Fikile Maureen Nkosi is the Managing Director for Nedbank (Swaziland) Limited

Words of Wisdom: “African women are amazing. They are resilient. Use that resilience and believe in yourself. Have the focus and you will never go wrong.” – Fikile Maureen Nkosi

Interview with Fikile Maureen Nkosi, Swaziland

Fikile Maureen Nkosi is the Managing Director for Nedbank (Swaziland) Limited

Fikile Maureen Nkosi the first woman in Swaziland to head up a Managing Director Post for an International Bank.

Prior to her appointment as Managing Director she held the positions of Chief Financial Officer and Head of Internal Audit.  She joined Nedbank in 2001, having served articles in one of the international audit firms.

Fikile is affiliated to various associations in the Swaziland and is the Vice President of the Federation of Swaziland Employers & Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as an executive member.  She is also a Director representing Swaziland Government’s interest in the Board of Aon (Swaziland) Limited.  She is involved in various social responsibility projects and is the Chairperson of the HIV/AIDS Committee at Nedbank Swaziland.

Fikile Maureen Nkosi is the Managing Director for Nedbank (Swaziland) Limited

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website.

What was the catalyst for pursuing a career in finance?

It started in high school. My dream was to be a Chartered Accountant. When I finished school I knew exactly what I wanted to do. My first degree was in finance. I pursued a Bachelor of Commerce with my majors Accounting and Finance.

When I finished my degree, the career path that lead me to be in Corporate Finance, was doing articles with a law firm – KPMG, one of the big five. That is where I focused on being a professional Accountant.  As you know, KPMG is an international audit firm. They teach accounting and auditing. I loved auditing, because you need to focus on tight deadlines. Auditing teaches you discipline, focus, accuracy, completing of work – key for an Accountant. I worked for KPMG for six years, where I finished my articles. KPMG needed to focus on sectors, which was a new methodology for KPMG international.  I was chosen to focus on Financial Sector and manufacturing.

When you were in high school, did you ever think that you would want to be the head of a bank?

No, I never thought about it. I never thought of running an institution. I just wanted to be Accountant. I never thought I would go into corporate world.

Are there a lot of women in Swaziland at the Executive level?

Unfortunately no. Banking is very conservative. It is cutthroat in its own right. It is highly regulated. The hours that you put in are very intense. It is deadline driven.  Because of that, is perceived as a male dominated industry. Only ‘men’ can survive in this industry, a matter of fact all the banks were headed by men. They still are, except this one (Nedbank Swaziland).  A man always heads even the Finance Directors position, a key position in the bank.

We are now seeing introduction of other women in Swaziland into banking.

Lets look back at the skill, behaviours, and characteristics that are required to succeed in your position?

The key is to have a goal. What do you want to achieve?

The mistake youth and women often make is we say: “I want to be a lawyer, or accountant.” We don’t’ define what you want to do with the role. If you want to have your own practice… if yes that is a different career path. Or do you want to be in the corporate world?

Craft you career path towards achieving that objective. What ever your career goal is, it will determine the journey that you take.

For example if you want to be Corporate Account, you have a certain path you need to take. You need financial discipline.

You can get distracted if you want to be an Accountant running your own practice, you may make less income then someone who is a Corporate Accountant. You may sacrifice at the beginning of your career, for long-term gains. With a focus on the end game, you can ride the emotional and financial dips.

To make it in corporate Swaziland, what characteristics do you think a person needs to have?

The most important thing is being a self-starter. You need to be self-motivated.

When you work in the corporate word, there are lots of distractions.  You may also feel unappreciated. You have to find your drive, and the reason why you are there. You are crafting yourself as a leader. It is very important to be independent. People need to see innovation in you.

Sometimes we go to workplace, we want to see A – Z. You need to be a person who thinks: here is a project, how will I execute? When will I deliver it? How will I deliver it?
This is innovation. You need to have discipline.

