As the world gathered to mourn Nelson Mandela’s passing in early December, I reflected on the lessons I learned from the great man – humility, strength and a passion for South Africa and her people – and how they have affected and guided my professional path. This has been particularly poignant for me in my role as ‘curator of people’ of the various companies in which I have worked. People are at the heart of every business and in my career, I have strived to imbue the leadership principles espoused by Mandela – that good leaders collaborate openly, honestly and consistently with others in order to reach a common goal.
Mandela’s commitment to the creation of a non-racial and non-sexist democracy in South Africa has had a particularly strong impact on my career. Women across the world continue to fight for recognition, particularly in the corporate environment – and I am grateful for the leaders, who fought for freedom and those who fought to ensure that women were not excluded from the conversations surrounding equal rights for all. I am particularly proud to represent women in the mining industry through my positions as executive director of Anglo American in South Africa and vice president of the South African Chamber of Mines. My appointment as the first black female in the position of executive director of Anglo American is a credit to the company’s commitment to transformation and diversity in the workplace.
I took up my post at Anglo American on 1 September 2012, at an incredibly difficult time for the South African mining industry. I immediately had to take on a crisis management role, as Anglo American and South Africa at large grappled with the tragedy at Marikana and the rolling strike action across the mining industry. This difficult period spurred critical conversations about the role of mining in our society. It was a turning point for the industry as we realized that we needed to work harder to ensure that more people benefit from our country’s phenomenal natural resources. I am proud to be a part of a company that is committed to this goal.
My position as executive head of human resources at Anglo American Platinum (prior to taking up the executive director role) prepared me for the extremely difficult time in the aftermath of Marikana. However, I was able to improve relationships with unions, bring wage negotiations to a successful conclusion and build a cohesive and unified team. I value that time as I learned how to deal with difficult situations and to value my independence and unique point of view. These were lessons I started to learn from an early age, when my parents, particularly my father, strove to instill an attitude of independence in me and ensured that I received a good education.
Both through the lessons that I learned from my previous career choices, as well as a strong personal conviction, I have remained committed to working with Anglo American’s executive leadership team, as a member of the Group Management Committee (GMC), to drive the company’s extensive transformation and empowerment programs.
One of the core components of my role at Anglo American is the creation of a unified team across the disparate organization. I am lucky that I can engage with stakeholders from a diversity of backgrounds. While my responsibilities at Anglo American involve communicating with those of different mindsets, it is important to remember that ultimately we’re all working towards a common goal. It is about coming up with solutions, while keeping your eye on the bigger picture.
This skill was honed when I worked for the Consultative Business Movement, helping to build relationships between business leaders and politicians in South Africa pre-1994, when the National Party was talking to the African National Congress for the first time. It was at this time that I was able to put to good use the lessons I learned throughout my upbringing regarding facilitating and finding solutions to difficult problems. I am proud to have contributed to the smooth progress of democracy in South Africa, and count my tenure there as one of my biggest personal achievements.
I am inspired by people who have a vision for what they do, and follow through with what they believe in, no matter what obstacles they meet. I am also inspired by other women in leadership positions such as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, who are role models not only to me but to many other younger women. I also take time to refresh internally, making sure to spend quality time with my family, and connect with our good Lord for strength and endurance.
Download issues of Forbes Africa
- Single Digital Issue: James Mwangi Cover - Forbes Africa Aug/Sep2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa June/July 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa April 2020 - 30 Under 30 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa March 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa February 2020 R50.00