true to our values and our employees. Even those that we couldn’t retain, they realized. They understood the challenge because, eventually, they were working for us. They could see that it was not sustainable for us to continue to ship goods in the country if we couldn’t pay the factory. At some point, even that supply will have to stop.Rethink Shareholder Value with Thierry Pimi in South Africa Click To Tweet
We engaged with government entities. We engaged with the officials in Angola. We were not alone. I led an event in Luanda with about 200 customers and officials. I was with the US commercial attachés and some government members to raise the issues we faced as a company. I spoke to the media in Angola. We understood that the country was also trying to focus on changing the policy and diversifying the economy to be less dependent on crude oil export. Still, all that was going to take a lot of time.
There was what could be perceived as in-fighting within the ruling party between loyalists with the old guy and the new guy trying to build his team. For us as a business, it was not sustainable to continue that without any end in sight. Our employees could see that. I was communicating every month with our staff in Angola, traveling regularly there. Many of them work with me to identify solutions.
We ended up finding a solution. We exited the place as an operating entity but had to appoint local dealers to support our customers in the country. Some of our ex-employees moved to work for the dealer, and then some eventually had to pursue their career elsewhere. As a principal, we communicated consistently to our employees about the challenge we were facing and got them involved in problem-solving for alternative solutions. We were also offering some opportunities for those who were the best performers, mobile, and willing to move to join our operations elsewhere.
That’s a great example of the importance of that regular communication and engagement. Sometimes, enterprises don’t roll out the way we expect them to. We have these unexpected events, but it sounds like how you navigated out of that created an acceptable outcome for your various stakeholders. You spoke about Cummins and its policies during apartheid South Africa. We’ve touched on this before. You have an interesting Mandela Moment. Growing up, Mandela featured in your life. Can you take us back in time to that moment? What happened? Where were you?
Thank you for bringing that up. This is in the mid-’80s. The struggle in South Africa was reaching its peak. Many ANC leaders were abroad in other countries as asylum seekers, and Mandela had been in prison for many years. He has become the biggest figure crystallizing the struggle. I’m in my early teen at this time. We have musicians in Cameroon singing about Nelson Mandela. We have our parents in the meetings fundraising for the ANC, and I am in school.
My school had a contest to write a poem about an inspiring figure. I wrote about Nelson Mandela and the struggle in South Africa. TVs were not prevalent. In fact, we didn’t have a TV in our household. All I knew from Mandela was pictures of him in newspapers with the famous band in the middle of his head when he was dealing with the struggle.
I wrote a poem in support of his struggle. I was far from reaching twenty, and he had been in jail already for more than twenty years. He was in jail since before I was born. Also, seeing the sense of sacrifice from my mom blown on a bigger scale at a country level with somebody crystallizing the struggle of entire people made Mandela hit me as an inspiring leader. All I could do, being a poor guy barely starting school, was write something about him. It was a contest, and I won the contest with my poem about Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s struggle.
That is wonderful. Do you remember the essence of what you wrote about? Do you recall what the sentiment was?
Yes. The essence was to tell him, “Papa Mandela, you don’t know me, but we want you to know that you are not alone. No matter how long the struggle, we shall overcome it. We will fight with you wherever we try to bring freedom to your people.” That was, in essence, what was in the poem.
It makes me think about this turbulent world we live in. For you, what are the biggest challenges? How could leadership evolve to share with those struggling to make it work that they are not alone?
It is complex because the world leaders are some of the smartest people you and I know. Yet, the big issues in the world remain. For me, social justice is the biggest leadership challenge of our time, whether in business or society. You live in the United States with George Floyd type of issues and police brutality, whether in Africa in places like Nigeria or Cameroon where there is political struggle and challenges.The biggest leadership challenge of our time, whether in business or society, is social justice. Click To Tweet
It is the aspiration of people, not the priority of leadership. This is true in many places worldwide, not just in Africa or the Middle East. For me, social justice is one of the biggest issues. This has to do with gender, race, equity, the inclusion of disabled people, and the like. How do we build a world through regulation and leadership that aims for equity for people?
