More and more, African women are moving away from their traditional homemaking role and making a real mark on the continent’s business scene. As an increasing number of women shake of traditional shackles and mix it with their male counterparts in the moneymaking sector, Tom Jackson looks at ten who have accumulated sizeable power in African business.
53-year-old South African Ramos heads up Absa Group, South Africa’s largest bank. Absa is majority-owned by Barclays and posted sizeable profits last year. She is in charge of the integration of Barclays and Absa’s African units in order to further its “One Bank in Africa” strategy and push regional growth. Ramos joined Absa in 2009, having previously had a rich career in the public sector, serving as Group CEO of Transnet Limited, the state-owned rail, pipeline and ports agency. She also served as South Africa’s director general of the National Treasury in the first post-apartheid government. She is married to former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
Mzimela is the first female Chief Executive Officer of South African Airways (SAA), having been appointed to the role in February 2010. She was the first woman to be appointed to the International Air Transport Association’s board of directors in 67 years. Previously CEO of South African Express Airway (SAX), Mzimela’s first job was in the small business and retail division of Standard Bank in 1991. Three years later she joined Total SA as a Corporate Planning Analyst responsible for managing capital projects, before joining SA Airways (SAA) in 1996 as a research analyst. After various promotions at SAA, Mzimela was appointed Executive Vice-President of global passenger services in 2001, later taking on responsibility for global sales and the airline’s Voyager programme. She is also a board member of SA Tourism and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. In 2002, she was a finalist in the Nedbank Businesswoman of the Year Award.
CEO of the South African arm of Luxembourg-based global steel company ArcelorMittal, the largest producer of steel on the continent, Nyembezi-Heita has had a difficult year after the firm reported drooping returns and pessimistic projections for the future coming quarters in late July when stock prices hit their lowest low since 2008, slumping to roughly $9 a share. Nyembezi-Heita has attributed the fall to the worldwide economic situation and a slowdown in construction. She has been in her post since 2008, having begun her career as an engineer at IBM’s Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. She then worked for IBM in Dallas before returning to work for the company in South Africa. Nyembezi-Heita then switched direction to head the financial services group, Alliance Capital Management before joining Vodacom as head of its Mergers and Acquisition division.
Nombulelo “Pinky” Moholi is the Chief Executive Officer of Telkom SA Limited. She was appointed CEO on 1 April 2011. She first joined Telkom in 1994 as General Manager of Payphones, serving as Chief Sales and Marketing Officer between 2002 and 2005 before leaving for a stint as Group Executive of Strategy, Marketing and Corporate Affairs at the Nedbank Group. She re-joined Telkom in May 2009 as Managing Director of Telkom SA. Moholi is the holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Cape Town, and before joining Telkom in 1994 worked for GEC and Siemens (South Africa).
The founder of Mmakau Mining, the successful mining firm with assets in gold, platinum, uranium, coal, chrome and exploration, Radebe started out by working in mines herself. Now the president of the South African Mining Development Association, she is the older sister of South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe and married to South Africa Justice Minister Jeff Radebe. She was the first black woman in the country to found her own mining company, overcoming racial and gender prejudice. While her net worth is large, it is currently not published. Radebe received the International Businessperson of the Year Award in 2008 from the Global Foundation for Democracy.
Charnley, 52, is a former trade unionist who has amassed a net worth of $150 million. Currently the CEO of Smile Telecoms, a telecommunications products company working out of Mauritius, she first made a mark as a negotiator for the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa. Later she became Executive Director at MTN, Africa’s largest teleco. There she led the company’s expansion across Africa and beyond, helping to acquire licences from Nigeria to Iran. She was as a result rewarded with MTN stock worth $150 million, though she left the company under controversial circumstances in 2007. She has also been a director of FirstRand Bank, Johnnic and Johnnic Communications. Her current company, Smile Telecoms, helps lower-income individuals to have telecommunications and continues a line of anti-poverty programs Charnley began at MTN.
Eva Muraya is the CEO of Brand Strategy and Design Limited and holds over twenty years of diverse brand strategy development experience having managed the regional brand building programs for companies such as FedEx, The Standard Group, Block Hotels and Xerox. She is best known for her entrepreneurial success in building an award winning regional branded merchandise business, Color Creations Limited, which she has championed since 2002. Muraya’s entrepreneurship saw her selected in 2006 by the US State Department to represent Kenya in a premier U.S. government-sponsored program dubbed the Fortune/State Department International Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. She has been recognised in both her community and internationally for her business innovation and leadership.
Isabel Dos Santos
Dos Santos, 39, is the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. The millionaire businesswoman is estimated to be worth over $50 million, with interests in oil and diamonds. She also has shares in Angolan cement company Ciminvest and the Banco Africano de Investimentos. She is worth $170 million and originally made her mark in business at the age of 24 by using her father’s patronage to gain lucrative state contracts. She has fostered close business ties with Portugal, with her Maltese-registered investment firm holding a ten per cent stake in Portuguese media conglomerate Zon Multimedia. She also owns major stakes in Portuguese banks Banco Espírito Santo and Banco Português de Investimento, and in energy firm Energias de Portugal.
Hajia Bola Shagaya
The richest Nigerian businesswoman, Bola Shagaya has retained links with important figures in various administrations up to the present day and now enjoys a status as a queen of luxury. With interests in oil, banking, communications and photography, she has now also made steps into real estate, building hundreds of town houses for which renters pay $180,000 per year. Owning properties in Europe and America, she has become one of the biggest players in the lucrative Nigerian oil sector. She is Group Managing Director/CEO of Bolmus Group International and a board member of Unity Bank Plc, while she has served on numerous board committees and currently sits on the board for the National Economic Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), a Nigerian business group. With over 24 years of active local and international business experience, she had participated in many local and international seminars and workshops, including the Harvard Business School to keep abreast of developments in management techniques.
Retail tycoon Ackerman is worth $190.2 million, with the Ackerman Family Trust run by her and her husband owning about 50 percent of the major South African grocery chain Pick ‘n’ Pay. The $3 billion company owns outlets in Mozambique, Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Australia, with Ackerman acting as Executive Director.
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