MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2013/14

THE LEADING EDGE | ​Development Zone

 

Taking off to Sunny Horizons

by Shalane van Rensburg

 

Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius Regional Manager: Southern Africa and Latin America, has 17 years’ experience in the aviation industry. She personally takes on the task of ensuring that employees are developed through mentoring and constant movement, and that they are actively involved in the company’s programmes.

 

Carla embarked on her aviation career as a South African Airways (SAA) air hostess, something which she is immensely proud of. Today, she holds the position of Vice President of the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (BARSA), is a trustee of the Aviation Co-ordination Services, and is a Director of Air Mauritius SA (Pty) Ltd. She firmly believes in imparting knowledge, in providing her team and region with leadership, and in enabling others to grow. "I like to reward top performers and to incorporate these achievers in strategic meetings, sales 

conferences and key customer meetings. This ultimately inspires them and ensures their continual growth and exposure to new learning. We constantly encourage pioneering ideas and innovative approaches as significant indicators on scorecards. We do this so that our business remains truly sustainable within an industry sector where it is not easy to turn a profit,” Carla explains.

 

Rewarding staff for innovative and outstanding performance is realised in various ways, using non-monetary methods. For example, personnel may be granted a complimentary day or afternoon off (a ‘duvet day’). “Through our annual staff awards, top performers are acknowledged. Together with such recognition, packaged holidays to Mauritius are awarded, which employees are often unable to otherwise afford. We also reward top performers by nominating them as tour leaders, who are then invited to participate in educational visits to the island that are arranged by our travel partners and tour operators. This further empowers our staff and assists them to understand first-hand our value proposition. It also allows individuals to be the brand and to sell the product on an incredibly personal and intimate level.”

 

Carla goes on to stress the importance of her people. “Staff wellbeing is paramount at Air Mauritius. Ensuring that the basics such as medical schemes, vitality programmes, a pension fund, and training programmes, as well as celebrating special occasions such as birthdays and more, go a very long way.”‘The Duracell Bunny’, as she is fondly referred to by those nearest and dearest to her; Carla’s parents taught her all that she treasures, including the following vital lessons: Never forget your roots; always be humble; and never hold grudges. This multilingual dynamo (Carla speaks and reads six languages) is incredibly modest. Little is ever mentioned of her present studies towards her PhD in aviation leadership or of how, as the youngest person and one of only a very few women enrolled, she managed to excel in her MBA – and as a working mother to boot.

 

Women of Worth (WOW)

In her private capacity, Carla is actively involved in raising funds for a very worthy cause. Also supporting at a corporate level, and in her prominent positioning within the aviation sector, Carla is passionate about Women of Worth (WOW), which cares for thousands of orphaned children and abused women, on an annual basis. Founded by Dr Beverly Wolmarans, the ‘I am Worthy Boutique’ was born to not only add to the daily beauty regimes of women on a physical level, but more importantly, to uplift spiritual morale and contribute back financially to the South African community.

 

“The deepest desire of my heart is to see ladies of all ages excel in every area of life - fulfilling their dreams and visions and being set free from any bondage that would hold them back from being all they can be,” explains Dr Wolmarans. “For this reason WOW was established, in 2009 worldwide, to bring the very best range of products to uplift, inspire and energise. Sold only through the ‘I am Worthy Boutique’ (www.iamworthy.com), these remarkable products are original, and created specifically to make one feel special.” She firmly believes that every woman can walk in victory and in the knowledge that they can conquer the world. “Women are at the heart of the nation, city and family and have a natural passion against injustice.”

 

The current ‘I Am Worthy’ vision is to build a Children’s Village, to care for 1 000 homeless and abandoned children. The land has already been purchased, and plans are currently underway to establish this nurturing sanctuary, complete with a clinic, schools, as well as dedicated women to care for this young community. With her incredible determination, heart and connections within the aviation industry, Carla has implored many female captains of industry to adopt this particular cause. Says Carla, “I have been supporting the ‘Women of Worth Boutique’ for the past three years. I am extremely dedicated to issues concerning the empowerment and advancement of women, and especially children in need. We, as women (and men) need to stand together in assisting in the building of future leaders of our country. This new Children’s Village will provide the necessary education and grounding - through integrity, honesty, love and good sound morals and principles, for the business world of tomorrow.”

 

Empowering women and caring for widows and orphans are high on WOW’s agenda, and it supports these causes with the collective time, resources and finance, of all those involved.  Each product imparts an affirmation statement of, ‘I Am Worthy.’ This reminds every woman, of how special she is to God. WOW now also has a spa with three therapists, where one can enjoy and relax whilst supporting a phenomenal cause. What’s more, all the products are natural and proudly South African.

