Three ways to pursue in-Christ leadership

Three ways to pursue in-Christ leadership - Johan Beukes

‘One of the greatest legacies leaders can leave is to invest in the depth of one’s relationships with God and one another,’ says leadership coach and Mergon Foundation board member, Johan Beukes.

Over the past year, Johan has contributed a wealth of insights about in-Christ leadership and played an integral role in crafting and co-facilitating a Mergon Foundation initiative called the Healthy Leaders Journey. This curated journey allows leaders to reflect on and grow in four key relationships: with God, with self, with team/family and with the world. This blueprint empowers leaders to weave these dimensions together, contributing to their overall leadership health and well-being.

In his work, Johan has found that many believers arrive at a place where their business, leadership and life are not integrated, or experienced that way. In this guest blog post, he unpacks the basis of in-Christ leadership which proposes a life-giving, holistic and integrated approach to leadership as an alternative. He gives Christian leaders a powerful perspective on the importance of continuously pursuing Christ and leading others into their God-given potential and explores three practical ways to embrace in-Christ leadership within your organisation.

The basis of in-Christ leadership: life-giving, holistic, integrated

According to Johan, in-Christ leadership is first of all life-giving. ‘Romans 8 is considered by many believers to be the Good News of the gospel summarised in one chapter. The assumption is that the Good News is also sustainably life-giving,’ explains Johan.

‘…Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.’ Romans 8:1-2 (MSG)

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.’ Romans 8:1-2 (ESV)

‘This is the core idea of in-Christ leadership: you are in Christ which enables your leadership to be sustainably life-giving,’ he explains. ‘Leaders can however be rooted in many other things (what we seek) – things which are not necessarily life-giving. It’s good to become aware of these things and bring them before God.’

Tim Keller explains it like this:

WHAT WE SEEK

Price Willing to Pay

Greatest Nightmare

Others Often Feel

Problem Emotion

CONTROL

(self-discipline, certainty, standards)

Loneliness, spontaneity

Uncertainty, chaos

Condemned

Worry

COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)

Reduced productivity

Stress, demands

Hurt

Boredom

APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationship)

Less independence

Rejection

Smothered

Cowardice

POWER (success, winning influence)

Being burdened, responsibility 

Humiliation

Used

Anger

Secondly, in-Christ leadership considers the holistic nature of people. Johan explains that the dimensions of life (e.g. spiritual, physical, social, emotional etc.) are understood within the context of four primary relationships:

  1. Relationship with God: shapes the spiritual and physical dimensions.
  2. Relationship with self: forms the emotional and mental dimensions.
  3. Relationship with others: forms the social dimension.
  4. Relationship with the world: shapes the career, financial and meaning dimensions.

Says Johan, ‘When leaders are formed holistically, in the image of Christ, we see leaders with a life-giving conscience, life-giving character, life-giving care as well as life-giving compassion.’

Thirdly, in-Christ leadership is an integrated approach to leadership. He explains:

‘The assumption is that spiritual formation is the foundation. According to Prof Marius Nel, Paul referred to believers who received the Holy Spirit as ‘spiritual’ pneumatikoi (Gal 6:1; 1 Cor 2:13-15) to indicate that they were transformed by the Spirit. Secondly, he repeatedly refers to the spiritual transformation of believers by linking various words to the Greek noun ‘morph’ which refers to the ‘form’ of something. Thus, he expects in Philippians 3:21 that the humble bodies of believers will be conformed (summorphos) to the glorified body of Jesus. God has destined believers, according to Paul, to be conformed (summorphos) to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). They will finally be transformed (metamorphoumetha) into the image of God when they behold his glory (2 Cor 3:18). Thirdly, the idea of being spiritually formed is also expressed by Paul through concepts such as being holy and blameless (1 Thess 3:13).

Johan reiterates that this formation is not an individual matter. ‘For me, leadership formation is rooted in spiritual formation, along with others. In my in-Christ leadership work with organisations for example, when we talk about teams, we use the term ‘Beyond Teamwork’. The reason for this is that it is a community of people who are becoming more and more aware of Christ’s life-giving presence among them. His presence inspires them to witness life-changing (metanoia) impact (fruit) wherever they pray and work. The result is life-giving cultures and organisations where different departments function in a life-giving way.’

