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Heart to Heart: Phuti Mahanyele

Sunday, February 02, 2014

 
I had the privilege of talking with Phuti Mahanyele, the CEO of Shanduka. Phuti is a rarity – a God loving and hard working CEO. Like most women who experience success in traditionally male-dominated careers, she has not allowed her gender to define her. As the CEO, Phuti embodies her leadership role with boldness and she understand the impact it has on others. She is a devout Christian and she is very candid about the importance of faith in God and the hard work that is required to succeed in life. Here is our inspiring interview with her. 

Inside Woman: What was the defining moment or experience that brought you to the realisation that you need Jesus Christ as Lord of your life?

Phuti Mahanyele: As a child my mother always made sure that we attended Church. As an adult I realised that it was something that I had to desire for myself. While attending university overseas I teamed up with Christian students but I wasn’t born again. I was still discovering my relationship with God. It was only when I came back to South Africa that I had a strong desire to seek God. One day I realised that I had this void in me that needed to be filled. And so I called my sister and asked her where I can find a good Church. She referred me to a Church in Bryanston. The people were very friendly and that’s where I gave my life to the Lord and I have been a member for more than 10 years.

Inside Woman: How has this relationship shaped your life?

Phuti Mahanyele: My relationship with Jesus has shaped my life tremendously. From the time when I started with God, I saw my life changing in so many ways. I saw myself being able to achieve things that I never thought would be possible in every single area of my life, beyond what I thought. God exceeded my expectations. It’s unbelievable what God can do and it can’t be measured. It’s so BIG and I’m so thankful to Him.

Inside Woman: Was there ever a time when you felt your faith slipping a little, when it looked like you are not going to make it and how did you allow God to help you back up again?

Phuti Mahanyele: This happens easily to all of us. We all go through that for one reason or another. It starts with little things like not praying or reading the Bible like you usually do. And then it becomes a habit that you just don’t do anything anymore. You stop to going to the night prayers and praying throughout in the office. And one day you find that you are not praying at all.
I have gone through those periods in my life but I love the way that God just nudges you. And you start asking yourself what happened. It’s unfortunate that it takes those experiences to remind us of who God is.

Inside Woman: Why is it important for you to pray and read your Bible?

Phuti Mahanyele: The Bible for me is the Wisdom of God and I don’t know it from the beginning to the end, so I constantly need to read it to grow. I also read it to meditate on the promises of God as I reflect on certain aspects of my life. I need that time alone with God. I can’t do without Him.

Inside Woman: What was your biggest struggle as a young woman growing up and how did God help you to overcome it?

Phuti Mahanyele: I had no idea what I wanted to become and I didn’t even know what subjects I wanted to take while at school. But my father had a very clear idea of what he wanted for me. So when I went to him to ask for help it was like he was waiting for this moment to let me in on his plan. He told me that he has already applied for me to attend university and that I needed to write a test to qualify. I didn’t even know that he had applied on my behalf to an American university. He also said I was going to do an undergraduate degree in economics followed by an MBA, just like he did. And when I am finished I was going to become a business woman just like he was. But despite his roadmap for my life, I still needed to find myself and the career area that I needed to focus on; and that took some time.

Inside Woman: You talk so fondly of your dad? Tell us about your relationship with him?

Phuti Mahanyele: My dad and I had a wonderful relationship and I really feel so blessed to have had him as a father. In fact the other day I was reading a letter that I wrote to my parents when I was younger. I realised that I have so much to be thankful for. My mother died when I was 17 years old and my dad passed away two years ago. After my mother passed away, my father took on my mother’s role. He was unbelievable!

When my mother was still alive and my dad was building his business, National Sorghum Breweries, he didn’t have a lot of time for us. And I always saw him as this distant person. So when my mother died I thought it was going to be the end for us. I just saw my dad sending us to a foreign country where someone had to take care of us and we were going to see him after 15 years. But he turned out to be a wonderful, wonderful parent. Anytime he had a business trip overseas, he would take my sister and I with him on his trips. Despite the meetings that he had he always managed to give us his time in between and that’s how we saw the world as kids.
Even though he didn’t always understand our decisions, still, he supported us to the end. And one of the things that you learn as you grow up is how wise your parents are, not from an academic point of view but on how to live life. My dad had this innate ability to know what to do and when to do it. Before he passed away he kept mentioning his desire to visit some of our friends in America. This one time he told us he really wanted to go and I told my sister that we need to let him go. My sister went with him. He came back and the next day he passed away. I was thankful that we never stopped him and I realise that it was the Grace of God that helped us.
What I also learned from my dad is we need to be in touch with our intuitive side. There is a part of our inner self that can really help us and guide us in making the right decisions. I don’t think we listen to that enough. We let our heads and minds help us make decisions and our minds are influenced by what we put in.
Inside Woman: How would you introduce Jesus Christ to a woman engrossed in depression, oppression and pain?

Phuti Mahanyele: I would introduce Christ as the Ultimate! He is the Source of Love, the Source of Help. He is the All Consuming Spiritual Being. There is nothing that you seek to do that He can’t help you with, absolutely nothing! He always does more than what you think of because He sees more than what you do. And in spite of ALL of that He is so humble. We make mistakes and we do things that are not correct many a times and yet He still loves us and He still forgives us.

