Q&A With… Busi Mabuza
IDC Chair Busi Mabuza on diversity and development.
There are many female executives at the top at the IDC; how is the organization driving gender to resolve challenges in the African economy?
- The pleasing part is that the more we improve, the more we see opportunity to get better. Just over half of our staff complement at the IDC is female. We have focused on nurturing talent in a fair and equitable manner. The CEO [Geoffrey Qhena] pays specific attention to promoting equity in the management and executive levels of the organization. My interest is to also ensure that our professional level, which is our natural leadership pipeline, continues to be representative.
How does the IDC develop female entrepreneurs and ensure they contribute to the economy and nation-building?
- The funding of women-owned business is one of our specific corporate key performance targets which we monitor and report on. This has focused everybody’s mind and is an integral part of our conversations at board meetings. We recently hosted a conversation session with women entrepreneurs specifically focusing on manufacturing. Management is now synthesizing the very constructive inputs received. We aim to be an accessible funder and to be one of the first ports of call for entrepreneurs requiring funding in our areas of focus.
Past the tight security at the Industrial Development Corporation’s (IDC) stately headquarters in Sandton, Johannesburg, and up a couple of floors, we meet Zama Luthuli as she steps out of one of the glass-enclosed offices. She is slender, in a striped skirt and killer heels; one could have easily passed her off as a model.
Luthuli laughs when you suggest this. She has considered becoming a model and owning her own makeup and clothing line, she admits, so we are not far from the truth.
At 40, this self-confessed fashionista is the IDC’s youngest executive. As Divisional Executive: Corporate Affairs, she holds a critical role. This is evident when she points to the files she has in front of her, of entrepreneurs the IDC has developed. She speaks animatedly about them. This job, clearly, is more than a job for her.
“I see it as a contribution to the continent,” she says, which makes the long hours and lengthy Exco meetings worthwhile.
“It’s something bigger than us, it’s about other people. We work long hours, we get so tired but we look at people’s businesses and see the impact in their lives, and then the long meetings no longer matter.”
The IDC is a 75-year-old national development finance institution in South Africa set up to promote economic growth and industrial development.
Luthuli was only 37 when she assumed an executive role for the first time, in her previous job, at PetroSA. She joined the IDC in July last year, working with four heads in marketing, CRM, CSI and facilities management. Her work is in perfect alignment with her goals.
“A woman’s role is in the kitchen? A woman’s role is in bigger kitchens nowadays, [kitchens] that make stuff, create stuff and create employment,” says Luthuli, referring to the umpteen factories and industries that women lead today.
It’s a far cry from when her mother struggled to send her to university. Born in KwaZulu-Natal, Luthuli worked very hard in order not to disappoint her mother, and graduated in communications.
Thereafter, she says she was always fortunate finding employment.
That’s also because she was willing to take risks. “I always knew I wanted to be in a corporate environment.”
But she has a piece of advice for young people. “If you want a job, make one,” she says.
“With challenges, you learn, you grow, you adjust. There will be a woman who has been there before, so rely on her skills. It’s important to have a mentor. You need to understand the lay of the land, understand the organization.
“And always look for a business opportunity in what you do while you are employed. There are so many creative ideas we encounter on a daily basis. Whilst you are working, work on your dream, work on an idea, have a back-up plan.”
What are some of the most offbeat entrepreneurial ideas Luthuli has seen come her way?
“We find quite a few blueberry farms in South Africa!” she offers.
A single mother, with two girls aged 13 and nine, Luthuli says it’s important to rely on support systems. She took up an MBA degree after the birth of her children. But in the end, it’s about finding what works.
“Balance is something you create that’s relevant to your own situation and environment. Balance is also taking into account your own personal journey at a given time.”
The articulate executive says she has gone through enough pain and loss in her life that she knows it’s teaching her something every day.
“Our challenges may be different but let’s not dim our lights, let’s help each other,” says Luthuli, and you know that’s exactly what she’s doing at the IDC, lending her creative energies and late hours for Africa and its people.
Ten minutes into the interview and it’s easy to tell Lizeka Matshekga is a soft-spoken powerhouse. While that may sound an oxymoron, this is a person with enough years in the financial services industry and multiple accolades in her trophy cabinet.
“I don’t want to call it success,” says Matshekga, with a quiet confidence.
“I am hungry. When you have hunger, you keep growing. I am hungry for information and knowledge. It has nothing to do with success. It’s really about wanting to know more every day.”
Matshekga has been with the IDC for 10 years, and is the Divisional Executive of Agro, Infrastructure & New Industries.
With a master’s degree in Development Finance from the University of Stellenbosch, an honors degree in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management from the University of Cape Town, and a BCom degree from the University of Western Cape, she has had 22 years in the financial services sector, in areas such as investment banking, treasury, turnaround and restructuring management, BEE financing and post investment management.
Last year in November, at the IDC, Matshekga scooped four awards, the most anyone won that year.
From Gugulethu, a township in the Western Cape, she stumbled into finance studies quite by accident.
“I wanted to be a scientist or doctor. I applied for BCom by mistake. My mother asked me to try it for a week, and I loved it! It was in my destiny.”
Matshekga’s mother, now 68, was a domestic worker who raised the children on her own.
“I had no access to bursaries. It was my twin sister’s biology teacher who helped me get the R1,000 ($73) registration fee for my BCom. It’s people like that I am grateful for today because he saw something in me. That’s the seed I needed.
“I always have this notion that your circumstances do not define your future. Almost every black child has faced poverty in childhood. In Gugulethu, most kids didn’t have hope. I was hungry to make a difference.”
She came to Johannesburg, which further fueled the hunger in her. Matshekga worked with Standard Bank Corporate Merchant Bank, and was with the National Empowerment Fund for three years. She joined the IDC and “has not looked back since”.
“I have been through the entire investment cycle at the IDC,” she says.
In 2011, she was asked to head up forestry within the IDC. She had never been exposed to the sector or been “a deal-maker”, so she thought: ‘how do I start?’
The unit was at its lowest in terms of performance when she took over, going up to “Top 5 in operations in the front office” by the end of the year, remaining that way for a while. Soon, Matshekga was also asked to take over the green industries sector, now called industrial infrastructure. Her mantra?
“I create an environment for my people to feel they are adding value and can be creative. It’s not my way or the highway… I also don’t limit myself to my focus area, I always look for things beyond my zone.
“I always tell youngsters at the IDC that your mentor needn’t be a senior, your mentor could be a peer. When you have friendships, let it add value. Don’t be shy to ask a team member. There are no stupid questions. You always come out of that engagement empowered.
“I always use the tested approach,” she says. “The IDC has invested so many development tools in ensuring where I am today.”
She is passionate about the new emerging industries of the future, and believes it will be her legacy.
A mother of three children, aged 16, 11 and three, Matshekga puts in enough late nights, knowing the larger purpose of her work. Thankfully, she says she has a supportive husband, which helps as her diary is more hectic than his.