CEO Mpumi Madisa in Forbes Top 100 Powerful Women in the World

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CEO Mpumi Madisa in Forbes Top 100 Powerful Women in the World

Dec 24, 2023 | News, Strategy & Leadership

Bidvest Group CEO, Mpumi Madisa, has been included in the Top 100 list of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World, 2023. Forbes conducted an in-depth analysis across the globe and 100 women who are shaping policies, products and politics were chosen. Mpumi is the only South African and one of four women who were selected in Africa.

Appointment

When Bidvest founder Brian Joffe informed Mpumi that he had sights on making her the group CEO, she says she ‘had a mini-heart attack’.  When she joined Prestige she didn’t even know that it was part of a massive conglomerate called Bidvest and even when she found out, her ambitions did not go beyond becoming the Managing Director of the cleaning company. When she got home that evening, she told her husband that she did not think that Brian was serious; a 37 year old black woman is rarely in the conversation to lead a JSE-listed company. Besides, there were a lot more experienced and qualified people in the group who she thought were better suited to take up the post.

‘I put the news aside and decided to just focus on my work because it can be dangerous walking around with the notion that you are the incoming CEO. I decided that nothing should change; I will continue to understand the business and deliver results. I also embarked on enhancing my skills through pursuing a Masters in Corporate Finance which I completed in 2013 at Wits University. Because mergers and acquisitions are part of our growth strategy, I needed to have an understanding of the relevant fundamentals in that regard.’

Following Mpumi’s appointment, she has continued to build cohesion in the teams and consequently they are doing well. She admits that mistakes have been made but she is proud of the fact that Bidvest has a culture of owning up to errors and fixing them quickly.

Bidvest was forced to restructure during the Covid pandemic in order to preserve liquidity which meant closing down a number of branches in the ensuing unpredictable environment. Thankfully, Mpumi and her team have managed to bounce back after the pandemic to record strong results and recovery of lost jobs. The group has embraced her style of leadership which differs sharply from that of previous Bidvest CEOs Brian Joffe and Lindsay Ralphs.

Mpumi’s CEO X factor

‘For me, the X Factor is having values-based leadership,’ Mpumi says. ‘Many CEOs are focused on delivering returns to shareholders. Bidvest employs over 120,000 people and in my view, we should first focus on creating value for them and our communities. If we manage to do that, we will undoubtedly create value for our shareholders. I am also a firm believer in diversity not just with respect to race but also gender, skill and age. Corporate South Africa has a strong bias for employing finance people and chartered accountants; my approach is to employ people with different backgrounds. When you bring in people like geologists into your team, they bring in a different way of thinking and ultimately your problem-solving capabilities will be a lot richer.’

The current Bidvest strategy was crafted in 2016 when the company unbundled its food service operations and listed it separately as . This left Bidvest with no international footprint and as an industrial entity. The strategy laid out what they wanted the company to look like including what opportunities they would pursue locally and abroad as well as the capital allocation and gearing that they intended to have.

On taking over as CEO in October 2020, Mpumi did not need to reset the strategy, her work was focused on accelerating the execution of the strategy. Because of the unbundling of Bidcorp which left Bidvest at less than half it’s original size, Mpumi feels like she is running an organisation that is just over six years old but with close to forty years of experience. The many years of existence give the company the credibility in the market to execute its strategy despite its reduced balance sheet.

‘What makes our strategy a winning one is the fact that it is simple and easily understood,’ explains Mpumi. ‘It is also measurable such that each divisional head can easily tell whether or not the division is moving in the right direction. It is important that the strategy clearly outlines what success looks like. To me success is about value creation; at the end of my time here, what I will look back on is how this massive organisation changed people’s lives rather than how much revenue and profit we made.’

‘South Africa has significant structural challenges that the government is struggling to get a grip on. The national leadership has failed to get even the most basic of things right and business has to step up and realise we cannot leave it to them. Gone are the days when corporate leaders shy away from things that are considered politics, we need to be involved in every way because that is the only way we can ensure that we achieve value creation and provide a return to our shareholders.’

Work-life rhythm

Mpumi does not believe that there is such a thing as work-life balance because the notion suggests that you can equalise work and life which she finds impossible.

‘What I try and achieve is work-life rhythm where I shift between work mode and family mode from time to time. I have just come from six weeks of leave where I spent time with my family uninterrupted throughout all of December and part of January. As the year begins, my rhythm changes and they now understand that I need to shift gears to focus on this mammoth company.’

Mpumi has two children, daughter Ipeleng who is 20 and a pre-teen son Khumo. She enjoys playing board games with them and you can be guaranteed of a win in 30 seconds if you are in   Mpumi’s team. Michael Jackson’s Beat It comes to mind again because you simply cannot beat her.

And when the yellow and blue playing pieces are folded back into their boxes and everyone has turned in for the night, Mpumi likes to scroll through the offerings on Showmax and Netflix to binge on the latest shows. From ‘the handsome Zulu boys on The Wife’ to the fighting noble families on Game of Thrones, she always finds something to take her mind off the pressures of a pioneer young female CEO with the weight of thousands of stakeholders on her shoulders.

This article is largely an extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – available here https://www.takealot.com/the-ceo-x-factor/PLID92980382

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