10 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Guzha Conquers Man's World

"Everyone has greatness in them, so women and young girls should go out there and achieve that greatness," so says Mrs Nancy Guzha, the first female managing director at Unilever Zimbabwe.

Being able to achieve that has put Mrs Guzha in a different league.

She is now flying high with the boys who never imagined they would get their competition from a "mere woman" and probably beating them at their own game.

She has achieved a lot that many women and probably men as well just dream of achieving in their careers.

Mrs Guzha was born 39 years ago in a large family of nine.

Her parents were entrepreneurs who instilled the belief in hard work in her and her siblings.

She has worked hard to be where she is today and despite the challenges, she has made it to the top.

Mrs Guzha was appointed managing director at Unilever Zimbabwe in 2011 and she has pushed the company to great heights since then.

Under her leadership, Unilever has gradually been gathering momentum and is set to regain its position as the most sought after brand in household products.

According to Mrs Guzha, for the past 18 months, Unilever has been ramping up production and it is now one of the three biggest spenders in the country.

"After dollarisation, every company started from scratch and we are in the process of rebuilding but our customers and consumers still notice us.

"We started going aggressively for growth and we have made very significant progress.

"We had a very good volume growth last year and we are one of the three best performing Unilever companies, if not the best, on the continent.

"This has been proven by the bigger volumes we are pushing at the till points.

"We don't do much on television and radio but in terms of contact with the people, road shows, we are still very much out there," she said.

Her efforts to make Unilever better have been noticed as she was awarded the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year award last year.

She also chairs the Business Linkages Committee at the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and she was also appointed to sit on the new Zimbabwe Investment Authority board that was announced by Minister of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Tapiwa Mashakada last week.

"I just thought I was doing what I needed to do to re-establish the company after the 10 hard years the country had gone through. But for some reason, it got noticed, so l felt very honoured. That was the highlight of my career," she added.

Mrs Guzha graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture and Economics in the United Kingdom and was recruited by Unilever straight after that.

She came in as a management trainee in finance.

As she went through the programme, the marketing director identified her as a potentially good marketer so she changed departments.

After three months in marketing, she did not want to leave, so she stayed there.

"I stayed at Unilever for about three years then in 2000 I left to join Cairns Foods but within a year, Unilever came after me and promised me a promotion if I were to rejoin the company. I went back. In 2003, I left Zimbabwe to work at the Unilever office in Durban," she said.

She was the brand development manager responsible for Lifebuoy and Vaseline brands across nine countries.

"I came back to Zimbabwe in 2004; a year after my father had passed away.

"I had made the decision to leave Unilever and join the family business even though l had come back as marketing director. I really wanted to make sure that everything my parents had worked hard for would not go to waste," she said.

She worked with her mother for three years up until 2009 when most of her siblings had come back into the country and also joined the family business and she decided to follow her own career path.

She joined Innscor in distribution and worked there for 18 months before Unilever came again in 2011 and lured her back, this time as managing director.

"It has been an interesting two years because I am the first woman in that post.

"This is a very male-dominated environment and so women have been in the minority. But since I came in, what has been happening is that more and more women have been coming into senior positions and I have been accused of starting a women's league which is not true.

"I believe in recruiting the best person for the job and if the best person is a woman, then so be it," she said.

Mrs Guzha says the values that were instilled in her by her parents have helped her be a stronger person.

She added that she made the decision to venture into a predominantly male domain at an early stage and her father told her "men always think they are smarter than women and since you have chosen to get into a male- dominated workplace, you get there and put your head down and work hard. By the time they wake up, you would have overtaken all those guys."

Her father is the late Mayor of Harare Clr Solomon Tawengwa.

"So I am a little amused when men try to be chauvinistic, it is not something that I will ever slow down for. I just put my head down and work, and by the time they are sitting up to take a breather, a lot of them are asking me for advice and help," she said.

Looking at her stay at Unilever, she says the company has people who have stayed for 20 or more years. She had worked with most of the people she now works with so the men were very happy to work with her even though there were some who resisted.

Although she loves Zimbabwe and would like to contribute to the economy and give support to women in business who are struggling to make it, she would not say no to an opportunity to do more for herself and other people outside the country.

"Our success should not be confined to one place because, as a people, when we succeed, we should not think that our success is our own. We should go as far as we possibly can and influence as many people as we possibly can.

"Why influence 12 million Zimbabweans if you can influence one billion Africans? If l had the opportunity, l would do it," she added.

She said Unilever is very supportive particularly of women and their family choices, so a promotion no longer means being at a specific place.

"You just make the best of technology and you will find a boss who sits in Dubai has a subordinate who sits in Durban or Kenya. I don't want to define myself by where I reside but I am going to go where I have the maximum influence on the maximum number of people," Mrs Guzha said.

She hopes to one day become a vice president in the organisation, who is someone who takes care of a function like marketing for the whole of Africa, so she says she still has a long way to go before she can say she has arrived at her destination.

Mrs Guzha started school at Dominican Convent then she did the first two years of her secondary education at Eaglesvale in Harare before her parents pulled her out.

She finished her secondary education at Mt Pleasant High School in 1991.

Although she has achieved a lot, she says nothing matters but a person's attitude.

"When we look at the most successful people in the world, they are not the most educated people.

"So I would say mind your attitude, apply yourself and work hard. If you do that, you are guaranteed that you will succeed."

Her parting shot was "be the iron fist in a velvet glove" meaning that there is a certain amount of aggression needed in the workplace so although one can be soft on the outside, people should, however, know that if they push too hard they will encounter iron.

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