50 influential women in business: profiles
Irene Charnley, South Africa, CEO, Smile Telecoms
The chief executive of Smile Telecoms is a born organiser. With a trade-union background, Charnley started in the world of business with the creation of the National Empowerment Consortium (NEC), a body aimed at empowering those who apartheid excluded from the commanding heights of the economy. The NEC then bought a 35% share of Johnnic Holdings – where Charnley was executive director – which in turn took a controlling stake in what became South Africa’s leading telecoms company, MTN, helping to drive its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
And this commitment to sharing wealth has been constant. While at Johnnic, which is now called Times Media Group, she championed the Ikageng scheme, which turned 32,000 previously excluded South Africans into shareholders in Johnnic. And in 2002, Charnley led a R4bn ($296m) management and staff buy in to MTN.
While commercial director of MTN, Charnley spearheaded the group’s expansion through Africa and beyond, anchoring the company’s reputation as the continent’s biggest telecoms player. The entry into Iran, however, did not come without controversy. MTN was accused by rival Turkcell of stealing its licence, something denied by MTN and Charnley.
A brief spell as the unpaid chair of the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 2009 – where she uncovered scandal after scandal – displayed her continued interest in public service. But it was not politics that Charnley pursued after stepping down as executive director at MTN in 2007. Instead, telecoms remains Charnley’s core passion: as chief executive of Smile Telecoms, Charnley has continued to push for expansion. Smile now claims one of the largest 4G networks in Africa, operating in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and soon in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Elisabeth Medou-Badang, Cameroon, Zone director, Middle East and Africa,Orange
Medou-Badang has steadily climbed the ranks at the French telecom provider Orange. She became CEO of Orange Botswana in 2009 before returning to her home country in 2013 to head up Orange’s operations there. She was named director for the Middle East and Africa this year, a post she hopes to use to spread the digital and mobile-money revolutions even further.
Jalila Mezni, Tunisia, CEO, Société d’Articles Hygiéniques (SAS Lilas)
Mezni shuns the spotlight, but her success in manufacturing personal care products has made her an influential member of the Tunisian business elite and she is one of the few women to run a listed company. SAH got a boost in 2016 when the private equity firm Abraaj acquired a stake, promising to help Mezni expand operations into the West African market. Mezni is now taking some of her fortune and investing it in the private education sector.
Nicky Newton-King, South Africa, CEO, Johannesburg Stock Exchange
The CEO of the continent’s biggest stock market is busy defending her institution after recent financial scandals, including the meltdown of Steinhoff. With that and high-profile corruption cases, she says her focus is on winning people’s trust. In a recent op-ed she lamented: “We have become too sceptical of those in positions of authority […] to trust that anyone would act other than for their narrow self-interest.” She hopes that a turnaround in South Africa’s economy will soon lead to a slate of new listings.
Anta Babacar Ngom, Senegal, CEO, Sedima
The 33-year-old France and US-trained business executive is taking a family business with activities in poultry and real estate to new heights. She joined the company in 2009 and became its boss in January 2016. In that year Sedima ploughed $29m into two new factories, a flour mill and an abattoir. Sedima has operations in Mali, Equatorial Guinea and DRC, and aims to be a top West African agribusiness within a few years.
Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, South Africa, CEO, IchorCoal
Nyembezi-Heita started her career as an engineer for IBM, but unleashed her full potential when she got into business. After her role as head of investment group Alliance Capital Management, she became CEO of ArcelorMittal South Africa, and now of IchorCoal. She is also chairman of the JSE and the first woman to chair the board of insurance company Alexander Forbes Group Holdings.
Huguette Oyini, Gabon, Deputy MD, BGFIBank
After 16 years at BGFIBank, Oyini took over its second most important post, as deputy to Henri-Claude Oyima. She is in charge of the efficiency of the company’s subsidiaries, a pan-African mission considering that the bank is active in seven African countries. She is also busy with digitalising the bank’s services, and the court case by e-Doley for using its mobile transfer technology.
Maria Luisa Perdigão-Abrantes, Angola, Director, U.S.-Africa Business Center
The ex-wife of Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos and former chair of its National Agency for Private Investment (ANIP), Perdigão-Abrantes still half-way between business and politics. In 2016 she was appointed a non-executive director of the U.S.-Africa Business Center, a US chamber of commerce programme to increase trade and investments across the Atlantic.