In regards to being a self-starter, many people talk that language, but seeing it applied is a very different thing. In my observation on the ground in Africa, is people often say “this is my job” not this, and not this.” To get to your level you can’t just look vertically, you need to look horizontally. What are our thoughts on that philosophy?

That is a key point.

How did I get here? By being dependable. People must count on you. Knowing that you are there. To do well, you need to know a lot.

Are you trainable? Have the appetite for learning. You should want to learn more everyday in your industry.

You add more value if you know more laterally. So how do you get there? Avail yourself to learning and grab opportunities.

What do you think are some of the biggest barriers to seeing more women in Executive roles?

For women it is the fear of the unknown.

We are so afraid to take an opportunity and run with it. We are so scared of being criticized. Once you get an understanding that criticism is part of building your character. Identify critics that are constructive and destructive. You will be criticized as a leader and as an individual. Take what is positive from that, and move on.

How do you personally handle that criticism?

There will be criticism from all aspects; as a leader, you will receive criticism from the people you are leading, from Principles, from your family.

Your family may say: “You’re neglecting us”  -if you are a mother
Your team may say: “You’re neglecting us and my career.” “You should have done it this way,”
Your Principles may say: “You should give us more.”

How do I handle it?

  1. I receive it.
  2. I review it.
  3. I give feedback

For example: If you say I am not communicating as a leader, I will ask: “What is your suggestion. How do I improve on it?”
This creates more of a discussion. This makes it more inclusive to improve on the particular point.

What you are also doing, is forcing the individual who is bring a criticism to also think of a solution, not just bring a problem.

Which is an important leadership attribute.

They say leaders are born, but you learn these things every day. In all three of my leadership roles I have learnt.
I was auditor.
I was Chief Financial Officer
Now the Managing director.

As an auditor, no one wants to be told “You are doing something wrong.”

Example: If you find me aggressive as a Finance Director, I will ask: “How would you control the budget? How can I do it without making you feel inferior.” You need to develop an art of having a very inclusive interview with the person that is criticizing you.

Do you think as a woman Executive people are more critical of you?

Difficult question. I have seen the difference.

In the past with the previous male Managing Directors, they were not challenged openly. People expect more empathy from a female Managing Director. They also expect more soft approach from a woman. So as a leader, when you criticize them, they take it more personally, because they expect you to understand. They expect a different response when we are doing the same job. I am expected to achieve the same goals, and deal with non-performance, the same as any man. I wont loose my femininity, but I too have deliverables and we need to meet those deliverables. Regardless of the sex of the leader, it is a pity that people think it should be handled differently. The deliverables are the same.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for women in executive positions? What do you think they need to do in order to be received at the executive level?

I wouldn’t want to say we change anything as women. Be a woman.

  • Be the woman that wants the outcome and the productivity, just like a man would want.
  • Be firm, but you can maintain your femininity.
  • Support each as women in the corporate world.
  • We have a tendency to criticize each other. WE compete with each other. Maybe because there is so much expectation.

You should never loose sight of the fact that you need to deliver as per the mandate of the Principle. We should also support each other when there is a need to support each other.

I have heard a lot about competition in Swaziland, and have seen it in other countries as well. I read a great article that said: “Women collaborate, men negotiate.” Yet this goes against that women compete against each other. I am starting to believe that there is more competition amongst women when they are the pioneers; when it is all new. People jockey to get known, more subconsciously. Perhaps when there are more women in leadership positions, more women will start to collaborate rather be competitive.

You may be right, as we have seen that with our politicians, coming together and collaborating. We do try to do that in the corporate world. Maybe it is the expectation, as a women leader you are not expected to be firm. Here we are not seen as collaborative. On boards I sit on, the CEO will not ask me the same deliverables, and I do have fiduciary responsibilities, as I am a director. Maybe it is understanding our role as pioneering leaders. I have a standard to maintain.

How do you communicate with the various stakeholders: boards, customers and team?

It depends on different communication depending on the stakeholders.