Three ways to pursue in-Christ leadership

1. Growing deeper in Christ

As a Christian leader, it is critical to remain rooted in Christ. In John 15:15 Jesus says, ‘I am the Vine and you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.’

Johan explains that being constantly connected to the Vine will influence your mindset, perspective and approach as you lead through various seasons and organisational life stages. ‘An in-Christ leader doesn’t simply ascribe to Christian principles or moral standards. Instead, as you grow deeper into Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will become even more evident in your life and leadership, differentiating you as a leader who reflects the nature of Jesus. As you follow Christ, your leadership and example will become an invitation for others to follow Him too,’ he notes.

‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.’ Romans 8:1-2

2. Bearing the fruit of the Spirit

Johan notes that an in-Christ leader leads by example and bears the fruit of the Spirit, just as Jesus did. ‘This will never be possible in your own strength as a leader. It will be a challenging and refining process as you are faced with situations where you have to ask the Holy Spirit for strength so that His fruit can be evident in your leadership,’ he explains.

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.’ Galatians 5:22 (NIV)

3. Staying in touch with reality

‘In-Christ leaders understand that they are ‘in the world, but not of it’,’ says Johan. We can’t separate ourselves from what’s happening in the world, but we can decide through which lens we look at it, and how we respond to it.

‘In an ever-evolving world, it is crucial for leaders to become even more compassionate. While you as a Christian leader may know much about applying the Bible to your daily life, it is your responsibility and a wonderful opportunity to guide future leaders through their own leadership suffering in order for them to build capacity for compassion,’ he says.

‘Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’ Matthew 15:32 (NIV)

In conclusion, in-Christ leadership is a transformative journey that benefits not only you as a leader but also those around you. Remaining rooted in Christ shapes your character and leadership, providing a meaningful example for your team, family, and community. Your connection to the Vine and the lens of faith through which you view the world will infuse your leadership and personal life with compassion and understanding. This has the potential to serve as a source of inspiration and guidance for those you lead, encouraging them to follow in your footsteps and embrace the life-giving essence of this holistic and integrated approach.

Strength in resilience: African women entrepreneurs

During their last At the Lake event, Ziwani’s community delved into the topic of female entrepreneurship, exploring both the challenges and opportunities that face women in Africa’s marketplace. The conversation was so rich that it led to a follow up podcast interview with At the Lake panelist and legal professional, Sylvia Kithiniji.

In this podcast, she shares her personal perspectives with Ziwani’s Keri-Leigh Paschal on the challenges, and specifically the underlying bias that women face in Africa’s workplace, shaped by a complex interplay of culture and worldviews.

As a partner and head of corporate and commercial law at Ashitiva Associates LLP, Sylvia offers valuable insights, particularly in the context of Kenya’s legal profession. With her extensive experience leading a team of lawyers serving a diverse client base ranging from government to non-profit, private equity firms to multinational corporations, Sylvia provides a unique and rich perspective on the subject. This article gives an overview of the conversation.

Unearthing gender bias in the workplace

Keri kicked off the conversation by asking Sylvia how she developed a passion for this subject. Whilst not dismissing the issue of gender bias in the workplace, Sylvia explained, she initially paid little attention to it, having grown up believing that ‘gender should not be an excuse.’ However, over time, she realised ‘the issue is not that simple.’ Years of experience revealed to Sylvia that an entrenched and unconscious bias faces women in Africa’s workplace, shaped by a complex interplay of culture and worldviews. The key to addressing this bias, she believes, is open dialogue and conversation, asserting that ‘change does not originate from policy or the systemic level, but rather from you and me, and the individuals we interact with daily.’

Navigating the challenges of Kenya’s legal landscape

Keri asked Sylvia to revisit an interesting point she had raised during the previous At the Lake event, where Sylvia had shared: ‘Currently 44% of legal professionals in Kenya are women’ – and I believe that number is rising. But the thing that is missing,’ she went on to say, ‘is women in positions that count. I am not speaking primarily about seniority but about influence; about having the authority to make decisions and influence appropriately, bringing all their strengths to bear.’

She pointed out that what contributes to this reality is the competitive and generally patriarchal landscape of the legal profession in Kenya. For women to take on an entrepreneurial venture, she noted, they need to have an exceptionally high appetite for risk. Without this appetite, it’s even more challenging to establish one’s footing and authentic voice within a male-dominated marketplace.

