WOMEN TO WATCH
ON THEIR WAY TO THE TOP
IN SOUTH AFRICA, the month of August is dedicated to recognising the proper place of women in society. In this first of two parts, Finweek looks at five women who are climbing the ladder of success and who are positively impacting society as they do so. Each of these women have moved beyond what is secure and comfortable. They are risk-takers and look for opportunities to serve their communities. These women are well on their way to changing the landscape of business for everyone around them.
1 Charmaine Smith Director and co-founder of Infundo Consulting
Born i n Lady Selborne, a township north- west of Pretoria, Smith spent her early s chool ca reer at a small Chinese school in Pretoria and matriculated at Pretoria High School for Girls. After this, she studied at the University of the Witwatersrand where she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Human Movement Studies.
“Teaching was a profession I fell in love with and remained in love with for 15 years, finally leaving the classroom but not education in 2005 when I felt it was time for me to do more and not settle for where I was comfortable. I am a natural disruptor; I have the heart of an activist and teacher and always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I feel a strong connection to this country and continent. Healing the organisations people work in; offering healing on an individual and team basis; hence offering people an opportunity to embrace more for themselves is a calling for me. I definitely feel an affinity to my work from a spiritual point of view; committing to living a life with greater purpose while knowing that there is much work to be done,” says Smith.
She co-founded Infundo in 2007 after pursuing some work as an independent consultant. Soon after that she found herself running the com-
“I DEFINITELY FEEL AN AFFINITY TO MY WORK FROM A SPIRITUAL POINT OF VIEW; COMMITTING TO LIVING A LIFE WITH GREATER PURPOSE WHILE KNOWING THAT THERE IS MUCH WORK TO BE DONE.”
pany alone and managing its f irst project, which was to bring experts from Austria to train district education officials in KwaZulu-Natal funded by the Dutch government and in partnership with corporate engineering f irms.
“I learnt through this experience what is required before meaningful implementation can take place on a skills level. I identif ied the need to create a readiness for the people and system to take on new opportunities, and have since focused predominantly on deep educational transformation in rural areas, townships, districts and across entire communities who partner with us to ensure that whole systems undergo deep, sustained change,” Smith explains.
She and her new partner Gail Wrogemann have now worked to change the way education is delivered in five provinces. Their aim is to improve performance and results as measured outcomes. Their work has been so successful that parastatal utility organisations are now asking Infundo to assist in their transformation.
Infundo aims to assist in the transformation by taking racial divisions and deep conf licts into account, and healing historical legacies which will change the way in which these organisations can perform in future. Smith describes how this is possible: “Many organisations are f inding that issues of productivity, missed production deadlines, a reduction i n number of contracts secured and not keeping up with market demands are in many cases a result of poor teamwork. This is usually a result of unresolved racial splits, long-standing and deep conf licts; inter-departmental communication problems and loss of trust – which is sometimes the outcome of historical legacies that are yet to be healed. This can impact an organisa- tion’s ability to respond, adjust, and become healthy and innovative. It can lead to organisations functioning at an increasingly sluggish pace. Systems transformation processes are therefore changing the way these businesses do and can perform.
“The innovative use of systems tools, based on strong foundational systems principles, has opened the door for us to really impact a range of organisations. We listen to what is needed and adjust our methodologies and focus to identify and then to work with the specific dynamics which need resolution. This has a significant ripple effect across the rest of the organisation.”
Smith presented this work at the African Local Summit in Ghana three years ago as a means to addressing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. She now regularly copresents their work at a number of local conferences as an innovative and proven model of systems transformation.
Outside of work she has a full life as the proud mom of two boys, aged 17 and 18, and stepmom to three young adults (aged 20, 23 and 26). Her fiancé and family are her support structure,
often taking care of her boys when she is travelling. This allows her to focus on what she has to do and leaves time to be a mom as well. “One of my greatest joys is supporting my boys at the side of the sports field. I try my hand at taking pictures of them in action but this is a talent which remains dormant!”
Kennedy Maxwell, Smith’s mentor, former executive director of Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company Limited and former president of the Chamber of Mines of SA, says: “Charmaine Smith is one of South Africa’s game-changers. She has come to understand and deal with the root causes of dysfunctional schools and organisations. Only by intensive engagement with the individuals in such structures, to examine their innermost fears, traumas and prejudices, is it possible to mentor and coach them – thereby freeing them to enhance performance and collaboration with their colleagues. As a result, she has succeeded in numerous instances to turn around seemingly ‘ impossible’ situations into highly successful institutions across the country. Together with Gail Wrogemann she has established a formidable team to bring about significant turnaround and empowerment interventions that bode so well for South Africa.”
Smith says: “I am very aware of the privilege I live with and the inequities around me. It would be a sin to know how to offer better education and opportunities and not share this knowledge. The close relationships I enjoy when walking on journeys with our organisations, teams and communities energise me; knowing that I am making an impact fuels my resolve. What an honour to be able to work with diverse people across our country and celebrate their successes with them. It always feels like a reunion when we meet our communities again: we commiserate; grieve and celebrate all the victories with the people we work with. It doesn’t feel like work; much more like large interconnected families who support each other on the journey to us all living the best lives we can.”