At the front-line of our organization, at the nine branches we have electronic publications. In addition I will meet face-to-face with all the branches.

Focus on vision, what our values are. This is key. Personal interaction is important.

Dealing with the ten people on your executive team, what sort of leadership style do you use?

Generally, we do have an open door policy. Because we are bank, written communication is also very important. We are in the same building so we do have one-one interactions.

  • Every month I have a formal meeting with my direct reports one-to-one, face-to-face. Go through issues, challenges and successes. It is important to have that contact with each person.
  • We also have structure Executive meetings once a month.

How would your team describe you as a leader?

I guess, tenacious, focused, pushy… result oriented.

What advice do you provide to get teams in alignment with the corporate vision and results that we have been talking about?

  • More communication
  • The clarity of roles is very key
  • The people must understand the vision of the organization
  • They must be part of the strategy, help craft it
  • What we have done is engage middle management in crafting the three-year plan, and then we cascade in further into the teams.
  • It is important to me when I do one-on-one sessions, how far have you gone in explaining your strategies to your team and how they fit into it.
  • The more you talk about it, the more you communicate it they better everyone will understand it.
    • There is also good communicate and bad communication. But you have to communicate effectively.
    • You need to communicate in more than one mode: written, face-to-face, so it clarifies and or corrects miscommunication.

I have heard this in some African countries: “that women in the boardroom are to be seen not heard.” What are your thoughts on that comment?

It is amazing that a line like that can be used. When you are in the boardroom you have a fiduciary responsibility in the first place.  There is an expectation, you have to point out issues, understand issue, and approve issues. You can’t just achieve that if you are just being seen. You have to be involved.

I don’t think that comment applies any longer. As a director, you need to read, be active and be prepared. You need to understand your role. As an Executive, you have to speak up so you understand your deliverables.

There are some people who still believe that women should not be heard, and if that is the case, what advice do you have for women on what to do in that situation?

Yes I have worked with men that just ignore your thoughts.

The way I have dealt with that is PREPARE. You must prepare for meetings. You must know your subject matter. Over time a ‘man’ will know there is substance. You are coming up with solutions to problems. Slowly you will the change agents over time. Speak up. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.

You are not there by favour, but by merit. There are a number of people dependent on you being there. Other women are saying, “she is there, she is representing us.” You are not only letting yourself down, but also a whole lot of other women.

What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your career?

Balancing home and work. I am mother of two, and it is difficult to leave your child on Saturday when you have a board meeting. What I have seen most women forgo one thing for other. I have a good support structure. Make sure you look after the people that look after you. This is will make you more comfortable.

There is always criticism of balance family and work. Sometimes we feel guilty.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself discovered when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

As a leader any position, is to give negative feedback. To the extent that you compromise your output. I have learned how to handle the situation. I have had to fire people; I have learnt to deal with the guilt. You have to get to the point that you put the organization or the person first. I have friends but wont if I don’t put the organization first.

What is the most significant impact you think you have made in your career or life to date (conscious contribution)?

Being the first MD of commercial Bank, and be VP of employee organization I have given hope to the young women. It was believed that young women couldn’t lead organizations. Because of their nature they can’t handle what is required to do the job.
For example: you have to contact stakeholders or authorities at odd hours. You have fire men that are not delivering. I have done that to get to where I am.

As the first women being appointed, I have given women a platform for leadership.

This position also comes with a platform of deliverables.

In out Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, we do a lot of women empowerment programs. Because I am a woman I felt the there is a talent in women that corporations and our Nation has ignored. What we have done is cultivated more women by using platforms such as the Businesswomen of the Year awards. We provide them a network to meet other women and recommend using networks such as Wisdom Exchange TV.

Again through Nedbank Corporate Social Responsibility program we have a something that supports young and single Mom’s. It is expected from women, that you are a woman of influence so we want more from you.

