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The Afro-Optimist: This UK-Based CEO On Her Passion For Africa And Its Resilient, Entrepreneurial Mind-Set

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Cheryl Buss, the UK-based CEO of Absa International, on her passion for Africa and its resilient, entrepreneurial mind-set.

Cheryl Buss lives by the mantra “smooth seas don’t make for good sailors”.

It was a quote she first heard Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s former CEO Arno van der Merwe use and one that has helped her navigate countries where populism, polarization and Brexit are rife.

It is a saying that will no doubt help the CEO of Absa International deal with one of the biggest challenges the world is facing – Covid-19, a deadly virus that is sending shivers down the spines of economies around the globe.

But for now, Buss is using her mantra to gain business in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The UK-based career banker wants to take Africa to Absa’s clients in the UK and the US and bring the bank’s clients to Africa, a continent she is very passionate about.

She is working hard to convince businesses that want to invest in Africa, to bank with Absa on the continent.

 Her passion for both the continent and her job is driving her success in this endeavor.

“I’m passionate about the business in which we work and I am passionate about the opportunity for Absa and for Africa. I think that if you are passionate about what you do and you show up positive, that tends to hopefully spread around and is hopefully catchy,” says Buss, dressed in an elegant dark blue dress.

As she explains her passion for Africa to FORBES AFRICA, Buss’s eyes light up. The continent offers experience, diversity, opportunity in agriculture, farming and the provision of food supply, she says.

Excitedly, she adds it has the world’s biggest population of youth that if harnessed correctly will see the continent beaming with new ideas and new thoughts.

Africa’s people are another element that makes her an Afro-optimist.

Explaining, she says: “It struck me going into Zimbabwe a couple of years ago… this was probably three, four years ago, just a load of poverty, you can just see the roads are in bad shape, everywhere you look, you see people with beaming smiles. You think ‘God, what are you smiling at?’. But it is just African people, we are taught to be resilient, we are taught to come back and I think that is part of the excitement through which you see this entrepreneurial development and mind-set.”

But Buss does not just plan to take the conversation about Africa to the UK and the US, where the bank recently received regulatory approval to operate and has started engaging with clients, but also to Asia.

Confidently, she says “you would have seen Charles Russon, who is our CEO of Corporate and Investment Banking, alluding to the fact that we would be, we are considering what the China strategy would be like, that would be rather our next port of call… China is our first consideration that we are working with our strategy team to see and understand what that would look like and then there is the Middle East-Asia consideration as well, so we would look to kind of have the four corners.”

High in emotional intelligence, a trait the charismatic leader believes she picked up by being open to change, resilient to failure and open to learn, she says she wants to build the international business to be in the best place ever.

“For me, I want it to be ‘wow, that business didn’t actually have a blip it carried on’.”

How does she plan to get there?

“It is about that close personal touch, I like to have close personal relationships with my teams, with the people I deal with and the people I mentor and make sure I am offering guidance at the right level and I like to build close relationships with my clients as well…

“Banks are a commodity so the real differentiator is the people you employ in the bank and how they show up to our clients.”

-Monique Vanek

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