Where humility meets success

2012-04-28 09:47

She is bubbly and receptive, with childlike laughter and eyes that sparkle as she talks to you with a smile on her face. It’s a welcome change from the stiff necks associated with being captain of a ship.

Phuti Malabie is the chief executive of Shanduka. She has just relinquished her duty as the chairperson of the panel of judges who decide on the Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year.

In between this, she found time to help Shanduka acquire a major stake for its subsidiary, Shanduka Coal, from Glencore International Plc for about R700 million. This deal lifted the Shanduka Group’s holding from a minority 30% to a controlling stake of 50.1%.

She has been nominated for a number of awards that have catapulted her into the spotlight of the business world. These include the most influential woman in government and business financial services in 2009 and being named one of the Wall Street Journal’s top 50 women in the world to watch in 2008. But she humbly downplays these recognitions.

“Once you get beyond thinking about you, it’s easier to understand and receive. I don’t see it as being about me but about what South Africa can do and what women can do. It’s important for us women to be visible and be a voice for young women.”

Malabie is no stranger to running a business. She’s the daughter of Mohale Mahanyele, the executive chairperson and shareholder of National Sorghum Breweries. Her father, she says, influenced her decision to go into business.

She grew up having the best, and attended private schools in South Africa at a time when black children only dreamt of just being educated before going to London to further her studies.

She chuckles as she talks about her career path. “It took me a while to clearly define what career I wanted to be in, but I knew I wanted to be in business,” she says at her plush offices in Sandton. She studied business relations, obtained an undergraduate in economics and finished her education with an MBA at the De Montfort University in London.

But business is a broad field, and after she completed her undergraduate studies she still didn’t know the shape her career would take. It was only after she completed her MBA that she knew she wanted to go into investment banking. Though she considered returning home to become a chartered accountant, it was abroad at investment banking firm Fieldstone in New York that she got her big break.

She was at Fieldstone for six years and left there as a vice-president of the company. She returned to South Africa to head the company’s local branch and focused on the financing of infrastructure assets.

She was head-hunted by Standard Bank and accepted the post when Cyril Ramaphosa called her and offered her a job. “I look up to him and have so much respect for him,” she says.

Shanduka is one of South Africa’s leading black-owned and managed investment holding companies, with stakes in energy, property, food and beverages, resources, financial services and various other industrial sectors.

She was at the helm when Shanduka acquired McDonald’s South Africa ahead of its competitors, a business venture that ties in with its Coca-Cola investment.

What will Malabie do next? She modestly says that “we don’t like to talk about what will happen but rather tell you what we have done and from there (you can) take a view on what we are likely to do”.

Will Shanduka ever list on the JSE? She chuckles and says: “If the opportunity arises and the market is right, who knows. We are always exploring.”

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