Having made my way through the nightmare of load shedding traffic, I arrived to a group of men and women eagerly waiting to hear about how to prepare for the C-suite. I sat and thought to myself that I hoped that the talk would be more than just about “what are the 5 key career moves to make in the boardroom”. At the end, it was more than that, it was about the life of a simple girl, coming from a small town in Limpopo who by her sheer passion, diligence and determination now sits in the C-suite. Not only in the C-suite of her career but most importantly in the C-suite of her life.
Firstly, what is the C-Suite? “C-suite is a phrase referring to the high level positions in the corporate world, which all generally start with a “C”. The CFO, CEO, COO etc”.
She is currently the CFO of BP Southern Africa, a position she has held since 2011. She has held senior positions in a number of other large companies, amongst these are: Airports Company South Africa, Ernst & Young and Eskom Holdings. She has had an incredibly rich career to date and on this continuous journey of learning and growth, she has learnt some gems along the way, which she captured in four key lessons.
At 12 years old Priscillah was her father’s typist in his book keeping company and if you’ve ever used a type-writer, you understand that there is nothing quite like it to teach you diligence. She quickly realised that the lack of diligence was what was standing between her and playtime and she has since taken this lesson through with her in life.
Early in her career towards the path to becoming a CA, she joined Ernst and Young and was the first black person in their Pietermaritzburg office. At a time when transformation was still a word whispered in the boardrooms, this was not only a challenging time to be a black woman in corporate South Africa but also a very lonely one. However, in this very environment was where two partners at the firm saw her potential and despite her being “different” took the risk and invested in her career. This has taught her the valuable lesson that it is not only important to not disappoint the people investing in you but equally those looking up to you. For every brick you lay someone else will put another on top, so you have to make sure that the one you lay is on a good foundation.
As she journeyed through her career she came to appreciate a lesson her parents taught her at an early age; your values are all you have, so stay true to them. It is important to take the time to define these for yourself as this is what you will use to assess the company you keep in your life. Priscillah used the anecdote that we all remember how we prepared for our first job interview, by researching that companies values and ensuring we drop them like gems of insight in an attempt to impress and charm. Instead you should be assessing that particular company’s values against your own, allowing yourself to be the same individual in all spheres of your life. It is this knowledge of self that will come in handy when the decision may be a difficult one.
Last but definitely not least, create spaces in your own life for reflection. It is important to be conscious of your behaviour at all times. Be present and aware of yourself, especially while you can still influence the outcome because that is when it matters.
Priscillah taught us more than just how to prepare for the C-Suite of the corporate world, but most importantly, to prepare for the C-Suite of our own life. She challenged us to be passionate about what we do and have the courage to start from scratch if we need to. “After all”, she said in closing, “we are all passing by, we might as well make the most of it.”