2 Thuli Sibeko
Co-founder of Anglo African Events and Campaign Management and founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow
ANGLO AFRICAN EVENTS is a company that designs and executes events and campaigns. Sibeko has designed and produced many successful events for major corporations including HP, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Absa Capital and Unisys. Prior to starting her business she was a member of a non-profit organisation called Community Youth Empowa’ment, which was committed to social upliftment through community-based initiatives.
In 2013, she founded Girls Invent Tomorrow, an initiative created to educate, empower and encourage girls to pursue careers in technology. Since its inception, the not-for-profit organisation hosted three ‘Girl in ICT’ career days, one in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The career days provided a platform for leading women in technology to share their journey and experience in working in a male-dominated field while providing real life career guidance to the girl learners.
In March 2014, Girls Invent Tomorrow hosted its first Introduction to Coding Workshop and held two more such events in July. Natassia De Villiers, Sibeko’s partner at Girls Invent Tomorrow, comments: “Sibeko is one to be taken note of for the simple reason that she is an activator. She not only talks the talk, but actually makes sure that she and others around her walk the walk. I have known her for over a decade now and have always known of her activist role in educational initiatives and outreach programmes among the youth. She connects and inspires people. She is not full of empty words but full of words bubbling with passion and action. We live in a society where activators and doers are needed more than ever. We need to see people join movements; we need to be inspired and motivated to move mountains and reach out to others. Sibeko does this every day.”
As a member of a large family grow- i ng up i n Soweto, Sibeko has been taught, in her mother’s words that “we do not exist in this world alone”. As she strives to achieve her own personal goals at Anglo African Events, she is also mindful of those that are watching her from below and she never wants to leave anyone behind. Throughout her enterprising initiatives, Sibeko has always found ways of upskilling others in her community or giving back in some way so that the benefits she receive can be felt by her circle of influence, such as donating school supplies in Diepkloof, Soweto, or school uniforms in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal.
“Even if we get briefed on a big project that’s not in my space, I never say I can’t, I always get myself involved and see what the project entails and spend time doing research to ensure that I can deliver. I’m always getting out of my comfort zone by trying and doing things that I would not ordinarily do,” says Sibeko.
She is also working on a health and wellness initiative in the hospitality industry, and in her spare time she partakes in events like the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour or the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, all in the aid of nominated charities. Her sole purpose is to make an impact in the world by changing lives and inspiring others.
3 Shireen Chengadu
Executive director of the Centre for Leadership and Dialogue at Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs)
SHIREEN CHENGADU IS the executive director of the Centre for Leadership and Dialogue at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science. The centre aims to create a new generation of leaders armed with the capacity and insights to lead their businesses, public institutions and social enterprises in an increasingly complex and ambivalent world. The centre aims to strengthen mutual understanding and respect in South African society.
“I have a general rule: every year I must learn and experience something new, and this is usually in an area that makes me most uncomfortable. In this way I conquer my fears and strengthen my confidence and I get to learn some really cool things and experience many epiphanies. The world is changing at break-neck speed and if I am not constantly curious and investigating new paths, I will become irrelevant. Disruption and curiosity keep me vibrant, relevant and alive. When you are a life-long learner, disruption is a given. I am blessed that my family is my springboard and my safety net, and that gives me the license to dream and do new things,” she says.
In the decade prior to 1 April 2013, Chengadu carried executive responsibility for the academic programmes portfolio at Gibs. Under her stewardship of that portfolio, the Gibs MBA degree became a highly soughtafter qualification and achieved global accreditation and ranking.
Prior to joining Gibs, Chengadu taught English at senior levels in public and private schools in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
She holds an Executive MBA from the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, as well as a Bachelor’s in Pedagogics (Arts) f rom Universit y of Durban Westville, a Bachelor’s in Education (Honours) and a Master’s in Education from the University of Natal.
“When I was at school,” she says, “I wanted to be a journalist, but there the funds to send me to study at Rhodes University weren’t available, nor would I have been accepted because of the apartheid education policies. So I studied history, drama and English in the field of education because it was a subsidised f ield. My mother inculcated into us this notion of being a lifelong learner and so teaching was a natural fit.”
It is her hope that through her knowledge, experience and relationships with leaders in business, Government and society, she will be able to be the catalyst for an actionand values-based community that will contribute to the personal and professional development of future leaders.
Adrian Saville, CIO at Cannon Asset Managers, says: “My experience in working with Chengadu over the last 10 years is of a person who is clear-sighted, determined and committed. She is consistent in her goals, which she expresses clearly. She is unwavering in her commitment to a set of clear principles, and she will express ambitions, concerns and reservations without compromise. While these attributes give t he i mpression of a tough approach, in the many years I have worked with Chengadu I also have come to know her of being thoughtful, caring and patient. These different attributes are hard to balance – but she gets this right, which sets her apart. She is a champion of diversity and, in this way, demonstrates why diversity is an invaluable attribute in all organisations.”
