In this segment of Women In Marketing, we chat with Zumi Njongwe who is the Marketing Director for Nestle East and Southern Africa. With the advent of COVID-19, she shares with us why it’s important for organisations to embrace remote/hybrid work policies to lure and, retain top talent.
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, ZUMI. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
I was born in Katlehong in the East Rand. My brother and I were raised by my grandparents and my mum. I have fond memories of playing in the streets with my friends even though my grandparents were strict. Anytime I could get out of the house, I remember how overjoyed I was. I always felt very protected and loved, even as the world outside was hostile to black children like myself.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
I had a wonderful experience in school and University. I wasn’t particularly one of the smart kids in the class. I will say though that I was one of the most hardworking and enjoyed various extracurricular activities such as netball and athletics. I was good at debating and in the arts and so I leaned into these as my happy places.
University was tougher. I learnt very fast to up my game to stay within my grade range. The freedom was intoxicating in the first year-we worked and played hard. I learnt one of my biggest strengths here, resilience.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
I don’t have a favourite meal per se, but if I could, I would eat Amagwinya, atjaar and polony more often. Unfortunately, my metabolism doesn’t allow for this treat more than once or twice a month..
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
I would establish a development centre in Katlehong in honour of my late brother Xoli Njongwe. The centre would support bright underprivileged children to excel in school and teach them about robotics, science and technology. I would continue to travel the world with my family and maybe invest the rest for my children’s future business ventures.
WHAT IS THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T FIND ON YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE? ANY HIDDEN TALENTS PERHAPS? PREVIOUS WOMEN IN MARKETING CANDIDATE, ANASTASIA HAMEL SAYS THAT SHE CAN BREATHE FIRE!
I played provincial netball as a goal scorer.
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
I studied chemistry and psychology. When I was about to graduate, I realised that I didn’t enjoy Chemistry and didn’t want to pursue a route in psychology either. So when the different recruitment companies came to campus to recruit for talent, I found out about a career in marketing.
Because I had studied human psychology, I thought perhaps this could be a great segway into doing something different. Marketing is at its core about understanding human behaviour which in hindsight is what attracted me to include a psychology major. P&G hired me. It was where I then proceeded to learn about this career. The rest was indeed history.
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
Team Coffee all the way NESCAFE RICOFFY and NESCAFE GOLD being my firm favourites..
THE PANDEMIC DISRUPTED OUR ROUTINES AND DAILY COMFORTS. HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
I don’t sign in before 8 am as I use my mornings to focus on my wellbeing. I also endeavour not to work over weekends to spend time with my family and loved ones. My kids also keep me honest if I step out of line too often, which does happen from time to time.
It ebbs and flows. Sometimes I have to deep dive on crucial deliverables, but I always make sure I come up for air.
WORKING FROM HOME/HYBRID MODEL OF WORKING MAY SOON BECOME A REALITY FOR MOST ORGANISATIONS GLOBALLY. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON REMOTE WORK AND WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR CHALLENGES AS WELL AS WAYS YOU’VE MITIGATED THESE?
I have been fortunate to always work for very progressive businesses that have embraced working from home. One of the questions I ask when I consider joining a new business is whether working from home is part of their policy and practice. So for me and my teams, I find it liberating and empowering as we get an incredible amount of work done at home.
I have strong support from my family (my home executive extraordinaire and others) when it comes to managing homework challenges.. As the Nestle leadership team we are encouraging a hybrid model; organisations that do not embrace this change will struggle to attract great talent and to remain relevant to an ever changing workforce.
ACCORDING TO A REPORT COMPILED BY MCKINSEY, THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS HAD A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE. THE REPORT FURTHER ILLUSTRATES THAT WOMEN HAVE INCREASINGLY BECOME MORE EXHAUSTED AND SUFFER FROM BURNOUT AS COMPARED TO THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS PROVIDE THE NECESSARY SUPPORT FOR WOMEN AS WELL AS MOTHERS?
