By Koketso Mamabolo
When it comes to developing technology companies in South Africa, no-one has as much experience as recently appointed Salesforce’s Area Vice President in South Africa, Zuko Mdwaba. He’s led an impressive list of tech industry giants such as Oracle, Atos, SAS and Workday South Africa, in a 25 year career that has seen him gather the kind of experience that makes him perfect for bringing a multinational to the South African market.
“I was very fortunate to work with leading multinational companies and most importantly met incredible leaders who helped shape my career and most importantly believed in my potential,” said Oracle’s former Country Leader and Business Director.
Zuko’s career began as a developer and business analyst, after receiving qualifications in computer science and statistics. A certified database administrator for database technologies, Zuko transitioned to an enterprise architect and management consultant before moving into business development.
“On a more personal note, I am a husband to an awesome wife and we have two kids that keep us inspired.”
Here we find out from him what the keys have been to his success, what he’s learnt in his extensive experience in management, what it takes to make a multinational company a success in South Africa and more.
You’ve held multiple positions in major firms, what have been the keys to your consistent success?
For me, it all starts with the intention. It is also intrinsically linked to “why” I do what I do. I alluded to the importance of “why” earlier.
A big part of this is in the word ‘consistency’. Consistency is more important than perfection. One of the disciplines I have is reading books. This helps me learn from others and invariably sharpen my spear all the time. It actually reminds me of the quote by the legendary John Maxwell, “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time”. The cycling and running I do is very intentional. The correlation between having the discipline to keep healthy and fit and finding success in my career is amazing. My parents always drummed the philosophy of “a healthy mind lives in a healthy body” in our heads. It improves blood flow to the most underrated organ in the human body, the brain.
The second part is about a learner’s mindset. This simply means I believe my intelligence and talents can be developed over time. This speaks to endless possibilities and never saying never, following my passion, owning up and being accountable, practising gratitude, etc. Our bodies hear everything our minds say. Having a strong internal sense of motivation and purpose and the ability of flexibly set and reset goals have been essential parts of my resilience.
Now more than ever, I am also cognisant of the fact that what got me where I am today will not get me to where I want to be. Because of this, I firmly believe that there’s no growth in the comfort zone. It is very important to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Today’s accelerated world is also pushing me to continuously immerse myself in learning new things (rewiring my brain) and just as important in the learning process, is learning to unlearn and let go of things that no longer contribute to my growth. The concept of unlearning and relearning has never been more relevant to me. As the futurist Alan Toffler wrote: ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
What would you say are the keys to making an international brand succeed in South Africa?
I would say it is the humility of understanding a local market.
At Salesforce our values: trust, customer success, innovation, equality & sustainability guide us to do what’s right on a daily basis. It all comes back to our distinctive culture. Our culture is built around the idea that we are all bound together. At Salesforce, our family includes customers, employees, partners and communities. We take care of each other, have fun together and work collaboratively to make the world a better place. This resonates well with my own personal values as it speaks to the core of ubuntu – a quality that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity. At Salesforce, we also know that to be better, we have to do better. So we rely on a 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model, where we give 1% of our technology, 1% of our time and 1% of our resources back to our communities. This is one of the things that sets us apart and drives our customers’ success.
What did you learn in your previous positions that will benefit you in your new one?
Over the years, to make sure I am heading in the right direction, I have taken stock of my personal and professional achievements every six months. This allows me to focus on my plan for the next six to twelve months and how I would overcome the obstacles or challenges. I discovered through this process that it wasn’t the table-stakes skill sets required of most executives today that drove my success, but inquisitiveness, dedication and a passion for learning that ultimately got me here.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
One of the challenges I faced in my career was the transition from individual contributor to a manager and eventually to an executive. The shift can be particularly difficult because self-reliant behaviour is often richly rewarded early on in one’s career, while leaning on others is not. However, I have found as one becomes more senior, those who are most successful find a way to think outside of themselves and gain leverage by acting not only on their own but also via teams. A nice benefit to this approach is that it’s much more rewarding to work with others rather than feeling that you have to do everything yourself.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style has always started with creating a VISION for the organisation, to guide the team. I do not do this alone, I include the team. I then build ALIGNMENT through buy-in from the organisation and the team. This occurs through providing consistent, clear messaging, sharing the “why” behind the vision, engaging in dialogue and providing inspiration along the way. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” Simon Sinek. Finally, I CHAMPION EXECUTION and make sure the vision is being executed and becomes reality. This includes analysing what’s working well and what’s not, addressing problems through ongoing feedback, offering praise and celebrating success as a team.
At Salesforce, we use the V2MOM. Salesforce’s V2MOM alignment process is critical to our success. Marc Benioff, the Chairman & CEO of Salesforce has led through the V2MOM for many years and he has always thought our biggest strength is how we’ve maintained alignment while growing quickly. The V2MOM enables us to clarify what we are doing and then communicate it clearly to the entire company. It boils down to these five questions, which create a framework for alignment and leadership :
- Vision – what do you want to achieve?
- Values – what’s important to you?
- Methods – how do you get it?
- Obstacles – what is preventing you from being successful?
- Measures – how do you know you have it?
The five parts of the V2MOM give us a detailed map of where we are going and an understanding of how to get there.
Why do you think South Africa is coming into its own in the technology sector? What’s driving the interest from major companies such as Salesforce?
South Africa has generally always lagged behind in adopting new technologies, especially cloud technologies. The pandemic over the past two and a half years has been a catalyst and a great equaliser in terms of technology adoption and South Africa as a country is starting to benefit exponentially out of that. According to McKinsey, companies digitised many activities 20 to 25 times faster during COVID-19. When it came to remote working, companies moved 43 times more quickly than executives thought possible. COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point and the trend of transforming business forever continues and South Africa is no exception.
During the pandemic, consumers have moved dramatically toward online channels. Salesforce plays a critical role in helping build bridges between companies and customers. Over the years, Salesforce has built a solid foundation in South Africa with a sizeable number of customers and partners. Today, we are thrilled to have a physical presence in South Africa and a team of more than 70 people dedicated to the country. To that effect, we have received a very warm welcome from our customers and partners. A big part of this has been customers wanting to leverage on trusted partnerships with Salesforce to transform their businesses, also through learnings of other customers for more than two decades around the world.
Please tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?
I have been in the technology industry for 25 years with almost half of that in management & leadership roles. I qualified in Computer Science & Statistics and as a result when I started my career I was a developer and a business analyst. I am also a certified database administrator for a few of the database technologies. I transitioned into an enterprise architect and then a management consultant. My next step was business development that morphed into sales. I was very fortunate to work with leading multinational companies and most importantly met incredible leaders who helped shape my career and most importantly believed in my potential.
On a more personal note, I am a husband to an awesome wife and we have two kids that keep us inspired. I am a sibling to two sisters and three brothers, with a further gift of nieces and nephews and of course friends. I am also blessed to still have my mother, who jointly with my father were instrumental to where I am today.
Fitness has always been a part of my life. I have prioritised health and wellness in order to stay competitive in everything I do. I passionately believe being healthy and physically fit has a direct correlation to happiness and success, whatever the personal definition of that may be.
I believe a good leader must maintain mental and physical wellness in order to effectively drive the business forward and inspire the team. I am a cyclist (70% road & 30% MTB/off road) and have conquered many challenges on the bike. I am also an ultramarathon runner. Both cycling and running have taught me how to persevere and thrive on adversity. What I have found interesting over the years is how cycling and running have become bigger than what golf was when I started my career. It used to be business networking on the golf course, nowadays its business networking on the bike or on the road running.
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