The Test of Leadership

50 years in the electricity supply industry of South Africa

by Dr. Ian McRae, chief executive of Eskom, 1985 to 1994

First edition, published by EE Publishers, March 2006, ISBN: 0-620-35793-2
Price: R310 inc VAT and postage in South Africa

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At this time of power shortages, plant outages, rolling blackouts and load shedding, it is particularly appropriate and timeous that a book by the man who was known as “Mr. Electricity” in South Africa – Dr. Ian McRae – should be published.

Dr. McRae oversaw the construction of Eskom’s current fleet of power stations, as head of its Central Generation Undertaking from 1971 to 1977, head of operations from 1977 to 1980, head of engineering from 1980 to 1984, and chief executive from 1985 to 1994. This construction included all the major Eskom “six-pack” coal-fired power stations (Kriel, Matla, Duvha, Tutuka, Lethabo, Mathimba, Kendal and Majuba), the hydro-electric power stations (Gariep, Vanderkloof and Cahora Bassa), the pumped storage power stations (Drakensburg and Palmiet), and the Koeberg nuclear power station in South Africa.

At a time when “sabotage” at Koeberg has recently been suggested in certain quarters, it is indeed enlightening to read the chapter entitled “Koeberg and other plant sabotage“, by the man who, as head of operations, was responsible for Eskom’s security at the time of an incident in 1982, where four limpet mines exploded in well-chosen areas within Koeberg, including the reactor head of Unit 2, at a cost of some R500-million. Similarly, the chapter entitled “Shortage of capacity” shows how many of today’s problems have been overcome in the past.

The book covers the period from 1947, when he joined Eskom as an 18 year old apprentice fitter, to his retirement as chief executive in 1994. It also deals with his subsequent success in establishing the National Electricity Regulator (NER), where he served as its first chairman and CEO from 1994 to 1997.

Dr. McRae’s long career in Eskom spanned the rapid growth of the company in the period 1950 – 1980, the downturn of the 1980 – 1990s, and social change in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where his role formed a valuable part of the Eskom legacy.

This book is a valuable complement to “A Symphony of Power – the Eskom story” by Allen Morgan, who succeeded Dr. McRae as chief executive at Eskom. It gives first-hand insights into the once-mooted privatisation of Eskom, Dr. McRae’s “electricity-for-all” electrification initiative (the world’s biggest at the time), the establishment of the southern African power grid, the restoration of the Cahora Bassa HVDC scheme, and the Koeberg licensing issues.

A key theme of the book is leadership, and in particular the kind of leadership Dr. McRae practiced at Eskom during its phases of both growth and then downsizing. This was essentially one of empowering people within a framework of a clear and inspiring vision. There is no doubt that his integrity, credibility, drive, inherent humility and care for people, also profoundly helped to motivate Eskom staff during many difficult times. In addition, his tenacity of purpose and commitment as a team player enabled Eskom to achieve its strategic goals in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and to survive unscathed through the political transition period of South Africa.

His remarkable courage was revealed in his meetings with the ANC in 1988, his promotion of equal opportunity during the height of the apartheid era, and his legendary “electricity-for-all” electrification campaign. These initiatives, and others, helped Eskom pre-empt and adapt to the social changes of the 1990s.

Dr. McRae brought great credit to Eskom and South Africa through his activities in the World Energy Council (WEC) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO). The leadership given to these organisations, together with his activities in SADC, are accurately and modestly described.

The book is also about McRae the man – his strength and weaknesses, his sense of serving others and Eskom. This is thus the story of a person who has served his fellow man, his company and his country with distinction and humility, using his God-given skills of leadership. In several places in the book, Dr. McRae mentions how being a good mentor is one of the attributes of the outstanding leader. Having benefited himself from good mentorship, Dr. McRae helped to establish the strong culture of mentorship that exists in Eskom today.

Dr. McRae deals objectively and generously with his relationships with his staff, colleagues and political masters named in the book, including his relationship with industrialist and businessman, John Maree, who was chairman of Eskom during these turbulent times. The book is well written and readable, and contains a good selection of historic pictures made possible by the author’s as well as the Eskom archives.

The book encapsulates elements of the history of Eskom not previously revealed – insights into critical technical problems, business drivers, political pressures and strategic imperatives. The book will be fascinating to those who worked within or knew the Eskom of the McRae era. It is a unique chronicle of Eskom’s history, and overall, it is both uplifting and inspiring.

The book has 180 pages, divided into 33 compact chapters, which contributes to its readability, and is published with hard cover and over 30 full colour pictures. The foreword is given by Reuel Khoza, chairman of Nedbank, and formerly chairman of Eskom at the time of Dr. McRae’s retirement.

The Test of Leadership
by Dr. Ian McRae, chief executive of Eskom, 1985 to 1994
First edition, published by EE Publishers, March 2006, ISBN: 0-620-35793-2
Price: R310 inc VAT and postage in South Africa

Click here to order for delivery inside South Africa
Contact to order for delivery outside South Africa
Click here for details of other books from EE Publishers