CEO Nyimpini Mabunda advocates for a personal board of directors

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CEO Nyimpini Mabunda advocates for a personal board of directors

Feb 29, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Nyimpini Mabunda explains that he wrote Take Charge because of he believes that there are many other people from an ordinary background like his and who could rise to the C-suite. He figured if he shared his life story, it will show people that even if you attended a public school you can still become a CEO, and he also wanted to debunk the idea that you have to speak English with a certain accent to get to the top.

‘People always told me how special and talented I am and how well I seem to be doing,’ he says. ‘I keep hearing these things and yet, growing up, I did not think I was exceptional at all. Where I come from, there are many people like me; I wasn’t even the best student academically or one of the student leaders. I wrote the book to encourage others to come out of their shells and have the confidence to believe that they have something to offer.’

Most CEOs are former CFOs who have studied accounting and so many people think they cannot lead organisations if they had not gone that route. Yet having a Bachelor of Social Sciences instead of an accounting qualification did not stop him.

A book for the underdogs

‘My book is aimed at the underdog. To use a football analogy, it is for the likes of Lionel Messi, who was told he is too small to play football, too weak to take on defenders and too tiny to jump and head the ball as a striker. He defied the odds when he was given the chance and he became one of the best footballers of all times. There are many South Africans with the potential to become the Messis of the corporate world if only they believe in themselves.’

The title of his book was inspired by one of the company values at Procter & Gamble, where Nyimpini started his career in finance, and speaks to taking ownership. When there is a task involving many people, it can easily end up not getting done – everyone hopes someone else will make it happen. Things only get done when someone takes charge.

Nyimpini says he has great admiration for Procter & Gamble’s policy to promote from within; they appoint graduates and grow them internally, instead of hiring senior people from outside. This means that historically the CEO is someone who has been with the company for many years and who understands their markets. Their policy means that Proctor & Gamble is very focused on career growth, but you still have to take charge of your own destiny, Nyimpini points out.

‘My central thesis in my book is that career growth is an active process, and you have to be aggressive and intentional about it,’ he explains. ‘If you are passive and leave it to HR [human resources] or your line manager, you will end up on the sideline, wondering why things are not happening for you.’

 Mentorship and doing things the right way

After publishing his book, Nyimpini had a number of speaking engagements, including at business schools to talk to MBA students. But he also spoke to undergraduates and youths who are struggling to find jobs. ‘I feel strongly about being active in this space because there are a number of things I can help address, including skills mismatch,’ he states.

‘The world is changing rapidly and there are many people who have qualifications that are unsuited for the job market. We have other issues around inclusion and diversity that need to be addressed. We need to talk about these things and discuss how we can take charge in the context of all these changes.’

The South African economy is hardly growing and globally inflation is prevalent. As a result many people struggle to find employment. According to Nyimpini they need to get the tools to take charge and start their own businesses. In this regard, his engagements extend to entrepreneurship expos and workshops.

‘We also lack suitable career guidance in our schools. Our youth need to hear from experienced people like myself to help them think about where their talents lie. But my engagements are not about me speaking to people; they are interactive sessions where I am also learning. They really do help me to stay relevant and informed.’

Nyimpini challenges people at work, in his social environment and even at home to always look for new approaches or solutions when faced with a challenge. His drive to help people achieve their potential is one of the reasons for having formally embarked on a journey as an executive coach. He has benefitted greatly from being coached and realised its transformational power.

In his foreword to Take Charge, renowned businessman Dr Reuel Khoza describes Nyimpini’s journey as an ‘odyssey characterised by momentous defining phases, bursting with lessons in adventure, entrepreneurship, management and business leadership’.

Personal board of directors

He admires Nyimpini preference to assemble ‘a personal board of directors’, which means that he surrounds himself ‘with sapient corporate elders’ who are bold enough to provide him with critical feedback and do not hesitate to point out his vulnerabilities. ‘Occasional vituperative comment from seniors who care about your development will not necessarily harm. Look for areas where you may be vulnerable and heed germane admonition,’ Khoza writes.

Nyimpini approached Khoza for the foreword because he wanted a moral authority and symbol of ethical leadership to feature prominently in the work. ‘Unfortunately, a lot of people think that to take charge of your career and accelerate on the road to success, you need to do wrong things,’ he says.

‘Just look at the reports of the Zondo Commission [of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture] in which many respected companies and professionals are being cited for misbehaviour. In addition, we’ve had several corporate failures. But a few people, like Reuel [Khoza], have worked at the highest level with government institutions and the private sector and there has not been even a single scandal around them.’

Nyimpini believes that including Khoza in the book sends the message to readers that one can be successful by doing the right thing. Furthermore, he provides an intergenerational perspective since he is already in his seventies and has years of experience and wisdom. ‘I also like that he is a business leader in his own right and not a person who relies on his blackness. Reuel has always exuded competence, even before black economic empowerment policies were implemented.

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – available here


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