M y dad is not your friend
Tshepang Mailwane: Sinenjabulo, thanks for your time. First things first, tell us a bit about yourself as you are a ‘newbie’, so to speak, on the Soccer Laduma pages.
Sinenjabulo Zungu: I am Sinenjabulo Zungu, the daughter of Sandile Zungu, who is obviously the chairm an (of Am aZulu FC). My role at Am aZulu is (that of) CEO. I s it at head office as CEO of the club, but I think because of m y experience, or lack thereof, before joining the club, I’ve becom e quite operational, just so that I can im m er s e (m ys elf) in the industry and in the club so that I can lear n ever ything. I’m very involved in the club. I did Business Science as m y under gr ad at UCT (University of Cape Town), m ajoring in m ar keting. I actually started with finance and in m y third year I changed to m arketing, and then I went into the adver tis ing s pace. I was working for an outdoor advertising com pany as a m arketing person there. Then I went into m y own thing wher e I was a r es eller of biom etr ic system s, and then I went into forensics. In 2019, I went to further m y studies and I did an MBA in Spain, Madr id. I packed m y bags and I left for a year. So, dur ing COVID-19, I was stuck there. I could not com e back. Long s tor y short, I then joined Am aZulu. But when we initially bought the club, I joined jus t as s is ting fr om the m ar keting s pace only, then I officially got appointed as the CEO in 2021. That was probably about eight m onths later.
TM: Why do you think you were trusted with such a big role of CEO after being in the marketing space?
The position of CEO was not new to m e. I was a CEO for a for ens ics fir m and m y backgr ound is m ar keting. So, ever y pos ition I have been in, it’s always been around m ar keting. I’m very passionate about m ar keting and I think m y dad knows that about m e. So, when this cam e up, he then m arried the two – it involves a lot of m ar keting and branding, because that’s his vision for the club. But I also have exper ience in m anaging and r unning businesses. That’s how I ended up being the CEO. But initially I was as s is ting, and I als o jus t fell in love with the club and football and the indus tr y altogether . So, I was like, “I can do this full-tim e.”
TM: You have experience and the education as well, but we live in a world where that can be overlooked for the fact that you are working for your father. Does this concern you in a way?
I never shy away. The older I’ve grown, there is nothing to be asham ed of in adm itting that you are the daughter of som ebody. I don’t shy away from saying it pur ely becaus e I know that I have paid m y school fees. I have got the experience and I can hold m y own. I have no fear of people s aying that I got into this because m y father is the chair m an. Anybody who knows m e knows that I can back m yself up. It’s not a thing. I can be the fir s t to adm it that I am probably a bit m ore privileged, but that privilege did not com e for free. I work hard, I am com m itted. I do the wor k and the one thing I need to highlight is that when it com es to wor k, m y dad is not your friend. Whether you are the daughter or the sister, work is wor k. Thos e ar e s epar ated, which is why I think som e of the businesses we are involved in are successful, becaus e we have gr own up with the understanding that work is work and it stays as such.
TM: That makes perfect sense… SZ:
There’s nothing of this thing of “you are m y daughter at work”. There is none of that.
TM: How have you found the role since taking over?
I have never been this happy in m y car eer . You know why?The s pace that I’m in allows m e to do anything from a strategy point of view. It allows m e to do what I love, which is m ar keting and wor king with people. I love working with people and football is really about that – you have to engage with the s uppor ter s , you have to engage with your staff, you have to engage with the player s and coaches . That’s what I enjoy the m os t. It’s been challenging becaus e m oving from corporate to football is also quite different. The way football is structured and the way the football is , is s om ething I don’t think I can com pare to corporate. It’s been challenging, but worth it. The s uppor t has been incr edible.
TM: From the outside looking in, it’s clear that AmaZulu want to take the brand to another level. What’s your plan as CEO?
We understand that it’s going to take us years to get to where we want to go, but it’s one brick at a tim e, right? My vision is to m ake s ur e that by the tim e we get to 2032, which is our centenary, our brand as Am aZulu is looking com pletely different to what it was when we cam e on board. Locally, it m ust be r ecognis ed. People m us t be able to r elate to the br and. We want to be a household nam e, but not only locally… even continentally. When I wear m y Am aZulu jersey outside the countr y, people s hould be able to recognise it. That’s what I want for the brand. That is the vision. But first prize is for the team to do well and to be consistently in the top four. The president m ade a bold s tatem ent, which kind of challenged all of us , when he s aid Am aZulu is a top four team . He does not under s tand why it has been playing outs ide the top four . It’s the oldest team in the PSL and it has a huge s uppor t bas e. I think our wor k and m y job, actually, is to convert s om e of the s uppor ter s who s uppor t Am aZulu as their second team of choice to be their first-team choice, and for those who used to support the club to com e back, as well as touch on the younger generation who ar e not fam iliar with the br and. We want to get those people to s uppor t Am aZulu. For us , Am aZulu is not just a football club, it’s a br and. It’s got his tor y behind it and it’s som ething we need to pay attention to. It has been neglected in the pas t.