In places like South Africa, where I’ve been living for a few years, the country achieved freedom in 1994, but many years later, it’s very clear that the society is not equitable. Leaders need to work harder to close the economic gap between the most fortunate and the least fortunate. Without that, it’s challenging to envision sustainable peace and happiness for everybody.
That is the true leadership challenge, whether it is the notion of inclusive capitalism. That has to be the mantra for leaders to think not just about the shareholder but, “Who are all the stakeholders? How do we better the society where we operate? How do we bridge more people out of poverty? How do we level set the playing field?”
COVID-19 came. We saw it with vaccination distribution. Also, the vaccine nationalism, it was evident that Africa was the poor child again. The lagging destination for the vaccine was Africa because eventually, richer countries and countries with more means were racing to secure the most doses. To me, leaders need to understand that. I liked it when we talked last time about the Ubuntu concept, “I am because we are.” Suppose leaders don’t think of Ubuntu and inclusion on the global stage. In that case, we will continue to see inequalities that could, at an extreme level, break out into war, a crisis of different types, and insecurity.
Around the issue of social justice, we talk about inclusive capitalism. Is there another big challenge that weighs heavily on your mind? When leaders come together and systemically look at how we challenge and address these issues, are those the big issues you think of when leaders come together? Are these the two biggest issues for you?
To me, they’re the biggest because the real purpose of corporations, for instance, has to be creating value, not just for the shareholders but for all the stakeholders. The purpose has to be to make everyone better for political leadership and to make laws that favor the masses. In Africa, we talk about the economic emergence of Africa.The real purpose of corporations has to be creating value, not just for the shareholders, but for all the stakeholders. Click To Tweet
It’s weird to know that Africa has one of the richest grounds in terms of mineral and natural resources, yet you go to Africa and see one of the poorest countries in the world. It is a leadership gap, in my view. It may even be a moral gap because sometimes, leaders do not lead ethically. That impacts the continuous poverty and true political emancipation where the deals are fair between countries.
You can’t have this deal where countries have monopolistic deals. Most of a producing country’s output goes to the country buying and dictating the price. This is all about the global economy. If we think about a sustainable world with inclusive capitalism, it has to account for closing the gap between the poor and the rich so that everything is more equitable.
Why do I tie these to leadership? Even if you think selfishly, you can only be at peace and safer if you are not the only wealthy person surrounded by poverty because you are not going to sleep at night. Even if you raise big walls around the house, you need to know that the neighbor has something to eat. You need to know that the community is self-sustainable.
I put this in part of social justice, which is economic equity. That includes that as well. In many countries, it can play out based on local diversity in the form of racial inclusion, gender inclusion, or different form of ethnic inclusion and the like. It takes inspirational leaders like Mandela to understand, identify the causes and challenges of their time and place, and rise to those challenges, knowing that the causes are bigger than them. If required, they’re making personal sacrifices to help move the needle favorably in the future.
On that note, do you think Nelson Mandela’s leadership is still relevant? If so, to what extent and how?
It is relevant. If you look at the life of Nelson Mandela, you realize that there is a phase. It was that youthful phase where he was very dynamic. When necessary, he had to revert to fighting and picking up his arms to fight with what was his way. It was in the military wing of the ANC to the phase where he had to understand that to achieve freedom, and it would take everybody to compose with others to lead South Africa to the free South Africa that we have.
That transformation and that realization that he had is important for every leader in our time to also go through that exercise in the challenges we face. If leaders could think about solving problems beyond their time and solving problems beyond the interest of their constituencies to be more inclusive, they’ll be following the Mandela path. The world will get to better solutions and foster peace.If leaders could think about solving problems beyond their time and beyond just the interest of their constituencies to be more inclusive, the world will get to better solutions at a faster pace. Click To Tweet
What do you think Mandela would say to the leaders of Africa?
