Phuti Mahanyele: Change agent

2015-03-01 15:00

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Shanduka CEO Phuti Mahanyele has never been one for pomp and ceremony.

Maybe that’s why it feels strangely appropriate to be hunched over my steering wheel in a mall parking lot on a Sunday afternoon, scribbling notes while Mahanyele talks me through her low-key departure from the empowerment investment group founded by Cyril Ramaphosa long before he became deputy president.

This was supposed to be a face-to-face interview, but Mahanyele’s plans changed. News of her resignation will break the next day, to the surprise of most in the industry. But Mahanyele, who formally steps down in June, is taking it in her stride.

Over the past decade, she’s let her work speak for itself. Quietly, she’s helped grow the company’s net asset value to about R8?billion.

Making money was, of course, part of the challenge, but Mahanyele is also going to miss giving back to communities – she says this is what made her job worth it.

“I’m going to miss a lot about Shanduka – the culture most of all,” she says.

“You know, here at Shanduka, it was almost as though everyone had been injected with something. Everybody you would talk to – whether they were a director or someone who made tea – would tell you something about what the organisation was doing or what they themselves were doing for the foundation.

“At any given time, there would be people running a campaign to help one of our schools. It was incredible. I loved being here and loved the kind of people we had here. It is a fantastic organisation and I’m sure it will continue to be.”

Education is one of Shanduka’s big focus areas through its Adopt-a-School Foundation.

The foundation has adopted a number of schools, to which it offers strategic and financial support.

“Every year, there is a day where Shanduka goes to one of our schools and we spend the day there; we do whatever work needs to be done at the school,” Mahanyele explains.

“It’s so wonderful to engage with teachers because these are the people who change the lives of young people every day, and they don’t get the recognition. So it’s been good to be a part of that.”

The business side of things has also offered some memorable transactions – such as when Shanduka Beverages was appointed as one of Coca-Cola’s four franchised bottlers in South Africa.

Shanduka owns 70% of Shanduka Beverages, while the Coca-Cola Company owns 30%. The company employs more than 800 permanent staff.

“In the beginning, [Shanduka Beverages] was a business facing significant challenges in terms of profitability,” Mahanyele says.

“And then our human resources director, Yvonne Themba, brought in a gentleman by the name of Matshela Seshibe [MD of Shanduka Coca-Cola Beverages], who came in and completely turned that business around. Having been a part of working with people like that will stay with me for a very long time.”

Mahanyele is not shy to give credit to her people, calling them part of her legacy at Shanduka.

“I am not speaking for other black economic empowerment companies, but what can tend to happen is that we kind of redo what other corporates are doing, and those corporates will tend to work across a variety of things.

At Shanduka, though, the company wanted to “focus on education and go deep into that”.

“So, for other empowerment companies, it is important for them to see what is the key area they would like to make a difference in and focus on that, because capital and resources are limited – and you want to be able to put your capital and resources into that one area so you can make an impact.”

It all sounds too good to leave behind – so what comes next for Mahanyele?

She’s off to start her own investment business. She says last year’s merger between Shanduka and Pembani, after Ramaphosa shelved business for politics, had nothing to do with her decision.

She says she always planned to leave at some point.

“Fortunately, I’ve been in this [environment] now for so many years. I have to admit, I am quite excited. It’s weird. There so many opportunities – but there are also so many challenges, as you know, in South Africa.

“So the opportunities are there, and it’s just for one to focus and put one’s mind to it – and I am keen to do that.”

What’s the biggest thing being Shanduka’s CEO has taught her?

“The ability to adapt to change. That has been a huge lesson.”

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