 

Business Sense

Carla believes that women in business today, must demonstrate a clear respect and appreciation for the African continent, legacy, culture, language, diversity and empowerment initiatives in South Africa. “Understanding our continent and its political affairs, our economies and establishing a broad knowledge of what is taking place in business, is worth its weight in gold.” She adds that continuously keeping abreast and differentiating oneself in the constantly evolving global village is paramount in any career. “We are moving into a ‘green’ world. Air Mauritius, in compliance with this, plants a tree every time we take-off. This adds value to our communities, and serves as an example of the national carrier redefining itself.” Carla describes how a woman (and man) should exhibit the following traits in business, in order to contribute positively to any organisation or business: He or she must be colourful, honest, and humane, lead with a heart, be absolutely focused and possess perseverance, energy and an edge. Carla is also a firm believer in individuals creating a dream wall - which he or she believes in, and employs to leave footprints in hearts of those involved in and along their visionary journey. A tall order it may seem, but one Carla achieves with ease and professional grace.

 

To conclude, Carla shares her two favourite quotes, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” by Nelson Mandela and “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new,” by Albert Einstein. “It is very hard getting up after you have fallen or made a mistake, but getting up; remaining focussed, determined and confident about your goal - is what matters. You will succeed, achieve, and your dream wall will come alive – if you learn from your mistakes, arise and keep going,” wise words from Carla.

 

 

Living the Brand

by Valdi Pereira

 

While it is not unheard of women to spend 20 or more years in one career field it is certainly less commonplace for such women to have been honoured by their peers for their professional achievements during their career.

 

Koo Govender, the Corporate Marketing and Communications Director at M-Net, is one of the few to enjoy this recognition and, sharing her success story, says it’s all about one’s attitude. “Always have a good attitude for it determines your altitude. My mantra is that life is not only about success but about significance and living your true potential,” says Koo. What has been her recipe for success? “Be open to opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take risks, set goals for yourself and work hard to achieve them but, most importantly, never give up,” she advises. While the road to success will always have its fair share of travails, Koo stresses, “Keep your eyes fixed on your goal and you will get there”.

 

Career Highlights

The more than two decades spent in the industry have come with many a career highlight. But Koo singles out, among many, the launching of M-Net’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) brand, which, she shares, “Meant a lot to me on a personal and business level”. Another of Koo’s milestones has been the three year stint spent as the first chairperson of Promax Africa, a part of Promax which is the world’s premier body for promotion and marketing professionals working in electronic and broadcast media. That she was the first person and, a woman for that matter, is a feat on its own. Worth noting is that, before the apex position, Koo had won numerous awards most notably the Loeries and the International Promax Awards. These are lifetime achievements, to which every professional aspires, yet Koo humbly comments: “It is always an honour to be recognised by your peers and be awarded for the good work. However, the awards I have are not about Koo the individual. Rather, they are a result of team work and raising the bar for your brand.”

 

With the Community at Heart

Some of the initiatives close to Koo’s heart, which have grown the M-Net brand, are the Carte Blanche Making A Difference Trust Fund and M-Net Cares. “These two initiatives focus on making a difference in communities where it’s needed most - in this way we create a visible difference that will last for a long time,” she says. Koo shares that the Carte Blanche Making A Difference Trust has facilitated the construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art paediatric health facility, the BHP Billiton Centre for Excellence at King Edward Hospital. “This is an incredible feat that will enable doctors to save the lives of many children in KwaZulu Natal in the future,” she says. Koo further reveals that the current M-Net Cares strategy is to boost education in under privileged communities by giving children access to technology. In this regard, M-Net recently donated 20 computers to a school in Kagiso, Johannesburg, and is supporting an information and communications technology (ICT) learning centre in Mpumalanga.

 

Having reached what many may perceive as the peak of success, Koo and M-Net have by no means stopped; they are determined to conquer new territories. But, Koo notes, any change and growth that occurs has to start on home soil. “M-Net is an ever evolving business which continues to bring the best entertainment possible to our audiences,” she observes. A sneak peek into the future with M-Net reveals that there are exciting developments on the local production front. Among others, there are movies on AfricaMagic and MzansiMagic channels, South Africa Big Brother for MzansiMagic and kykNET. Fans of Survivor can look forward to yet another offering on M-Net channel 101. The newly launched channels are filled with equally great programming. M-Net has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, Koo elaborates. “M-Net has an extended footprint in Africa and we have created many channels and shows to speak to the needs of Africa’s diverse audiences. Our AfricaMagic brand is well-loved across the continent,” she enthuses.

 

Success on All Fronts

Undeniably, Koo lives the M-Net brand but she goes home every day to her family - a husband and two teenage sons. Interestingly, Koo’s marriage is about as old as her career - 20 years, which is evidence that Koo is successful on all fronts. To wind down, she plays golf and does some interior decorating. Koo is as people centred within the community as she is in her work environment. “As a regional pastor for the church, I also assist with church initiatives to help disadvantaged communities and orphans,” states Koo who adds that, ever the marketer, she lends a hand on marketing initiatives for the church.

 

Empowered to Empower

Having empowered herself, Koo says she is passionate about women empowerment in the workplace. To ensure this, Koo has mentored and coached many talented women and takes it a notch up by giving motivational talks on women empowerment and mentoring. ‘Been there and done it all’ is not a phrase in Koo’s vocabulary for new challenges beckon. “My next goal is to create a new career challenge for myself. I also want to lead a balanced life and spend more time with my family,” she contends, urging all South Africans to always strive to see how they can have a positive impact and make a difference in underprivileged communities.  