I don’t know, but I have my view. He will call them to have the moral courage not to cave but to stand up for what is right and have a sense of sacrifice. Mandela lost a lot in his fight for the cause, but he’s a divinity in South Africa and worldwide because people saw the fight and appreciated his sacrifices. He will call people to have that moral courage to tackle the challenges of our time.
Here are a couple of fun facts. You have four wonderful children. It’s probably different, but what do you think your children would tell their friends at school about you? What do you think your children would say are the thing that stands out about their dad?
First, they don’t take me seriously, especially my three daughters. My wife, my life partner, is the clear leader at home. They think dad is a smart guy who is an excellent analytical problem solver. I call them, and we sit down. I try to use an analytical framework, so they sometimes think I’m a joke. They think and know that I love them unconditionally. They think that I value and respect them. I talk to them about my mom. They love the way I talk about my mom as my inspiration. They know that I love them. I want them to all be like my mom. I teach them to be caring and to be fair. They think I’m a caring, fair, and loving dad. That’s what they see in me. I hope it stays that way.
It sounds like you’re repeating history and living out how your dad was so kind to you; what do you think your son would say?
My son is the youngest. He looks at me more as his playmate. I hope that as he grows up, he also sees in me the right values that he would like to emulate. Those are the values of caring, integrity, respect, and love. Those are the things that I hope to instill in him.
I read that you love sports, particularly team sports and mainly soccer. Why soccer? What is it about soccer that caught your attention?
I’m a Cameroonian. For those who know about the world of soccer and football in Cameroon, growing up, I usually told my American friend that we had a choice between football and football. That’s all we could play. In the US, the kids could choose baseball, basketball, or maybe football. In Cameroon, all we had was soccer. Growing up in a poor community, all you needed was a ball and an open field. I grew up playing a lot of football with my childhood friends.
At some point in high school and college, I could pursue a career in football, but my mom wasn’t so excited about that. She thought it was for those who couldn’t do well in school. I grew up playing and being a big fan. I continue to be. Cameroon is also one of the continental giants in terms of football. We are hosting the African Cup of Nations. You could see the passion and the emulation at home as they saw all these walls starting to play for their country. I am a life football fan. I wish I had a career. Maybe I’ll make more money than I did as a business manager. Football was my passion in terms of sports.
What do you think your mother would say to you? Maybe she has.
My mom is very proud of her kids and me, in particular. Traditionally, I am my dad’s successor. In my tribe in Cameroon, for every man, when you pass away, you have to designate among your male kids who is the successor. I am technically my siblings’ father. I am the father of the family. My mom sees me as the successor of her late husband. She calls me her husband, which is deservedly so. She’s proud.
I still go to her to pick her brain. She’s witty and intelligent. I take her advice on things. She’s gone through many life principles and stayed true to her values. She thinks highly of me. She’s never surprised by my achievements. She always thinks I can do more. She’s my mom. She is proud. I’ve invited her to the different countries where I have lived. She’s a proud mom. She doesn’t always understand exactly what I do, but she knows I’m a prominent business leader. She knows that I lead many people and hopes I lead them right and care about them.
Does she live with you in Johannesburg?
No, she’s in Cameroon. She lives at home. She never agreed to travel outside her home for more than a few months. She can visit, but she lives at home.
What struck me about our conversation was how you said that your mother has been your role model around leadership and that you still pick her brain. What do you think your mother would say to the leaders of Africa?
She grew up in a context where especially gender inclusion was not a thing. A parent will be proud to have their male kids. That’s even why her dad denied her an education. She had to fight in such a macho or male-dominated society, and yet, to successfully raise kids, she had to show hard work, dedication, and sacrifices.
My mom was ahead of her time in terms of understanding gender inclusion. In early primary school, she was the best in school. She was scoring higher score than her male siblings. Yet, society was male-dominated and didn’t value female education. For her kids, she will make sure that all of us are educated. For her, it didn’t matter. Everyone needed to reach their full potential, whether a girl or a boy.
