Shoprite’s feminine touch

2012-08-18 15:32

The first woman director appointed to Africa’s retail giant tells Matabello Motloung about what drives her

“Shoprite receives a feminine touch” screamed one newspaper headline this week following the appointment, with immediate effect, of Dr Anna Mokgo­kong as Shoprite’s first female director since the company was founded in 1979.

What the headline unfortunately could not elaborate on is the type of feminine touch that Dr Mokgokong is certain to bring to the board of Africa’s largest retailer – a refreshingly colourful and “ballsy” one.

Anyone who’s met Dr Mokgokong will attest to two key attributes that have become her signature: she always strives to stand out and she is not shy to speak her mind.

This shows in how she dresses – fifth Avenue New York personified.

Dr Mokgokong is chic and quite glamorous at times – an anomaly in corporate South Africa, where blending in seems to be encouraged. However, she’s still refreshingly down to earth and unfailingly charming.

“I am a woman, and love looking like one. I love fashion and believe in looking my best at all times,” she says laughingly while speaking in Sepedi.
Today she’s wearing a purple wraparound scarf that has a touch of fur. Complementing it are a pair of matching leather gloves, a big purple Versace handbag, and lightly tinted designer sunglasses. Her make-up and hair, as expected, are flawless.

A medical doctor by profession, Dr Mokgokong has worked in business for the last 17 years. She was born in Pimville, Soweto, to a family of academics. Her uncle, Ephraim Mokgokong, is a gynaecologist and former vice chancellor of medical university Medunsa.

It was while studying towards her degree in medicine that she discovered her passion for business. She sold handbags for extra income as a student and in no time managed to grow the business into a store called Anna Belle in Pretoria, which she sold when she graduated.

In 1995, she cofounded Community Investment Holdings (CIH), an investment company of which she’s executive chair. Today, the firm owns interests across the technology, telecoms, logistics, mining, energy, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

It employs 40 000 people directly and indirectly – a responsibility that she is all too aware of.

“It’s a major thing, I tell you. It’s one of the reasons I have sleepless nights sometimes when I think of the thousands of people that in a way I am
responsible for via the investments my company owns.

“This is partly what drives me to succeed, creating employment and making sure all those people have livelihoods and that I, through CIH, have made a difference in their lives.”

In 2006, one of CIH’s companies, Namane Resources, started operating. The company has diversified to include coal, diamonds, base metals, and platinum in its portfolio.

It has managed to secure several prospecting rights in South Africa and Botswana. Last year, it launched a subsidiary, Namane ­Energy.

However, CIH’s biggest achievement to date is the 2009 contract its subsidiary Anker Coal signed with the government of Sudan.

CIH owns 35% in Anker. The company closed a $3.5-billion (then R40-billion) deal with the Sudanese government to provide it with coal for a power plant it is constructing along the Nile.

The deal means Anker will be the ­Sudanese National Energy Corporation’s sole supplier for the next 30 years.

“Part of our focus at present is also alternative energy, particularly gas,” she says.

CIH is currently strengthening the management of all its key businesses. This includes recruiting top talent.

What Mokgokong does, and perhaps always has done, is to think global.

“Therefore the offer to join Shoprite could not have come at a better time,” she says. “What the directorship means to me as executive chair of my own company is that I’m going to be learning the ropes of running a huge multibillion-rand corporation.

“CIH is also a multibillion-rand company but not of Shoprite’s magnitude. Therefore, what I will be learning with Shoprite is how to run such a company when mine also gets there one day.”

Undoubtedly one of the most influential women in business in South Africa, Dr Mokgokong was twice, in 1998 and 2002, named one of 50 leading women entrepreneurs in the world.

In 1999, she won the South African businesswoman of the year accolade. She’s also a member of the International Women’s Forum of South Africa, whose members include prominent businesswomen and government ministers.

She says what excites her most about Shoprite is the direction that the retailer is taking in strengthening its footprint across Africa. “I’m very proud to be joining a company that reaches out to so many people and impacts on the lives of not just South Africans but ­Africa as a whole,” she says.

The first woman to be appointed on the board of high technology company Jasco, Dr Mokgokong hopes to see increased representation of women on the board.

“I think the greater South African expects me to be a custodian of that and not just be window dressing. One cannot afford that kind of profile.”
When Dr Mokgokong is not working, she’s travelling.

Favourite destinations include Milan, the fashion capital of the world. She’s in the process of grooming her daughter, Dineo (29), who is her executive assistant, to one day run the company. She also has a 20-year-old son who is studying towards a degree in finance.

“I’ve given them no choice. After all, everything I’ve done was to leave them a legacy.”

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