Sylvia highlighted another critical point: in the legal profession in Kenya, women often find themselves directed toward specific roles that are assumed to be ‘a better fit’. For instance, she noted, ‘it’s more likely that a man is given an energy transaction, whilst his female associate is assigned to a family matter, even if she has no interest in that field of law.’ Due to these unconscious biases underpinning the industry, women are held back in many ways from diversifying their skills and discovering their full potential.

Mastering the balance act of work and family

Sylvia and Keri recognised that there is an added complexity that comes with raising a family while investing in your career. ‘Climbing the corporate ladder and climbing the ‘family ladder’ tend to happen at the same time,’ said Sylvia. ‘At some point women start asking themselves, do I have the bandwidth to spend a significant amount of time at work and be able to do it effectively while still managing my responsibilities at home? A difficult decision is often made at this point – and normally that decision is to take up a lesser role or even leave the profession altogether to be there for the family.’

‘In my mind, there has to be balance,’ she added, ‘a way that women can do what is fulfilling for them career-wise while at the same time, serving their families well.’

How can we facilitate this and move towards achieving this balance for those women who aspire to, asked Keri?

Within her own capacity as a law partner and team leader, Sylvia believes it starts with listening to her employees – seeking to understand their unique challenges and needs – and then complementing this insight with flexible HR that enable effective management and help women to thrive, both at home and in the workplace. ‘Support will look different for each woman,’ she explained. ‘It could include flexible hours, childcare or custom maternity leave. Maybe a woman is going through a major career or life change, and having access to a counsellor could help her navigate the season. My role is to understand what’s needed and support them through this process.’

Recognising the gift of diversity in leadership

Sylvia emphasised the importance of having diverse leadership styles on the team, stating, ‘There are times when a more assertive style of leadership is effective; other times an empathetic culture is required. Of course, men and women can embrace both styles – but there is a certain empathetic nature and relational strength that women tend to bring to a business environment. Knowing when to deploy which leadership style is crucial.’

She recognised the need for intuitive and open-minded leadership. ‘There is a reason why each of us was born into this world conditioned with a specific disposition,’ she reflected. ‘So, if business leaders look at these different styles in terms of strengths generally, and not weaknesses, we’ll start unlocking the best in one another.’

Sylvia added, ‘Oswald Chambers once said, ‘All of God’s people are ordinary people’. This means that all people – both men and women – who are everyday, ordinary people, have the potential to do extraordinary things through God’s grace and leading. This happens when there is dignity, and when we feel free to be all God has designed us to be.’ 

Listen to the full podcast here.

Cultivating the wisdom of perspective

In this article, Mergon’s Ian Conolly speaks to us about the power of perspective, and how developing our focus can lead to greater clarity of purpose, unity and effective leadership. He unpacks three practical ways that we can nurture our perspective intelligence and cut through the complexities of leading an organisation to keep the mission front and centre. Here are Ian’s insights on the wisdom of perspective.

 I entered the thick forest, snug along the mountain side, the many years of growth and cycles of seasons evident in its founded place. The aged trees pressed longingly towards the sky, letting the cool dampness of the air linger beneath, sheltered from the hot sun under their canopy of branches. Meandering along the winding autumnal leaf strewn trail I enjoyed the coolness of the air and the closeness of the impenetrable growth that crowded into the side of the route.

 Emerging from the wood into more open ground, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun. As my eyes adjusted, I could at last see the trail winding its willful way up the side of the mountain and, in the distance, finally ascending to a glorious summit. I pressed forward towards the heights with a renewed sense of energy for my now visible destination.

In the thick of the woods there is so much growth. The air is denser, the soil richer and water retention greater. This is where life and the constant rhythm of work happens. The trees and plant life bring much richness; however, they also limit visibility and so the destination seems remote, intangible, perhaps even unattainable. When following the route, progress can be difficult to measure. There is no easy view of how far you’ve come or where you will end.

As leaders we spend significant chunks of time in the forest. It’s where we must plant ourselves and invest our energy, leading others through on paths that may be unfamiliar to them. When we spend time in the thicket of leading and growing organisations it can be very difficult to see the journey we have walked, the progress we’ve made, and to plot the route to our destination.

One of the traits of great leaders is that they clearly hold perspective: where have we come from, where are we now, what is our goal, and, vitally, what is our next step?

Perspective intelligence – an essential leadership capability.