There is an organization for single parents in Northern part of Swaziland who have been rejected from their families, because they are pregnant teenagers – we try to put them through school, help them to take their children to school.

That is what I believe I have given out to people because I am in the role I am in.

I am mentoring some women with an organization.  I think I give women hope, “if an ordinary woman can make it, I can make it. Lets learn from her.”

If there were one thing you would attribute your success to, what would it be?

I am very self-driven person.

What is the most challenging thing in your career today?

Ability for women to believe in themselves even when you provide them the opportunity, they feel they need to be validate by other women, their family or their partners.  I wish we could get to a point where we validate ourselves.

Women often see the challenges; rather then question, “What makes me think I can’t cope?” Women fear to take on challenges.  I want to give women support and confidence to take on that challenge.

Have you ever taken on an initiative at the bank that did not work?

We have an organization that we work with to target the small communities. As you know we have a very small economy that is really struggling.  There is a lot poverty, illiteracy, and child head of families. We choose this organization to have activities that would channel revenues to these needed areas.

We had an agreement with the organization that did not give specify in terms of outputs. It is not giving us what we want out of that partnership. This is a long-term arrangement. For me that is the biggest regret I have as Nedbank. We could have done it better. We are providing clean water, food parcels, better health sustainability and to help with the empowerment of youth and women.  We are using a vehicle that is not achieving its goals.

What would you do differently next time?

We have looked at all our partners, and stakeholders when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As a bank we can’t do things direct, because as a bank, our number one goal is to make this business profitable so we can give to the communities.

Now, we ensure we have a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that is targeted at initiatives. We have breast cancer initiatives, we help initiated fundraising and educated. Now we outline the deliverables.

Is there anything you would differently on route to your success?

I would encourage the youth to think differently. We need to encourage entrepreneurship. I still have that fear of being my own boss.

We partner with organizations to encourage youth to go toward entrepreneurs. We look at tertiary institutions to help students to pursue entrepreneurship by providing programs after school. I would have like to be an entrepreneur and run a bank.

Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, because we also need leaders with integrity running institutions like banks.

What does success mean to you?

Happiness. Happiness for me that I delivered achieved. My family is where we should be and I’m spiritually sound.

How would you define leadership?

You never know you’re a leader until you are told you are a leader. It is the ability to change situations, influence other people and take the initiative.

Leadership lessons.

You are a leader in the community, what advice would you provide to others?

  1. Define your role as a leader, as team
  2. Communicate objectives
  3. Keep each other informed. Don’t leave things to the end.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 12yr. old daughter?

You become who are because of what you believe in. There is so much in you, if you take that nothing will stop you. The world is your oyster.

Q. What do you wish you were told at 12 years old?

That I have leadership capacity. I never new and not thought of it until much later in life.

What is next for you?

The beauty of the corporate world, you are in the apex. The next phase is to part my skills in my own space. I want be an entrepreneur and empower women also to be entrepreneurs.

If there is one thing that you haven’t done yet that you really want to do?

I want to travel on my own without feeling guilty.

Words of Wisdom for African women

African women are amazing. They are resilient. Use that resilience and believe in yourself. Have the focus and you will never go wrong.


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    3 replies to "Fikile Nkosi"

    • Angela Ajala

      Bravo,we should have more women supporting other women but based purely on merit and not on gender.

    • Bridget Nalwoga

      These are the soft spoken words of wisdom that we that have the chance to be able to know them, hear them, meditate on them, its our responsibility to educate them to every girlchild, suffering single mothers, widows,that women we are more intelligent and successful than what we think we are, but we should learn to believe in our selves, and it is every women’s duty to empower another woman using positive spoken words and helping each other to discover our hidden talents,and continuously education. Thanks Nkosi for this empowerment.

    • Wisdom Exchange

      As I listen to this interview I am reminded that women in Corporate Africa and Corporate America may not be all that different. We should be rewarded based on merit, however, we could go a long way if we support that merit publicly. It was wonderful meeting you Filile Nkosi!

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