It is a critical issue indeed. Firstly, it’s important that line managers contract with individual employees on how they work with them and allow them the space to manage their family dynamics in the best possible way. Secondly, our business policies should reflect equality at home as well e.g. paternity leave should be more generous and allow fathers to play a prominent role at home in support of their families.
Finally, as marketers, we should certainly reflect a more equal in-home dynamics in how we portray gender roles in our work. We have an important role to play to shape representation in the home and influence conversations about sharing the load at home. Communication can and must shape contemporary culture.
2022 AND BEYOND
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SINCE THE START OF THE PANDEMIC? ANY PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN YOUR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL LIFE YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?
I am always a work in progress. I have had several inflexion points over the last 18 months. Professionally, I have grown clearer that my purpose (To lead from the heart to create the change I want to see) is still relevant for where I am in life.
Covid has impacted people close to me; this has made me want to make the rest of my life on this earth more meaningful and joyful. I have started to recycle at home, spent more time coaching/mentoring others, listening more to my kids to figure out what’s going on with them and ensuring the work I do matters to me.
KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW TODAY AND IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Be more of who you are. For a long time when I was younger, I thought I needed to emulate others’ standards of professional behaviour in the workplace. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to emulate various people; it didn’t bring me any satisfaction or massive growth. I had a superb manager and mentor who then taught me, unwittingly, that by being myself I brought great value to his team and I haven’t looked back since.
It’s funny. When this happened, my leadership journey took on a whole new meaning. I subsequently gave licence to others to be themselves. It’s beautiful to experience.
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
So many, where to begin.
I would like to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, the great migration in Kenya, climb a mountain once, take my kids to see the great wonders of the world and learn the kizomba and salsa dance and go camping in a new place every year.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
The women in my family, my Gogo, Mama, my late Aunt Daphne and my sister Nthabiseng Weeto. They have been my village in getting me where I am today. Mrs Brown was my standard two teacher. She built my confidence and believed in me every time I didn’t. My best friend Busi Mkhwanazi always motivates me and is my truth syrup because she tells it like it is and Michelle Obama for obvious reasons. She is a great example of authenticity, personal strength and confidence.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth and listening to Eusebius McKaiser podcasts.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
The Handmaid’s Tale (is that on Showmax or Netflix?), Come Dine with me SA on Showmax/catch up and all those shows about property makeovers, too many to mention.
WHAT WOULD YOU COME BACK AS IN THE NEXT LIFETIME CAREER-WISE? DO YOU THINK YOU MISSED A CALLING?
A musician. I love so many genres of music and I miss live shows. I think I would have enjoyed that.
WE ABSOLUTELY LOVE HOW FORBES CURATES THEIR MARKETING-CENTRIC CONTENT. HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO READ THROUGH THEIR CMO NEXT 2021 FEATURE? WHILST ON THE TOPIC OF GREAT MARKETEERS, WHEN YOU RETIRE ONE DAY, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED AS A PROFESSIONAL?
I would like to be remembered as a socially conscious human being, a curious lover of life and a person who made a small difference to those I had the fortune of working with. From a marketing perspective, I am focused on driving marketing as a force of positive growth for businesses with clear P&L contribution, ensuring I build capability and building brands that are regenerative in nature and help societies drive behaviour change.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
Gavin Pike, Sharon Keith and Baker Magunda (some of my favourite old bosses)
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Marketers have a unique opportunity to reconnect business success to social progress because these are now integrally linked. The days of brands on one side and responsibility on the other side are gone.
We can play a role to ensure we drive this more emphatically; young new voices must represent this intentionally and clearly.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME ZUMI. WE HOPE THIS INTERVIEW WILL INSPIRE FUTURE LEADERS AND OTHER WOMEN IN MARKETING. HOW CAN PEOPLE FOLLOW YOU AND YOUR COMPANY ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
I am on linkedin as Zumi Njongwe.