Maria Ramos,South Africa, Chief Executive, Absa (Barclays Africa)
Previously director general of the National Treasury of South Africa, Ramos took over the reins of Transnet in 2004. As chief executive, she restructured and partly privatised the state-owned transports company, before becoming CEO of Absa, which she is taking to the Nigerian Stock Exchange. She also serves on the board of luxury goods holding company Richemont.
Hania Sadek, Egypt, COO, HSBC Bank Egypt
Sadek started her career as head of the IT department of HSBC Egypt in 1983, and climbed the ladder to the very top. Appointed COO in 2010, she is also an executive director of the bank. Her 35 years of banking experience and her deep understanding of the company makes her a powerful woman in Egypt’s finance landscape.
Felleng Sekha, South Africa, Head of regulatory affairs and public policy, MTN
After leaving her executive position at MTN in 2007, Sekha is back to work with the South African telecom company, with a new unit created specifically for the ICT law specialist. She has also been working as a deputy chairperson of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Gloria Serobe, South Africa, Founder, executive director of Wiphold and CEO of Wipcapital We interviewed a prostitute from Kenya who works as an escort in Prague without any documents. Human trafficking from Africa is the third most profitable international criminal activity.
A member of various boards such as Sasol Mining and South African arms manufacturer Denel, Serobe is known for her contribution to the empowerment of black women. She founded Wiphold (Women Investment Portfolio Holdings) in 1994, which is majority black- and women-owned.
Heather Sonn, South Africa, Chair, Steinhoff International
Sonn is the former CEO of Legae Securities and president of the South African Association of Investors. In December 2017 she was reappointed to Steinhoff’s supervisory board as chairperson. She has since been busy dealing with the fraud scandal that hit the company in late 2017 and led to the resignation of its CEO, Markus Jooste.
Mama Tajmouati, Morocco, CEO, Ynna Holding
At 81, Tajmouati is the most senior businesswoman on our list. In 2016 she inherited her husband’s empire, comprising more than 30 firms owned by Ynna Holding, of which she was already an active member. The company covers many sectors, such as real estate, construction, hotels, petrochemicals and retail, making its diversity the driver of its growth.
Lamia Tazi, Morocco, Managing director, Sothema
Trained as a pharmacist, Tazi went on to head Sothema, the Moroccan pharmaceutical company founded by her father, Omar Tazi. She has restructured the company’s exports division, while supervising the Dakar factory and launching the production of cancer medications. She is also the new secretary general of the Moroccan Association of Pharmaceutical Industry.
Binta Touré Ndoye, Mali, Managing director, Oragroup
The Malian banker led the Malian and Togolese subsidiaries of Ecobank before arriving at Oragroup, owned by Emerging Capital Partners. Ndoye’s main goal is to amplify the bank’s growth and to widen its customer base from small and medium-sized enterprises to individuals through the digitalisation of its services.
Mary Vilakazi, South Africa, COO, FirstRand
Last July Vilakazi assumed the role of COO of FirstRand, leaving her position as deputy CEO of MMI. The chartered accountant is the first female executive to join the bank’s board and will be responsible for internal audit, regulatory and enterprise risk management, as well as the group’s insurance and rest-of-Africa strategies.
Sharon Wapnick, South Africa, Founding partner, Tugendhaft Wapnick Banchetti & Partners
Wapnick has built her empire both through her father’s wealth and her own hard work. A real-estate mogul, Alec Wapnick founded City Property, of which Wapnick is now a director. She is also the chair of Octodec Investments, a JSE-listed real estate investment trust, and an attorney and senior partner of TWB.
Rita Maria Zniber, Morocco, CEO, Diana Holding
As CEO of the Moroccan spirits and agribusiness company, Diana Holding, Zniber started off strong, becoming the majority shareholder of French spirits company Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits. Her new goal is to internationalise Morocco’s oldest wine and spirits company, while keeping the whole value chain, from production to distribution, under the strict control of Diana Holding.
These profiles first appeared in the July/August 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine