Phuti Mahanyele: Steering the big ship of Shanduka

2013-12-01 14:00

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Phuti Mahanyele’s business acumen and sharp mind have worked in her favour, reports Mamello Masote

When Cyril Ramaphosa hand-picks you to work for him, and hands over the reins of his company to you, you know you have done something right.

And there is not a box that Shanduka Group CEO Phuti Mahanyele does not tick.

Armed with business acumen and a sharp mind, she was in the right place at the right time. Her career was ready to take off at about the same time the country was moving into democracy. Mahanyele saw an opportunity to shine.

“What made me come back [from the US] was that it was 1994 and the dawn of a new democracy in SA.

“So I really saw it as a huge opportunity for South Africans, but specifically for all South Africans, to be in the country.

“I was starting my career and thought I definitely wanted to be in South Africa. Discussions around black economic empowerment were starting and I was keen to get exposed to that,” says Mahanyele.

She acted in an advisory capacity on many Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) transactions through her work for an American consulting firm.

Mahanyele was on her way to start a new job in 2004 when she got a call that would change her life.

“I’m not quite sure what led to the phone call, but Mr [Cyril] Ramaphosa called and arranged for us to meet.

“I was due to start work at another company but after meeting him, my mind was made up. At the time, Shanduka was a two-year-old business, but just the opportunity to work for him [was so] overwhelming,” says Mahanyele.

She has nothing but glowing praise for Ramaphosa’s leadership style and qualities.

“For me, he has been an amazing leader. He’s very down-to-earth and knows everybody in the organisation. If he sees someone he doesn’t know, he wants to know who that person is.

“He engages with everybody so it really has been a privilege for me to work with him.”

And as Ramaphosa moves full time into political life, Mahanyele plans to grow the Shanduka portfolio that has investments in companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, property investments, financial services and resources.

Shanduka has 25 investments in South Africa and on the continent including telecoms in Nigeria, energy in Mozambique and property in Ghana.

The current net asset value of the portfolio is just under R10?billion.

One way the company may look to grow is through a listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Says Mahanyele: “We have a number of opportunities for growth and listing could be one of them. But not necessarily the whole group, it could be a part of Shanduka.

“We look at these options from time to time and what would be in our best interests.”

The company also plays a major role in mentoring budding entrepreneurs through its Black Umbrellas initiative.

The initiative strives to develop 100% black-owned businesses so they can gain access to markets, finance and networks and facilitate access to these opportunities.

Mahanyele says: “The reality is that for young people coming out of school or university, a career option is typically not entrepreneurship, it’s not something that we talk about.

“It’s a bit of a cultural change that we [South Africans] must make entrepreneurship be seen as an option that one can pursue and is worth pursuing. It’s not about survival; it’s another area of growth.”

Mahanyele is a passionate advocate of BEE, the subject of her Master’s thesis. She thinks judgment on the policy has come too early and that the private sector has not completely come to the party.

“I think the government has done a lot for BEE. They’ve put out the legislation, the parastatals have put out the opportunities and they’ve really put a lot into it.

“It’s the private sector that is not participating significantly in BEE, so when we look at an issue like entrepreneurship it’s the private sector that’s not participating,” she says.

Mahanyele adds that the private sector is not doing enough to support and nurture small black-owned businesses through procurement.

Who is Phuti Mahanyele?

Shanduka Group CEO Phuti Mahanyele joined the company as managing director of Shanduka Energy in 2004.

Before that, she was head of project finance for South Africa at the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and, prior to that, she worked at investment company Fieldstone (in South Africa and New York), eventually becoming its vice-president.

Mahanyele has an MBA from De Montfort University in Leicester in the UK and a BA in economics from Rutgers University (State University of New Jersey).

In 2007, she was selected as a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.

In 2008, the Wall Street Journal listed her as one of the top 50 women in the world to watch.

She is on the boards of a few Shanduka companies, such as Pan African Resources and Lonmin.

Her late father, Mohale Mahanyele, was the chairperson and founder of National Sorghum Breweries.

Mahanyele is understood to have been involved in a relationship with the group president and CEO of MTN Group, Sifiso Dabengwa, but neither of them have ever confirmed it.

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