 

It has been a personal and professional life with many highlights thus far, and a story worth telling. Koo is an inspiration to many women, particularly young executives, but she aims to exceed her own expectations and scale to greater heights.  How will Koo achieve this? “I believe that one’s real purpose in life is to develop themselves in a holistic manner. To achieve this, and successfully so, one must always be working towards a goal,” she concludes.

 

 

 

Journey to Success

by Valdi Pereira

 

While many of the world’s developed economies continue to stutter in the wake of the global recession, Africa finds itself on the threshold of strong economic growth. To take advantage of this opportunity the continent will not only need physical resources, but strong business leaders who are equipped with a high level of commercial acumen.

 

“There are certainly exciting times ahead for the African continent,” shares Professor Elmarie Sadler, acting Executive Director & CEO, Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL). “Our expertise in distance learning is well-known and from that viewpoint alone I think we will have a role to play in developing business leadership skills on the continent.” With some 50 Doctor of Business Leadership (DBL) students in Ethiopia – who benefit from monthly contact sessions with SBL staff – and 26 senior Eritrean government officials waiting to kick off their studies with the business school next year, it is clear that Sadler does not simply wait for opportunities to arise – she goes out to find them.

 

She reveals that SBL has some 300 DBL students, of whom a fair proportion resides on the rest of the continent. “Not only do we have the largest complement of postgraduate business leadership students, we probably have one of the most diverse, and this is certainly one of our differentiators. Our students also benefit from the close working relationship we have with the Unisa College of Graduate Studies, who work with us to ensure our doctoral offering is one of the best available.” A Chartered Accountant by profession, Sadler felt the lure of the academic world from an early age. When she left KPMG to join Unisa at the age of 24, she became the youngest female professor in the history of the then Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the age of 27.

 

“Aside from my passion for research, I am a firm believer in the power of mentoring students and young academics, particularly those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. The work I have done in this space over the years has given me a unique perspective on some of the transformation challenges we face.” This knowledge has no doubt been one of the key factors in her appointment at the SBL. “I have been tasked with developing and implementing a new strategy for the SBL - the end goal being to establish it as the business school of choice,” she explains.

 

New Demands

Her efforts at repositioning the school are taking place against the backdrop of shifting priorities amongst students and employers in the executive education field. Employment opportunities for skilled executives across the world have resulted in students placing a premium on the international recognition of their qualifications. “On the international business circuit one very often comes across executives that are working in countries that are far away from their land of birth – the impact of globalisation is becoming very apparent and it is understandable that students want to have their qualifications recognised in as many markets as possible,” Sadler observes.

 

While the SBL is making good progress in building international relations and collaborations with institutions such as the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands to secure international recognition. Sadler is not convinced that all the current trends make sense in the long-term. “There has been a sharp increase in the development of specialised MBAs. I acknowledge that in certain industries it can be beneficial. However, I believe that business is looking for a generalist who is able to adapt to the business environment. We have a proud history of producing these generalists and I have no doubt their skills will still be recognised as an important value proposition in the workplace.”

 

The demand for executive education programmes has increased significantly in recent years. Many industry associations are seeking guidance from business schools with respect to the appropriate training and skills development mechanisms that can be utilised to afford their members a form of industry certification.The SBL has recently been appointed by the South African Police Service to provide management training to its middle and senior level officers. Several entry-level managers from the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department are currently enrolled on the SBL’s Fundamental Management Programme.

 

Servant Leadership

Sadler is a firm believer in the value of servant leadership. This approach is being advocated by Unisa’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya, in an effort to restore perspective to leadership responsibilities at the university. “I think in many ways women are very good at servant leadership,” comments Sadler. “It is a role we seem to adopt naturally. I am however of the opinion that one should not make too much of a distinction between male and female approaches to leadership. Gender should not be a definitive factor in leadership.”She is also of the view that debates around a uniquely African approach to leadership, should be considered in the context of the global leadership paradigm. The basic principles of leadership remain the same, it is how you apply these principles and the context in which you operate that is the distinguishing aspect of individual leadership.

 

Looking ahead, Sadler notes that ensuring greater alignment between the SBL’s community involvement and its research work is going to be very important. Historically the business school has not had research focus areas, which directed the efforts of its students. “This disconnect needs to be addressed, we have an opportunity to play a greater leadership role in our communities and contribute to their development. If we know what the needs are in our communities, we can direct our research efforts towards understanding and resolving these needs.”

 

Aside from pursuing mutually beneficial research objectives, she is also going to ensure that research ethics are appropriately addressed. In the past the vast body of knowledge produced by students could not be published because the business school did not aid students in undertaking ethical compliance – the establishment of a research clearance centre will resolve this dilemma. “We have all the ingredients we need to establish ourselves as a business school of choice - the challenge is pulling it all together and making it work,” she concludes.

 

annelizew@ceomag.co.za 

 

 

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