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Cement’s first lady Tryphosa Ramano

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Tryphosa Ramano has always had a passion for infrastructure and money. So when she got the opportunity to become the chief financial officer (CFO) of South Africa’s Pretoria Portland Cement Company (PPC), it was a no-brainer.

“Money and figures turn me on. But I always say: to what extent can you put money into perspective?”

Ramano, a qualified charted accountant, got her taste for infrastructure while she was the financial director of women’s empowerment group Wiphold. In 2007 there was a shortage of cement in South Africa. The group decided to import cheaper cement from China to undercut the country’s major cement producers. The Wiphold project is still in operation, but its 300,000-ton capacity is nowhere near PPC’s eight million.

Ramano was in two minds when she was offered the CFO position at southern Africa’s leading supplier of cement in 2011. PPC was already established and did not excite her like a new project did.

“I thought, I mean this an old company; an old image. And you look at that elephant (PPC’s logo), that elephant looks tired,” she jokes.

“But eventually I thought: you know what, with my experience, something can be done. Because normally when you are on the outside, you can help… with new ideas. And you can learn from the experienced

ones. But when you combine it, it becomes brilliant because they are used to doing things.”

Ramano broke barriers when she joined PPC. The year before, it had celebrated its centenary as a company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) – an accomplishment that not many businesses across the globe can brag about.

Her appointment as PPC’s first woman CFO was welcomed across South Africa as a step in the right direction for women’s empowerment.

The company, which was formed in 1892, has been dominated by men over the years, but it is part of an industry that is slowly transforming.

“The industry is very tough. When I came in, I was the first woman on the executive. I had a chat with the CEO (chief executive officer) on how PPC can recruit women… because women don’t want to be where it’s not sexy. So far we have seen a number of changes,” she says.

In many regards, PPC is considered to be a leader in transformation in the construction industry. And this is largely thanks to Romano’s drive to have women at the boardroom table as well as at the bottom end.

She has set up a women’s forum specifically aimed at helping to transform PPC. In 2011, women held 18% of leadership positions in the company; just two years later, that figure has grown to more than 20%. The short-term target is 30% by 2016.

The forum’s other objectives include a pilot child care facility at PPC’s head offices in Sandton, Johannesburg, and developing a pipeline of leadership using mentoring, coaching and development programs for women in management.

PPC’s drive to transform its workforce through the women’s forum makes business sense. According to research by accounting firm Grant Thornton, companies that want to consistently outperform their rivals on the stock market, or improve sales, can do so by putting more women on their boards.

It attributes this to the leadership behavior that women bring to the workplace, including participative decision-making, role-modeling and developing staff.

Stronger stock market growth is more likely with higher proportions of women in senior management positions. Grant Thornton’s International Business Report has found that companies with a greater proportion of women on their boards outperformed rivals, with 66% better returns on invested capital, 53% better returns on equity and 42% better sales.

Some of the firsts for PPC include that its mining planner is a woman and it has a woman dump truck driver.

Intakes into its graduate development program are mostly women, and 20% of procurement goes to women-led businesses.

The company has also redesigned overalls to make them more comfortable for women, and has implemented several diversity projects. One of these focuses on helping men to work alongside women because they are not used to members of the opposite sex being their bosses or even their equals in the workplace.

“It has been difficult for them to embrace you… but they don’t know how. Sometimes you do something, they realize you are sensitive. Sometimes, you know, you say something and they don’t understand you,” Ramano explains.

However, she firmly believes that there is no reason to ape what is considered traditional male behavior in the workplace. She maintains that if women are authentic and true to themselves, they will earn respect.

She says she often tells the women employed at PPC’s plants that they should take care of themselves and be aware of their appearances.

“Don’t be shabby. Look good and look nice; people will treat you based on who you are. Don’t be fluid.

“And I always say to women: when you (are in the boardroom), you must be visible. God gave us hips; move them so that you can have space, so that they can know that you are there,” she advises.

Ramano has had to hold her own throughout her working life, in a career that has included senior posts in both the public and private sector. She reportedly took a 30% salary cut when she moved from Rand Merchant Bank to the National Treasury.

Ramano says she chose to leave the private sector because at the time she was young, ambitious and impressed with what the government was doing with privatization and state-owned entities.

“When the opportunity came, I thought: this is a great opportunity for me to see how the government does their budgeting, how they plan for the country. I wanted to understand the macroeconomic aspect rather than reading it as an economist.”

Ramano also participated in the listing of state-owned telecommunications giant Telkom on the JSE and the New York Stock Exchange, realizing proceeds of more than $400 million to the South African government. One of her proudest achievements is closing national carrier South African Airways’ $600 million hedge book and implementing the airline’s turnaround strategy in 2004/05.

Ramano has served on a number of boards, including Real Africa Holdings, Adcorp Holdings, Old Mutual Property Investment, the Financial Services Board, the African Union External Board of Auditors and the National Research Foundation. She is currently president of the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (Absip), as well as the African Women Chartered Accountants’ Forum.

It is difficult to believe that she has any time to relax, considering all of the hats she wears. The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA interview is an apt example. It was done while Ramano was eating lunch on the sidelines of an Absip conference she was co-leading.

Ramano says she is fiercely independent and tries to do as little as possible on weekends. She enjoys spending time at the nursery and in her garden.

“I love my flowers, I prune my roses. They are blooming; the Icebergs and the Just Joeys.”

Ramano’s staff are never far from her mind. She has a large vegetable garden, which keeps them in constant supply of spinach. And although numbers are her thing, at a recent PPC event she delighted 250 women by giving them jewelry she had made with her own hands.

Ramano is the ultimate multitasker. She is as confident in the boardroom as she is around her girlfriends when she lets her hair down. Women who occupy leadership positions are often under pressure to conform and underplay their feminine side.

Ramano will have none of this. As CFO of PPC, she is at the top of her game, but she knows that she had to start somewhere, hence her commitment to developing and nurturing women who are still coming up through  the ranks.

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