Driven by candour, clarity and professionalism, Ayanda Kanana, CEO of Land and Agricultural Development Bank has found that leadership in a time of crisis can help to accelerate change.
Being a CEO is hard. Becoming a CEO of an organisation with financial woes is harder. But imagine stepping into a CEO role at the start of the pandemic. Ayanda Kanana, the new CEO of the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa, hasn’t had to think about this – it’s his reality.
His appointment is aimed at stabilising the beleaguered state-owned entity’s (SOE) management structure following the unfortunate turn of events at the Land Bank, South Africa’s largest agriculture-focused lender and historically sound funding partner for many significant agri-initiatives. The bank defaulted on R44 billion worth of loan repayments earlier this year and failed to make interest payments to its lenders. National Treasury, which guarantees about R5,7 billion of the Land Bank’s debt, has granted it a Recapitalisation of R3 billion in the Appropriations Budget on 24 June 2020.
What makes Kanana fit right in as the perfect candidate? For starters, he is a CA(SA) with in-depth knowledge of the agricultural sector, having successfully served as the CEO of the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market where, in 2017, he oversaw a turnover of more than R7,5 billion.
Kanana has also served on several boards and is the chairperson of the Audit and Risk Committee for the East London Industrial Development Zone in the Eastern Cape. He has won multiple industry awards. In 2017 he was one of SAICA’s Top-35-under-35 CAs(SA) and scooped the South African Professional Service Awards for Young Professionals of the Year. He was also named Public Sector CEO of the Year 2019 by the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA).
He joined the Land bank on 1 March, just 25 days before the national lockdown started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘This has been one of the most challenging times of my life,’ he says. ‘Moody’s had downgraded the bank, COVID-19 hit, and I was a new leader whom not all staff had even met yet by the time we had to leave our offices and work from home. I have been ten times busier than ever before.’
After the Land Bank’s default, the process of restructuring its debt was further complicated by the fact that Kanana’s was a new face in the organisation. ‘Lenders lend to people and in this business relationship building is critical,’ Kanana says. ‘We have had to build trust and credibility and implement a new strategy to take the Land Bank forward. This required me to make complex decisions within a short time because the crisis accelerated some necessary processes.’
But Kanana is the type of leader who is energised by the work and inspired by new opportunity, despite the intensity and the loneliness of this difficult moment in history.
A commitment to serving the public
After qualifying as a CA(SA) at Deloitte, the first in the family, he began pushing for more. Post articles, he joined the Deloitte Learning Team and through that role, he became a Learning Manager and also developed a keen interest in the public sector.
His journey in the public sector began in 2010 when he became a member of Municipal Owned Entities’ Audit Committees. There was a drive by the National Government to ensure that all government entities and departments were to achieve clean audits by year 2014.
‘I took the Operation Clean Audit 2014 initiative as my opportunity to make a difference in the public sector,’ he says. ‘This marked the beginning of my career in government. It soon became clear that the public sector has glaring financial and governance weaknesses and that attracting skills from the private sector could help to change that.’
He joined the SAICA programme that placed CAs(SA) in FET colleges in 2012. Soon after, he was appointed by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality as a Director for Governance and Reporting to strengthen corporate governance in the municipality, and he helped to rapidly grow the number of CAs(SA) in the public sector by conceptualising the #JoburgCAs training programme. He became the first training officer for the programme in the City of Johannesburg Council, while also applying his expertise as an administrator for the public good.
In his spare time, Kanana turned his attention to another love of his – nature. He bought a farm on the West Rand and had his cattle feedlot classified A-grade on auction. Recently, his interest has shifted from livestock to crops and he says we will be eating peppers from his farm by December 2020.
‘By the time I joined the Fresh Produce Market, I knew what types of difficulties farmers face in this country,’ he says. ‘The meat we buy at a supermarket for around R80 a kilo is bought from the famer at about R25. That huge disparity between what famers get paid and the price the consumer pays has to be addressed. The majority of farmers struggle with access to finance, land and most importantly, the market for their produce. I am best placed to bring solutions to some of these critical and overwhelming challenges in the sector.’
At the Land Bank, he now has to the opportunity to combine his financial and farming expertise. He wants to be, not a banker, but a leader who transforms the organisation into a lender of choice to agricultural sector.
‘One of my key objectives is that whoever we fund, there must always be an end in mind,’ he says. ‘Yes, we focus on development, but that must become self-sustainable. We cannot put money into initiatives that have no hope of providing a return or at least a meaningful participation in the agri-economic value chain. Before you plant it, someone must want it; it is that simple.’
In addition to creating a fairer deal for farmers, he is seeking to use development as a tool to get participating small and medium farmers into the economy through purchase agreements guaranteeing offtakes beyond an annual time horizon. This could help to stabilise costs and allow growers and buyers to plan further into the future and presents an opportunity for advancing more sustainable agricultural practices.
‘By aggregating farmers and selling, for example, to an off-taker seeking 1 000 000 tons of maize, we can help to enable greater participation in farming across the country. We are also aiming to give pre- and post-finance support to farmers to make sure they can service the contracts they receive through our Off-Take and Aggregator programme. At the moment, we fund production, but success depends on the passion and the knowledge of the farmer. Our new approach, I believe, will allow farmers to benefit differently and profitably.’
Kanana says he is pushing for greater participation and collaboration between different government departments and private sector institutions to impart skills more successfully. ‘Our government has sufficient resources to empower the Land Bank to live up to its developmental mandate. There is land, there are grants, and there is a capable management and board with in-depth understanding of the sector to realise the new vision. We are ready to contribute meaningfully to development.”
Leading through a pandemic
Kanana is confident that he has right team to lead the Land Bank. Why? He says it’s because they are not afraid to take chances and make things change quickly.
‘When lockdown was announced, there was no notion of working from home at the Land Bank. In three days, we put together a system, and sent everyone home. In times of crisis, we are required to take a leap of faith, to keep our ear on the ground, and to test what is possible. I have also made room for people to engage with me. I never forget that I am not just a leader, I am an employee of the bank. I want to know what other employees think about the difficulties the bank has been through and how to save it.’