If we can’t see the bigger journey and our next step, we become disoriented. It becomes difficult to know where to focus our time and energy now, and to be sure of which of the many demanding tasks I should give my attention.

Back on my hike through the forest, if my orientation was poor, I would have no idea where I was in the forest and, when meeting different route options, I might well have chosen poorly, resulting in the pursuit of a wrong route, lost time and possibly not meeting my goal at all. Limited perspective in leadership can quickly take an organisation off track.

So how do we keep perspective in the thick of the day to day? Here are 3 ideas that are worth considering applying:

1. Lift your eyes up

At the end of each week pause and remind you and your team of the destination, some key next steps to get there and why the world will be a better place when you arrive. Tell the stories of how what you are doing is making a difference. Learn to articulate the value of the destination well and most of all, make sure you remain passionate about getting there. If you don’t carry a fire for the goal, your team won’t either. Build a rhythm of meeting simply to lift your eyes, especially when launching a big project and you are under pressure.

2. Have a clear destination

Of course, we can’t talk about the destination if we don’t clearly know what or where the destination is. This is somewhat obvious. It is hard though, particularly as we are often learning and building clarity on the destination as we go. When I emerged from the forest I could see the summit of the mountain, but I couldn’t see what it looked like on the top. It’s not possible to see all the detail of the destination, so be wary of going into too much detail. Paint the picture with broad brush strokes but be clear about where you are going and why the world will be better as a result.

3. Define the next step

Looking ahead to the top of the mountain I could not clearly see the route to the top, but the path for the next few hundred meters was very clear. It is helpful to have 5-year strategic plans and longer term documents…without too much detail. We can’t map out each step to a 5-year goal so don’t spend too much time putting a very long term strategic vision document together. Do take time to map out a detailed route for the next 7 days and some specific goals for the next 90 days. Short term focus and clarity gives much more of a sense of agency.

There is power in focus! Looking up at a destination that is far away can be overwhelming but seeing something close by gives us a sense of its achievability. Before we know it, we have completed many short-term goals and suddenly the final destination begins to feel within reach.

If you are leading an organisation, take time to step back, gain perspective and remind yourself of the importance of the work you are all doing together. Without perspective intelligence it is difficult to break the journey into manageable bite size chunks and keep your team focused and happily on track.

Ian is currently involved in developing the FiftyFour Collective, an online learning platform aimed at supporting non-profit and ministry leaders in growing the health of their organisations. This initiative is a collaboration between the Mergon, 3W, and Maclellan Foundations, with plans for a launch in late 2023. Stay updated on its launch and discover what it has to offer by following our social media channels.

A season of transitions

In this episode of Our Mergon Journey podcast, Mergon board chairman Dick van der Walt provides insights into Mergon’s leadership transition around 2008, when founder Francois van Niekerk handed over the reins to Pieter Faure and his new team. This article captures highlights of their candid conversation. To hear the full story, enjoy listening to the podcast here.

The conversation kicked off with Pieter diving into Dick’s long-standing connection with Mergon, which began when Francois requested Dick’s assistance in securing a tax-exempt status for the Atterbury Trust. There was an immediate connection between the two men, fuelled by their shared passion for the Kingdom.

Dick was struck by something truly remarkable when he observed how Francois positioned the trust and his relationship to it—a perspective rarely encountered in his line of work. He shared, ‘In most instances, trusts are designed in a way that allows the founder to amend the outcome of the original donation. However, Francois wanted to donate the shares in his business with no ability for him or his family to ever revoke or control that commitment. He referred to it as his ‘irrevocable commitment’.

Dick was truly moved by this decision, as it revealed Francois’ sincere belief of being a steward, not the owner, of Mergon’s capital. The impression it left was so profound that years later, when asked to join the Mergon board, Dick readily accepted the offer.   

Building on relationships: a solid foundation

Dick recalled, ‘Arriving at the board, I found that Francois and his team really operated the trust as a family-run entity. Due to its size and being in the initial stages of figuring out how to do Kingdom finance, it was a very organic and family-oriented environment. There was a strong emphasis on relationships and intentionality, especially considering the relatively small amounts of distributions available for the trust to oversee.’

He noted that everyone had a specific passion and a distinct set of skills that they brought into the mix, fostering a culture of deep appreciation for each other’s valuable input in building Mergon.

