One hastily written, incorrect tweet in an otherwise solid business career lasting decades can bring you tumbling down in minutes.
But it helps if you have created a firm reputation for honesty and reliability in your business or product – and that is not something you build overnight.
This is according to Palesa Madumo, the executive director of strategy at Vuma Reputation Management in Illovo, Sandton, as she talks about the importance of business reputations in today’s fast-moving, social-media-dominated world.
“In fact, a reputable foundation takes years to produce and, ideally, should not happen in a desperate, crisis-management situation,” points out Madumo.
“The world is presently experiencing a huge trust deficit – look at the US and the UK. Citizens are beginning to feel empowered enough to make demands of their own, demonstrated by the e-tolls situation here,” she says.
“At Vuma we inject ourselves into whatever the construct of the organisation is, from reception to the boardroom. It ranges from the welcome a visitor receives to where decisions are made affecting the entire organisation.
“All of that creates a reputation and it’s one that your employees, suppliers and stakeholders all need to buy into and feel proud to be associated with.”
She stresses the importance of companies spelling out their vision to every person connected to them.
“However, you can communicate all you like but if the message you’re putting across is not a true reflection and does not come from the heart, you may find yourself in trouble,” she stresses.
The elegantly attired, beautifully spoken and friendly Madumo is a walking advert for her own company – one that last month announced it had sold a 51% stake in it to three members of its executive team.
As a result, the company is 51% black-owned and, furthermore, black women now own 30% of it.
The other two members are Kgomotso Moalusi, executive director of client centricity and media; and Tshepo Sefotlhelo, executive director of operations.
“We plan to expand into Africa where we already have memorandums of understanding in countries ranging from Uganda to Zimbabwe, Rwanda to Kenya,” observes Madumo.
The 12-year-old company works with corporations, finance houses and technology firms.
It was founded in 2005 by Janine Hills, well known for her reputation management skills, and has over the years provided advisory and consulting skills to at least 50 JSE-listed companies.
Madumo, who originates from Meadowlands, Soweto, is thrilled that she has the opportunity to play a significant role in a sector that, she says, has been white-dominated for so long.
She’s always pushed boundaries. Her mother, a nurse, was one of the first in their Meadowlands street to have television and Madumo, captivated by the Larry King Live show, imagined herself as “this little African girl” one day being interviewed by him.
After matriculating from Waverley Girls’ High School, Johannesburg, she studied media, majoring in journalism at Boston Media House before being fortunate enough to work and learn further under the watchful eye of advertising veteran, Peter Vundla.
“Then two colleagues and I were going to reshape youth advertising,” she recalls with a chuckle, “and we started Short Left Advertising. We soon realised how important experience is.”
Determined and adventurous, she left for London, “happy to wash dishes if need be,” and there a lucky break saw her became a communications consultant for Brand SA for two years.
The 2010 World Cup brought her home to “work in the land of my birth”.
She headed group communications for the Business Connexion Group for three years.
The enthusiastic young woman who used to arrive at work at 5am, found herself burnt out and took a sabbatical, starting her own cup cake business.
“It was good therapy,” she recalls. It was while she was baking that she got a call from Janine Hills to join Vuma.
Today she is managing and coaching people, “so I put in the extra time and make up for it by sleeping a great deal over weekends”.
Madumo relaxes by reading and watching Cinema Nouveau movies, “and my young niece enables me to be a little girl again with her,” says the woman for whom the word ‘lively’ might have been invented.
LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Business tip: Recognise the role you have played in your own development.
Mentor: My mother who taught me to stand up for myself.
Favourite book: The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the great Chinese warrior, military general and strategist. He empowered me and I read his book often.
Inspiration: Writing, which becomes reading and then you move into different, mind-expanding worlds.
Wow! moment: Chatting to Michelle Obama during her South African visit.
Life lesson: Learning that it is important for us to be kind to ourselves.
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