CASE IN POINT // Armscor
By: Andrew Ngozo
An Eternal Afro-Optimist
Kevin Wakeford, chief executive officer of Armscor, is an economic patriot who believes that his knowledge of the economics environment placed him ahead of the pack for leading a globally respected arms procurer which has the potential to be a game changer in the broader national economy. With a track record that speaks for itself, Kevin is confident that his different approach and ability to think and do things creatively will set Armscor on the pedestal of success, now and in the future. According to him, his appointment to take the reins could not have come at a better time. Armscor was looking for a strong minded and strong willed leader who would keep its integrity intact while maintaining its status as an economically relevant organisation after a somewhat tumultuous time.
Having traversed the corporate corridors of power for most of his career, Kevin is the former South African Chamber of Business (SACOB) chief executive officer who lost his job after he blew the whistle about the plummeting rand nearly 15 years ago.
“I really do not have any regrets about my actions then, and I would gladly do it all over again. I also strongly believe that my ability to speak truth to power also worked in my favour at Armscor,” he says. Among his other roles, Kevin was instrumental in the turnaround strategy at the East Cape Development Corporation. He also advised a national minister, the Minister of Home Affairs, on the national turnaround of that department as project adviser and was the chief executive of the Port Elizabeth Regional Chamber (PERCCI).
An Entity Relevant to the African Continent
With slightly more than a year as the Armscor CEO, Kevin is hopeful about the state entity, its future and contribution to the broader African continent. “My hope is to steer Armscor into a highly capable research and development and acquisition agency. Because that is our core mandate, I would like to see us procure our products on a capability basis rather than as a service or product based organisation. I would like to see at least 80% of our procurement being localised. By this, I mean that at least 80% of our products and equipment being designed and manufactured indigenously,” states Kevin. Further, it is his vision to see a South African and African entity such as Armscor being relevant to the rest of the continent. Kevin states that Armscor has the capability to assist many African states to set up their own capabilities in this regard. “We can even advance Afrocentric capabilities for defence and defence related industries,” he points out.
Given South Africa’s history, the country had an inward looking economy which meant that the defence sector was a highly developed one. Kevin elaborates thus: “With the dawn of democracy, Armscor even has more capabilities which we and the Department of Defence are focusing our energies on. This will enable us to grow our industry, not only through local procurement but also through African procurement and joint ventures. This is quite a huge opportunity because we have incredible engineers and skills in this sector. Armscor is building on these since we have young people of all races coming into the fold (this is doing wonders for our employment equity ratios). There are also female scientists and engineers coming in. In essence, we are positioning the defence sector for a new industrial ‘revolution’.”
The Best Defence Material Acquisition Agency
Although Kevin may come from what could be referred to as the ‘old guard’ of leaders, he firmly believes that South Africa’s next crop of leaders has what it takes to steer the defence industry and South Africa forward. What would he look for in such an individual? “One can never over emphasise the need for a passionate desire for further education. We also look for a patriotic commitment and, obviously, a strong base in maths and science. Last, but not least, one needs to always be willing to go the extra mile; think beyond the conventional 8-5 job, which is a means to buy all the life’s luxuries. We want people who are excited about the research and industrialisation opportunities that we offer. Armscor wants people who are committed to making things happen and dedicated to delivering. These are individuals who think out of the box, stretch their boundaries and are not scared to assume responsibility for a project,” he elaborates.
According to Kevin, Armscor is one of the best defence material acquisition agencies in the world. “With certainty we are a leader in arms procurement and research and development in the world. Of course, Africa, where peace keeping has become the order of the day, has huge opportunities. We will not exploit these at our own peril. It is our mandate to stabilise unstable areas in order to make economic activity possible. Thus we are enjoying increased contact with such organisations as the United Nations, the African Union, respective national defence forces as well as industries. One must never underestimate the capabilities that lie on the continent,” Kevin shares.
He concludes that it is well known that many are sceptical about Africa, but Kevin is an eternal Afro-optimist. He explains: “I believe Africa is the next best thing that will happen to the world economy. That is why, recently, different nations from other continents have displayed an acute interest in our continent. Therefore, wherever you go across the continent, you will notice the presence of former colonial powers, multinational organisations and corporations. Of course, almost every African city has a South African store such as a Nandos or Shoprite, cellular companies, car dealerships and vehicles. My view is that we are well positioned but we need people who are alive to the possibilities. That has been half of our problems up to now. Our nation needs to be alive to the African possibilities because, thus far, we have always looked to the West and the Americas for trade when we can play in our own African backyard. As Africans, we need more people on the ground to pick on all the opportunities that are plentiful in Africa, for there is a new awakening of the continent that we can’t just allow to pass us by.”