Dick explained, ‘I was blown away by the intentionality that could be applied to Kingdom finance. Every trustee brought a unique contribution, and that became the early foundation of Mergon’s collaborative approach—where the board of trustees and the capacity of Mergon worked together, focussing on partnerships and harnessing the unique contributions of each individual.’

This strong sense of shared purpose went on to form the bedrock of their stewardship journey.

Stepping out: embracing entrepreneurship

Fast-forwarding to 2008, Mergon had completed the sale of a technology business and built up a substantial asset base. The company was still running as a primarily family-run entity, but there was a clear sense of a strategic shift on the horizon. ‘It was a fork in the road for Mergon,’ said Pieter, ‘where the board realised that some crucial decisions needed to be made.’

Dick recalled how they reviewed their options, which included passively managing the endowment by investing in assets or pursuing a more entrepreneurial approach.  ‘We chose to trust that if God had brought us to this place, He would be faithful to walk with us into the exciting possibilities of establishing a dedicated team to manage this Kingdom finance,’ Dick shared.

Francois and the team chose to embrace entrepreneurship and forge a new path.

Pieter added fondly, ‘I remember being deeply struck by Francois’ humility in making this decision. He firmly believed that this was not something he had done, it wasn’t his own entrepreneurial brilliance that brought us to this point. This was something God had done. And because we didn’t want to limit God in any way, that meant we should keep operating from place of faith, courage, and boldness.’

With this conviction at heart, Francois went on to hand over the reins to Pieter, entrusting these growing finances into his hands and those of a passionate, young team of entrepreneurs.

A new season: transitioning leadership

Despite Pieter’s relatively young age when assuming the Mergon leadership, Francois had deliberately and thoughtfully prepared the ground for his transition. Pieter reflected, ‘For years, we had spent a lot of time in his office. He would share stories about the journey and his lessons in partnership, and he would inculcate the DNA that he wanted to foster in Mergon in me and later in some of my colleagues.’

Pieter and the team experienced a dynamic balance between freedom and trust, authorising them to take entrepreneurial risks, while operating within the framework of accountability structures. He explained, ‘The board created space for the team to bring forth what God was putting on our hearts to do. We were given autonomy to run with ideas and pursue opportunities. But at the same time, we would submit these ideas to the governing board for oversight, wisdom, and co-discernment to ensure we were heading in the right direction.’ Because trust was at the very foundation of this relationship, they were able to navigate and overcome the challenges that would inevitably arise.

Some of these challenges included ‘moments of dissonance’ when the team and founder had to have the ‘tough conversations’ and navigate their differing opinions. Pieter and Dick go on in this episode to discuss these times as well as several key principles that have shaped their leadership over the years. To hear more of the stories that have shaped their journey, listen to the full episode here.

Embrace work as a calling

business and justice

A Mergon initiative, Ziwani is a platform for business leaders to share inspiring stories and innovative local resources while equipping one another for Kingdom impact. Their latest series, Business & Justice, highlights the redemptive role that business can play in bringing about social justiceThrough podcasts and accompanying articles as well as a downloadable guide, this practical series explores how businesses can drive economic growth whilst seeing Africa’s people grow and flourish. 

This article is an overview of the first episode in which Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda speaks to Sammy Rabolele, co-founder of the Beyond The Eyes Network. Beyond The Eyes helps organisations tell their stories to stakeholders and broader communities  in a way that inspires faith and changes relationships for the better. Below are extracts of this interview and rich conversation on the powerful role of storytelling in promoting justice in Africa, and an invitation to listen to the full podcast.

The marketplace as full-time ministry

Many Christians struggle to see the relevance of their daily work to the kingdom of God – sometimes even thinking they should quit and go into ‘full-time ministry’ if they really want to ‘serve the kingdom’. Sammy’s journey, however, has been the opposite – he worked as a missionary on campus before going into media and entertainment.

‘So you started in ministry and then went into business?’ Sibs enquires. ‘To some this might seem like going from a noble calling to just a regular job – how did you process this move in a theological sense? In what ways do you see yourself as still serving God in and through your work?’

‘Actually, working in so-called full-time ministry on a university campus gave me a clear view of what it means to have a marketplace calling,’ Sammy explains. ‘Most of our efforts were focused on preparing young believers for their careers. The frontlines were in the hearts and minds of these students – who had to figure out what it means to love God and love people in and through their Monday-to-Friday work life.’