She became a leader in the community because of how successful her kids turned out to be. She advised other parents to ensure that they send their kids to school and try to keep them in school, whether male or female. She will advise people about gender inclusion more than everything else and about getting the best out of everyone. She believes in getting the best out of people. She will advise leaders to inspire and get the best out of other people, which is part of my leadership purpose.
Do you have any final closing thoughts? Do you have any final thoughts about leading boldly into the future? Do you have any final thoughts that come to mind about what Mandela would say to the whole world?
Thank you. Madiba will challenge us to have the moral courage to rise to the challenges of our time. To do that, as leaders, we need to be genuinely authentic. That means finding our purpose and trying to strive to achieve this purpose. It also leads in a way that what we do matches precisely what people perceive of us and what we aspire to become. It achieves that coincidence of the perception, the journey, and the realization. Reaching that authenticity and having the moral courage to speak up and rise to the challenge of our time is what, in my view, Madiba will challenge us to do wherever we lead.
It’s such a wonderful conversation. I always love engaging with you. Please, do come back again. We are genuinely inspired. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.
Thank you so much. I appreciate talking to you. Kudos to you for this movement. You are on the money. My congratulations to you and all of the team.
Our conversation with Thierry Pimi helps us rethink. Shareholder value and capitalism have gotten us thus far. There are many successes to celebrate. Many would agree that capitalism has been the most significant human invention of all time, that it is the primary driver of innovation, and that it is also the most significant source of prosperity and wealth that the world has ever seen.
What is capitalism? Definitions vary. Several would concur that capitalism is an economic and social system defined by the private ownership of property, production, goods, services, and assets with little government intervention. Capitalism is a system where demand drives supply, where supply and demand determine the price, and where the shareholder, the financial earner, or earners of the corporation need to be primarily protected and, often, at the expense of others. Some would disagree. They would argue that capitalism is a threat. It’s a menace. It’s a challenge on the verge of destroying our planet and destabilizing our communities, countries, and the world.
It is not either/or. It is a combination. It is time to rethink systemically. What are the big existential threats of this time? Is it primarily about the shareholder and shareholder value or multiple stakeholders and shared value? Will capitalism enable our human species, mother earth, and the planet to survive and thrive? It is time to rethink. It is time to reimagine capitalism. Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action one small step at a time. One small step for you, but together, one giant step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
About Mr. Thierry Pimi
Thierry Pimi has led the Cummins Africa Middle East ABO since September 2018. Before this, Thierry led the Cummins Southern Africa business from January 2016, bringing his proven financial, strategic, commercial, and system controls experience gained across the business and various industries. In this role, he expanded the company’s business model by aggressively pursuing growth opportunities in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
Thierry joined Cummins in 2009 in the Corporate Strategy team at the company headquarters in Columbus, USA, where he led several projects involving growth, profitability, divestiture, and acquisitions. In 2011, Thierry was appointed Africa Mining Business Leader. His strong relationships with African Distributors across the continent proved immensely valuable in his role, as did his work across complex cost and other efficiency performance programs. In 2014, he assumed Cummins North and West Africa Regional Operations General Manager, overseeing the deployment and consolidation of company-owned entities in Morocco, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. Based in Dakar, Senegal, Thierry made a notable difference in a market considered one of Africa’s largest and fastest-growing business areas.
Thierry is a professional mechanical engineer with almost two decades of experience in the power generation, manufacturing and mining industries. He grew up in Cameroon, earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Yaoundé 1. He also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with majors in Finance and Strategy from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana (USA) and a Certificate of Mining Studies from the University of British Columbia (Canada). He is passionate about achieving results with a diverse, inclusive, and highly motivated team. He is a staunch supporter of promoting local talent. He has unleashed diverse and capable teams across the regions where he has worked, combining seasoned industry leaders with exciting new hires equipped with strong local knowledge and solid regional culture.