Forbes Businesswoman of the Year 2014, Phuti Mahanyele, is a relatively young South African CEO with a heart firmly vested in the principle of being of service to not only yourself, but also to others.
At the head of the Shanduka group sits a phenomenal, and relatively young, businesswoman. Besides having scooped up the Motlekar Holdings Platinum Award at the recent BBQ Awards, Phuti Mahanyele has been announced by Forbes as its Business Women of Year for 2014.
In an exclusive with BBQ, Mahanyele spoke about her role as a leading woman in South Africa and gave us an inside look at the challenges faced by business in 2014.
Growing up in Soweto, Mahanyele remembers her family relocating a number of times, moving to Lesotho with her younger sister during the political turmoil of the apartheid years, and then finally Johannesburg where she matriculated at Mc-Auley House Convent. After completing her undergraduate in the United States, she decided to carry on studying and also finished her MBA in the UK.
“My parents were firstly my big role models. My father in particular, having lived with us longer, since my mother unfortunately passed when I was much younger. Just looking at them, their life and where they started. They came from families that could not afford to help them with opportunities, but they were able to create opportunities for themselves, and in so-doing were able to create opportunities for other people. So watching them was a great inspiration for me. Besides for them I was able to draw inspiration from a myriad of people and I do not want to name people because I will leave out others. The people who have inspired me have inspired me because of what they were able to overcome, and the ability to have this commitment to serving others, not just only serving themselves,” she says.
Looking at business in 2014, few would be able to deny the challenges across the board. As Mahanyele explains, 2014 has been a year we have seen the importance of being to deal with a changing environment in various areas in business. According to her it has been a year of “hard work” with companies having to have changed the way they approach business and changes in the corporate environment.
“There has also been economic challenges which I think has impacted everyone. You will see that many of our industries have been impacted by the changes in the economy. I think as we move into next year, a big part of next year will be about being able to continue to steer the economy and therefor our businesses in the face of these changes for us to be able to at least hold on to these businesses in the interim. In the interim you have businesses that are also dependant on consumers to be able to purchase certain goods. And what we have seen is the declining capacity of consumers to purchase goods and that has largely been led by the significant unemployment rate that we continue to see,” she says.
Mahanyele also uses the mining sector to demonstrate and explains that in the past Gold was a very good economic barometer we could use, but now see it very negatively impacted. She does however say that from a public sector perspective we have good people who she thinks will be able to steer us positively ahead, as well as strong leaders in the private sector taking the reins.
“The issue is being able to deal with the fact that we have a public sector that is facing a very big budget deficit. So we have our own challenges that we are facing, but there are also challenges a number of economies worldwide face. When you look at what is happening globally, you see that big countries such as China, who export significantly from South Africa, are not in a position to acquire as much as they used to from us because of the challenges that they themselves face. So it is a difficult time, but I think we should be able to get through it.“I don’t see next year as a year you know where will be seeing significant growth, I think it will really be about being able to steer your business in the face of you know the continued challenges. So the ability to manage your business in a manner that is able to face adversities, will really be I think that will be an important issue for the leaders of various businesses,” she says.
Looking at wider challenges such as gender transformation however, South Africa is making good progress. Mahanyele says that when looking at gender transformation in South Africa, we will notice that the country is at the top in terms of numbers, but says that this mostly due to the public sector placing women in senior roles which is not often the case in the private sector.
“Personally I think that businesses need to find ways to be able to tap in to the capability of the people they have regardless of their gender. Unfortunately we still have significant challenges in South Africa in spite of the fact that we are reflected very well when it comes to numbers. It is up to women to be very clear about what it is that is important to them. I think it is important that we uphold our families above everything, but I think it is also important that we take into account our capabilities and in doing so allow ourselves the ability to contribute to whatever sphere it is that we have a capacity for; whether in the arts, business, or whatever it is.
“I do not think that every woman is supposed to only be a mother. I think motherhood is a wonderful thing, but I think that people can be mothers and artists, mothers and businesspeople, mothers and whatever role it is that they would like to play,” she says.
Having been announced as the ForbesWoman Africa Business Woman of the Year in 2014, Mahanyele has walked away with the Motlekar Holdings Platinum Award at the recent BBQ Awards. She says that these awards are not only a recognition of the work that she does on her own, but also the work she does with those she is fortunate enough to work with.
“And you know and it is also the recognition of the role of women. And so you know that is why I am very thankful and hold these awards in high regards. If you came into my office you would see the BBQ award sitting here. So I am very thankful for the awards that I receive. It is a tremendous recognition for the work that we do not only in the organisation, but the work that we do as women,” she says.
When asked about highlights in her career, Mahanyele says that working with the Shanduka group has been an amazing experience, exactly because of the culture within the organisation. “Regardless of what it is that you earn, and regardless of the role that you play in the organisation, that you can do something for someone else. It is wonderful to work in an organisation that understands the importance of that. Whether it is through the schools we adopt in various parts of the country, or the business people that we help through the Shanduka black umbrellas where we support people through their journeys of entrepreneurship.
“Also personally, the engagements that I have with various professionals and students, helping them as they grow and go their various trajectories as professionals is something that I really value. It is so wonderful when you are somewhere and you happen to bump into someone who you know has learned something from you,” she says.
As for the near future, Mahanyele says that there are no immediate plans she can share, but that as soon as something new is on the horizon she will be sure to do so. She concludes by saying that if she could leave behind a legacy, “it would be a legacy of remembering the importance of giving back.”