Sammy quotes John 17:15–18, stating that Jesus’ prayer still applies to every believer: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it… As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’’

Seeking out the stories that inspire hope

Motivated by this conviction and a love for storytelling, Sammy co-founded Beyond the Eyes Network – an independent media network showcasing compelling and positive on-demand content. ‘Through my work, we have the freedom to intentionally tell the stories that reveal a divine Creator at work in the world’. These are stories of artists and entrepreneurs, creatives and athletes, who have overcome great odds and forged new paths of opportunity and ingenuity in their local sectors and communities. ‘The goal of our platform is to inspire people to look for beauty beyond their immediate circumstances, and find courage and purpose for the future,’ says Sammy.

He continues, ‘We are always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are doing well, for people who are doing amazing things in their communities, and whose stories deserve to be told. These don’t need to be overtly evangelical – they can simply be wholesome stories of courage and hope. We love producing stories that show how the actions of one person can have a big impact. For example, a teacher who sacrificially turns around the lives of learners at a school. In every human story, we can find evidence of the divine in the mundane.’

He insists that they don’t, however, ‘sanitise’ stories to fit a superficially religious narrative. ‘Life is messy, and we want to tell real stories in an authentic way. Many stories in the Bible are difficult to tell, for example David committing adultery and murder, and then having to flee from his own son. We might cringe, but God doesn’t sanitise it.’

And although Sammy is passionate about media and the creative opportunities it affords, he affirms that we are all uniquely positioned to develop some aspect of creation for God’s glory, and for the flourishing of society. Says Sammy, ‘Regardless of the industry we’re in, all believers can have a deep-rooted conviction that their work is an act of worship, and that it is for the common good – then we can all live out Paul’s encouragement to do whatever we do for the sake of Jesus, while giving thanks to the Father (Col. 3:17).’

The powerful role of storytelling to promote justice

Pondering the benefits of positive storytelling, Sibs goes on to ask, ‘To what extent do you think the local film industry has engaged with issues of injustice?’ He explains, ‘I am not referring to documentaries about under-privileged communities that expose the problem or allocate blame. I’m referring to narratives that would actually stir those who watch it, to think about what redemption might look like. We need stories that not only make people aware of the problems, but spark their imagination to get involved,’ he states.

Sammy agrees, ‘The truth is that we have a long way to go, but that is exactly where we need to focus our storytelling resources. In South Africa, we mainly consume American content that champions their narratives. Other regions, like India, create a lot of content that deliberately engage issues facing their society, for example, the perceived shift in roles played by men and women in family life. Why don’t we tell more of our own stories? I’m a Tswana, and our word for neighbour is moahisane, which means ‘a fellow builder’. Simply by virtue of my language, I understand that my neighbour isn’t simply the person living next to me – we are fellow builders of our community. This is such a rich worldview that could really bless others.’

Sammy concludes, ‘So although justice is a very difficult topic to engage, it is at the very heart of God. Without sanitising the stories, we need to present a picture of what justice could look like, and offer hope for the future.’ This is the opportunity, and the challenge, that storytelling affords.

Click here to listen to the episode.

To learn more about the Business & Justice series, and to download the Guide, click here.

Laying a strong foundation

Over the years, we have received many requests from people wanting to learn more about Mergon and the values that make us who we are. To bring expression to our story, we have created the Mergon Journey podcast – a 10 episode series that delves into our history and faith journey as investment entrepreneurs, including some of the challenges we have faced and valuable lessons we have learned along the way.

In this episode of the Mergon podcast series, CEO and host, Pieter Faure, joins COO Gauché Radley and Mergon director, Almero Strauss. Together, they take a trip down memory lane and discuss Mergon’s early days, including their experiences working with the company’s founder, Francois van Niekerk. Through storytelling and candid reflection, they share on some of the values that were ingrained in Mergon’s organisational culture from the beginning and how they still steer the company today.

Mergon’s founding story

Pieter kicked off the conversation by taking us back to Mergon’s founding story in 1980. Francois van Niekerk was a 40-year-old senior manager in a large South African corporation, with a well-established career. Increasingly disillusioned with the corporate politics, Francois decided to leave the company and start his own technology business. After nine months, cashflow was drying up and the business was on the brink of collapse. It was during this time, under a Jacaranda tree, that Francois prayed to God for a breakthrough and promised to give 30% of his business to the Kingdom if rescued. Despite that 30% of a bankrupt business is not worth much, God answered his prayer, and a door was opened.