TM: How much do you get involved with what happens on the football side, like with the players and coaches?
Whe n Sandile Zungu took ove r as AmaZulu FC chairman, he se t out his ambitions in no unce rtain te rms, much to the incre dulity of the footballindustry dare we add, and soon e nough the club’s upward traje ctory be came e vide nt unde r the coaching le ade rship of Be nni M cCarthy. The re have been blips he re and the re , obviously, as is normal at any club, le ading to coaching and pe rsonne l change s, but the targe t of consiste ntly re maining a top four side re mains. Be hind the sce ne s, too, the re are pe ople working tire le ssly to take the iconic but pe rhaps re ce ntly stagnating brand to ne w he ights. One of the m is Sine njabulo Zungu, the CEO. De spite be ing the big boss’ daughte r, he rs is not a case of ne potism – far from it – for she posse sse s the re quisite de sire and passion for allthings Usuthu, not to me ntion qualifications. Socce r Laduma’s Tshe pang M ailwane sat down with the University of Cape Town graduate as she spe aks about he r journe y, the issue of inte rfe re nce and the plans she has for the KZN outfit going forward.
The structure is that I s it at head office. There is Am aZulu (Pty) Ltd, which is the head office. Then ther e is Am aZulu Football Club. I s it at the head office. At club level, ther e is the GM (Gener al Manager ), who deals with the players and the technical staff and player issues and who gets hired and who gets ter m inated. But fur ther m or e, at field level, we don’t inter fer e with who gets played or who does not get played. If the coach wants to play som ebody, it’s his prerogative. If they don’t want to play som ebody, it’s their prerogative. The only tim e we get to interfere … and it’s the president … it’s when he (the coach) is not perform ing. That’s the only tim e the pr es ident will s ay s om ething, in ter m s of influencing. We decided to s epar ate the m atter s . I don’t get involved in the technical m atters of the club. That’s the GM’s r es pons ibility.
TM: How much football did you follow before joining Usuthu?
Ha, ha, ha, not a lot. I s uppor ted a team that I will not nam e. When I joined Am aZulu, I decided I am jum ping ship. I used to follow football as a kid. In m y dad’s s ide of the fam ily, it was Or lando Pir ates . In m y m om ’s s ide of the fam ily, which I us ed to fr equent quite a bit, they were split between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. So, I used to follow football back then, but I kind of grew out of it the older I got. I think had I not been involved in football now, I would have s till been floating. Being involved is actually crazy. There is so m uch adrenaline that I get when watching a gam e. You becom e so passionate. I never thought I would be discussing football m atters at a dinner table. Football is liter ally m y life now and I love it.
TM: As a family, has investing in the club been worth it and has it been profitable?
Profitable, no. Not at the m om ent. We all understand that football is an expens ive exer cis e. If you ar e going to be part of the league, it’s even m or e expens ive. You ar e going to m ake m oney m ajor ly thr ough sponsorships and selling of players and other r evenue s tr eam s that you need to create. We buy players and they don’t com e cheap. We spend a lot of m oney and that’s why we tr y to cr eate other r evenue s tr eam s outside of sponsors. But at the m om ent we have not r eached a point where we are m aking any m oney out of it. It’s still an investm ent and a heavy inves tm ent at that, but becaus e we went in knowing what it requires, it’s worth it for us. As the president would prefer to say, for him right now it’s still a good decis ion becaus e he s ees football as a way to other s ocietal activities and com m unity building. The joy you get fr om knowing that thr ough football player s , you ar e feeding fam ilies , it’s ver y s atis fying. Yes , it has not been pr ofitable at the m om ent, but it’s an inves tm ent we ar e happy with.
TM: How much pressure is there on the team to win trophies?
We don’t set a deadline. We have 10 years, from this season, left until 2032. We s hould have at leas t won 20 per cent of the cups that will be on offer for the next 10 year s . So, however they spread that out from coach to coach and player to player , Am aZulu m ust have at least won 20 per cent of the cups . If ther e ar e 20 cups on offer, 20 percent of that m ust com e to Am aZulu.
“I never thought I’d be discussing football matters at a dinner table.”
TM: Any plans for a women’s team? SZ:
Absolutely. It would be a tr agedy not to have one, es pecially as we claim to be a club that is tr ans for m ational and all about em powering and change and being different. We are definitely in conver s ation, and we have been for a little while. But at som e point, we halted the process because it r equir es a lot, fr om a facilities point of view and buying a s tatus as well. Not a lot of team s ar e willing to s ell in the top ranks, so we m ight need to look in the lower ranks, which is okay. We need to look properly and we need to find one that fits Am aZulu. We are definitely in the process, but the process could take a s eas on or two, until we find what wor ks for us .
TM: Fair enough. Sinenjabulo, thanks a million for your time.
SZ: Thank you for the oppor tunity.