Vision and flexibility: how the CEO of G4S Africa succeeds across a continent

Running a company takes all kinds of business and leadership skills, but when you run a business that operates in many different countries, the complexity is hugely increased. Mel Brooks, regional president of G4S Africa, knows exactly what that means.

“We operate in 29 countries, with over 119,000 employees and more than 75,000 customers,” he says, “and we aim to supply quality services that meet customer expectations consistently across the region.”

Ultimately, he says, the success of the business hinges on the quality of people it hires.

“Across the organisation, irrespective of the role they play, people must share our values of integrity, customer service, teamwork, collaboration and safety first – from security officers all the way through to executives.

“It’s also a very complex business, so at executive level, we need people with extensive African experience who can provide the right solutions to our customers.”

The complexity of a company of this nature requires a specific style of leadership. “It’s key that as a leader you are able to impart a clear strategic vision for the business,” Brooks says.

“You have to be able to paint a vision for the organisation – that’s vital. And then you have to ensure that the strategy pulls through into an executable plan. We do that through our people – hence the importance of employing the very best.”

Operating as G4S Africa does, across borders, by definition means dealing with a great deal of diversity. “To lead effectively in this kind of diverse context, leaders have to be able to focus on the core of the organisation and unwaveringly live their company values. This ensures that they are able to make ethical and reliable decisions when challenging circumstances arise,” he says.

One way G4S Africa do this is to put people in place who are familiar with the local business culture wherever the company might operate.

“Those people are hugely important because they can execute our strategy,” says Brooks. “We put the highest level of competency closest to the point of delivery. You can’t centralise this business and run it from South Africa – you have to put the skills as close to the customer as you can.”

Of course, being a long way away from local service providers presents particular challenges. “You have to ensure that service providers are fully aligned with your strategy, so you really have to ensure you’ve imparted it accurately,” says Brooks. “It’s an opportunity and a challenge. It demands flexibility in the executive – but that’s where innovation comes in.”

Another dimension of this kind of diversity is working with millennials, who are disrupting the world of work in new and interesting ways. “We have to understand this new generation, who want to see the workplace developing in a different way,” he says. “The nine-to-five office we’ve always known may not be the way they see the world.

“So it’s interesting to ask what the executive suite will look like in 20 years. There’s an energy in the millennial workforce, and I think there’s a lot we can learn from them.

“And of course it all heavily hinges on the use of technology, but it may mean that we can innovate in the way we approach the market. It’s a constant dialogue.”

To keep some sort of balance in his life, Brooks says he runs “relentlessly – every other day, like a hamster on a wheel. I am also an avid motorcyclist. I love exploring the remotest parts of the places I live in.”

He’s motivated every day by the work he does. “I love this role – I love the company and its motto, ‘Securing your world’. I’m proud of our work throughout Africa: it adds value, it’s beneficial. That gets me out of bed in the morning. It supports local and foreign investment across Africa, and that’s invigorating.”

Brooks was a participant in the Odgers Berndtson 2016 CEOX1Day programme.