Gauché reflected on the significance of this event: ‘We have all experienced that kind of desperation at times – when there’s nowhere else to go but to God. I think God honoured Francois’ vulnerability. Francois soon realised that it was not about the promise he made to God, but the fact that he surrendered all that he had to Him. It’s that kind of ‘posture of surrender’ that laid the foundation for all that we stand for at Mergon.’

Taking ourselves out of the centre

By 2008, Mergon had grown considerably in both scale and impact, and Francois and the board of trustees made the decision to appoint a new generation of leaders to take the helm and steer Mergon towards its next phase of growth and influence. With Pieter as the newly appointed CEO, Almero also joined the team.

Almero recalls, ‘I came from a consulting background, working with large global companies. In this environment it was all about your abilities and achievements – people were often boasting about what they had done and how they contributed to the success of the company. Then I walked into Mergon. Despite achieving above-market returns, nobody wanted to boast about Mergon’s success. Francois attributed it all to God’s unmerited grace, not our own efforts. It was such a completely different way of seeing business and your role in it.’ 

Stewarding God’s resources

Almero added to this idea, recognising that Francois’ ‘revelation of who the true Owner is’ allowed him to view the business from a unique perspective. ‘From the beginning he saw himself as a steward, to manage that which God had entrusted to him. It took me a long time to get my head around this idea,’ said Almero, ‘and to eventually get my heart around it. It was a complete mindshift for me. I came to understand that we were not ‘giving money away’ at Mergon – this money was never ours in the first place. We were rather asking ‘God, how do you want to deploy these resources that are yours and meant to be used for your Kingdom?’

This notion of stewardship has been the golden thread to pull through Mergon’s history over the past four decades. It has shaped how we make decisions, where we invest, and why we view partnerships as a priority in God’s Kingdom. Almero added that a stewardship mindset has also enabled us to hold realities in tension over the years. ‘You can keep a high standard of excellence but make space for others to learn and make mistakes,’ he explained. ‘You can be uncompromising on certain principles and yet open to be challenged in your thinking.’

Letting others lead

Stewardship also extends to the influence and power that tend to go hand in hand with managing capital. Pieter explained how Francois was intentional about laying this power down and ‘creating an environment where we all could engage on an equal footing – in spite of Francois’ evident seniority and experience at that time’.

Gauché reiterated this idea, recalling his earliest memory on the job: ‘I remember walking into Mergon’s offices and seeing a framed Financial Mail article with Francois and Atterbury CEO, Louis van der Watt, on the wall. The title of the article was ‘Dare to Share’ – which I think encapsulates the heart of our founder and organisational culture still today.’

He explained, ‘Francois always made room for people in the business. When we started in 2008, we were a young team – but we received so much space to learn, risk and grow. This has repeatedly been the case in all the companies that Mergon has built up over the years -from Atterbury to Infotech to Pieter becoming CEO at Mergon at the age of thirty. Francois modeled a leadership that didn’t hold onto the power that comes with being an entrepreneur – he got out of the way to let others step in and lead.’

Embracing an entrepreneurial spirit

It took a certain level of courage to let go of the reins and entrust others with Mergon’s future. But courage, Pieter said, has always been integral to Mergon’s DNA, as reflected in the entrepreneurial culture Francois and the team have continually put into the foundation of Mergon.

It was this courage that motivated the leadership and board in 2008 to take the significant balance sheet they had built up and forego the path of capital preservation. Instead, they chose to embrace a truly entrepreneurial spirit, focussing on growing the portfolio and building businesses.

Almero reflected on the significance of this decision. He shared, ‘I don’t think we realised the consequences of that decision. It presented us with an opportunity to be truly entrepreneurial – the same opportunity we challenge ourselves to have today.’  He continued, ‘That decision opened up so many opportunities for Mergon to remain active in the business world and have a credible voice in the marketplace, walking with entrepreneurs – sharing our lives and living out our values alongside them.

So much of what was instilled in Mergon over 40 years ago, still lives on in the organisation today. Principles of prayer, generosity, partnership and excellence in stewardship. ‘I’m incredibly thankful to know that this story is multigenerational,’ concluded Pieter. ‘Key principles that shaped Francois’ legacy, still shape Mergon today.’

To learn more about the early years of Our Mergon Journey, listen to the full podcast here.