Inside Woman: Why do you think it’s important to have the support of mature Christian women in your life?

Phuti Mahanyele: I don’t have a spiritual mother but I have a lot of spiritual sisters and brothers; very, very powerful beings of God who are unbelievable. And this is vital for me as they help me in my journey because sometimes we fail in our walk with God. And they are there to help me rise again. They are there when I need them.

I have also formed a group here amongst all of the executive professional women and we pray together. Every Thursday we gather at our offices at 7am to pray together. We share scriptures and pray together. We pray for each other as individuals, for others in the company and we also pray for the company. I believe that God doesn’t want us to limit Him to any particular area. He doesn’t just belong in Church but He also belongs in every area of our lives.

Inside Woman: What role does faith play in your career–and your life?

Phuti Mahanyele: My faith helps me tremendously in everything that I do. It guides both my personal and work life. It also guides me in my inter-personal relationships because it’s easy for relationships to be affected by our earthly thoughts of people. But when you put God in front He affects your relationships. I have personally seen how God is able to help your relationships. There are some situations that you can see that they were not supposed to go the way they are going but you have the assurance that at the end it will be fine.

Inside woman: What is the one challenge that you see women faced with today?

Phuti Mahanyele: Women struggle with self definition. A number of women look at themselves and they see their potential but they don’t know how to make their dreams possible; particularly a career choice. Many a time you see their talent and capability but unfortunately they don’t have support for it or the resources. We also see the same thing in young people. And when I talk to them I can see they are very clever people but they just need support for their ideas.

I always say  you have to be thinking about how to position yourself for growth; and try to find ways to move ahead in your career. Sometimes you find people with no education move ahead of those who do because they’ve thought about what they want and they positioned themselves; while you are waiting for someone to notice you. These things just don’t happen on their own; you have to make them happen! You have to be praying, thinking and engaging in activities that will push you forward.

Inside Woman: And that is how you became the CEO of Shanduka?

Phuti Mahanyele: Yes. I was always very ambitious and I was also driven by my dad. I saw what he was able to achieve with the little that he had. My dad came from a family that had very little financial means. He used to sell on the train and while he was selling he used to think about how he can move himself forward. And he did because he became the CEO of National Sorghum Breweries. This didn’t just happen, it took some effort and some work from his side.
One thing that I find self defeating with our young people is that they don’t want to put in the extra effort. If Beyoncé has to put in that much effort in her performances and music why do they think they can get away with little and have the same kind of results? And when an opportunity comes, you don’t want temporary success that you received because you are a pretty face, you want something that is going to last until you decide you don’t want to be part of it anymore.

Inside Woman: When you close your eyes and see an empowered woman in Christ, what do you see?

Phuti Mahanyele: I see someone who is able to make decisions and is not constrained in effecting those decisions in her life, unless it’s God’s will because He is the Ultimate Power. I also see a woman who has absolute freedom in the decisions that she makes in line with her purpose.

Inside Woman: How can women combat and avoid these poor influences to ensure that they are God instructed?

Phuti Mahanyele: I think it’s important for us to spend time with ourselves and to spend time with God. This will be the time you take to think about the things that are important to you so that you are not influenced by such things.

Inside Woman: Divorce is painful. What is your message to women who are hurting, who are feeling confused and are depressed?

Phuti Mahanyele: I really think that if a particular marriage or person is not for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t meet somebody else or that you can’t get married again. I think what happens is that women get lost in their partner’s lives or in their marriages. And without acknowledging it to themselves they begin to define themselves according to the other person’s expectations of them. But it’s important to remember that you came to this earth alone, unless you are a twin. If someone wants to live, pray about it and let them go. If it’s God’s will they will come back to you and if it’s not then they won’t come back. You have to have faith in God and not people because your answer always lies with God. And you need to remember that before you became someone else’s wife you are ultimately God’s child. And He will guide you.
It’s important to have faith in God. And over time you learn that some things are not going to work out, so when someone wants to go, let them go. Just remember that this shouldn’t come from a place of pride but of humility, keeping in mind that God is your ultimate.

Inside Woman: What is God teaching you about forgiveness?

Phuti Mahanyele: Forgiveness is important. You can lose so many valuable relationships because you don’t want to forgive. And the thing with forgiveness is that it takes a tremendous amount of humility. I believe the reason some people struggle to forgive it is because of arrogance. We think someone owes us something. Yet it doesn’t take much to forgive or even to say “I am sorry”. And sometimes we exaggerate issues when it’s not a big thing.

Inside Woman: You are handling success very well. What is your advice to women who are struggling to find their own voice?

Phuti Mahanyele: Have a strong relationship with God. Have a strong sense of connection to yourself because that is something that is constantly being tested, particularly if you are a woman. There are many men who will question why you are in your position. But you have to have the confidence to be in the role that you are in.
Faith in God has enabled me to have that confidence. I know that I didn’t put myself here but God did. So when things are shaking I just look up to Him. I don’t worry myself with people. And when you are in my position you will need God more than you have ever needed him before. Your faith will always be tested but there is Grace for you.

You can follow Phuti on Twitter @PhutiMahanyele

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