Chengadu’s commitment to t he struggle for repositioning the agenda for women to the strategic fore has led to various initiatives including securing the sponsorship from Standard Bank for the Her Story monthly lecture series and the formation of the Women in Leadership cluster of academics and practitioners at Gibs. She also does informal leadership coaching and formally mentors a number of young men and women every year.
“The centre and Gibs drive crucial conversations that women need to have with each other and themselves, to encourage collaboration and not an unhealthy level of competition. The truth is that by unlocking the potential of women, who make up 52% of our population, you are unlocking the potential of the country, because women are very apt at creating wealth and sharing it. If I am able to be a part of that generation of women leaders, then I will have left my footprint in the sand, but watch this space, the next ten years will be my best.”
“DISRUPTION AND CURIOSITY KEEP ME VIBRANT, RELEVANT AND ALIVE.”
4 Kim Gibson-Van der Walt
Director of dotFNB at First National Bank (FNB)
DESPITE A BACKGROUND in the hospitality industry, far removed from banking, Gibson-Van der Walt is now the youngest member of FNB’s executive committee. Colleagues speak of her strong service ethic, engrained by long hours at a hotel in St Moritz, a resort town in Switzerland. She considers herself a typical generation-Y individual, who wants to “mix banking up”.
The banking industry has seen a number of changes in recent years, most signif icant of which is the convergence of banking and technology, and the subsequent changes this has brought to the way people bank. This brought about the question of what the future of branch banking will look like, keeping in mind that customers want to be able to do more in less time without having to visit multiple locations.
“I understand the retail environment and those that work in it. For example, the need for shift work, so that services are available outside of traditional banking hours, or when doing a stocktake. It suits me perfectly because I like to be at the forefront of technology trends. I enjoy researching the future of lifestyles and banking through technology.
“Our country’s digital migration has been too slow and this results in many people not having access to faster, cheaper banking services, but in the next 10 years traditional banks will cease to exist. I hope to a part of banking the unbanked with a retail offering because I have skills in the digital age that many of my older counterparts don’t,” says Gibson-Van der Walt.
“I set time aside to innovate, which causes disruptions to both myself and my team. I often do research before these sessions to make sure that the discussion has an edge to it. I push my team to be creative and they push me. Some of the ideas we come up with are great concepts, some are not. It is about being courageous enough to put new ideas to the fore and believing in them.”
5 Elna Smit
Co-founder and marketing director at Columinate
ELNA SMIT IS a marketing researcher with expertise in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Smit holds a Bachelor of Social Science in Psychology ( Cum Laude), a Bachelor of Social Science in Psychology (Honours) and an Master’s in Research Psychology from the University of Pretoria. Her paper on using Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) as a research method among big corporates’ employees won the Best Paper Award at the 32nd Southern African Marketing Research Association (SAMRA) conference in 2011.
Aside from research, Smit is also passionate about technology, marketing and client relationship management. This led her to co-found Columinate, a market research company that specifically focuses on online research methods.
“Starting the business as the 2008 recession hit was certainly a challenge because we didn’t get a cent from the bank. But in some ways it helped our clients look for cheaper, faster ways of doing market research, which we offered. The journey was slow until mid2009, but since then we have seen 600% growth. To this day when a sale comes in I feel like ringing bells because I know how much hard work it has taken to get to this point,” says Smit.
“I’m acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses and often my instinct is to delegate the tasks that aren’t in my wheelhouse. But in order to grow, I sometimes just jump in and do it – and learn how to do it while I ago along. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it is best not to think too much and to just jump in and do it.”
Smit’s passion, bordering on obsession, is creating meaningful, impactful and practical insights for clients from evidence-based research. Her drive to moderate and manage MROCs (market research online communities) towards gaining clever consumer insights has seen her conduct various MROCs for various industries. “I want to see exponential growth for this business and ultimately try my hand at some kind of venture-capital business. I know that I am not a multitasker – I do one thing and I do it well – so I plan to make this business self-sustaining before moving on to the next thing,” she says.
Smit dedicates time and financial support to many welfare institutions and finds rejuvenation by spending time with her pets. She travels extensively and describes herself as a ‘serial rater’ as she updates her TripAdvisor blog.
Oresti Patricios, CEO of the Ornico Group, says: “Smit has a passion and intelligence that few people share. This quiet passion has made mentoring her a pleasure and has helped in the success of her business. Entrepreneurship is a large portion of perspiration with a huge dollop of implementation. Columinate has been very successful, but this has not gone to Smit’s head. Her focus on people and skills is another strength that helps her drive the business forward. I have no doubt that Smit is someone worth watching in business and that her business will grow from strength to strength. Watch this space!”