Leading a company is no mean feat – especially today when increasingly complex issues complicate decision-making and emerging technologies are changing, well, everything.
What differentiates one ‘great’ CEO from another is debatable, dependent on many factors – not least the country, industry, and circumstances in which they operate.
That said, there are skills and qualities that make a ‘great’ CEO.
As well as being able to lead an organisation with vision and purpose while navigating challenges and change, great leadership requires an ability to inspire and motivate, to think strategically and plan, and to make quick and decisive decisions, even when faced with uncertainty.
This list pretty much sums up our pick of the top 10 CEOs in South Africa – chief executives who are leading some of the country’s best-performing companies and are working to transform both the company and industry.
Revenues 2022: US$9.24 billion
The man behind Africa’s ‘best bank’, Sim Tshabalala has helmed Africa’s largest bank in terms of assets since 2017 – at age 45 becoming one of very few Black CEOs to lead an African bank.
Considered the market leader in South African banking and with a physical presence in 20 countries, the 161-year-old Standard Bank delivered headline earnings of US$1.85 billion in 2022, up 37% on the year before.
Describing himself simply as “just a Zulu boy from Soweto”, Tshabalala has worked his way up from the country’s largest Black township to lead one of Africa’s largest financial institutions. He initially trained as a lawyer and was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa before deciding to switch to banking – and has since spent more than two decades in the financial services industry.
Tshabalala has risen rapidly through the ranks at Standard Bank, a Global 500 firm, starting out in structured finance in the corporate and merchant banking division in 2000 before taking the top job in the Africa division – where, in just four short years he grew the division from 21.4% to 28.3%, thanks largely to a clutch of strategic acquisitions in the retail sphere.
Last year, Tshabalala was appointed as an Honorary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).
Market value: US$21.80 billion
Revenues: US$7.07 billion – 2022
Since taking the helm of Africa’s largest financial services group, multimillionaire businessman has led FirstRand to impressive financial results, with the lender’s total assets consistently growing, from US$80.63 billion in 2018 to US%105.4 billion in 2022.
Known for its integrated financial services portfolio comprising FNB, RMB, WesBank and Aldermore, the JSE and NSX-listed bank holds active operations in South Africa, the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Under his watch, FirstRand has continued to be in the top two most profitable and highest valued of South Africa’s banks, as well as a digital leader. The group has secured numerous accolades, with RNB named best consumer digital bank in South Africa in 2023 by Global Finance, and FirstRand recognised as the country’s best bank by Euromoney in 2021.
As a highly respected and seasoned banker, Alan has enjoyed a long and successful career at FirstRand, spanning 26 years, working his way up the ranks to the role of RMB chief executive and then to Deputy CEO in 2015 before becoming CEO and board member in April 2018.
Earlier in his career, Pullinger spent five years as a partner with Deloitte & Touche where he was appointed to partnership. He will step down from the role in April 2024, to be succeeded by COO Mary Vilakazi.
CEO, Group President
Market value: US$11.78 billion
As President and CEO of Africa’s largest mobile operator since 2020, Ralph Mupita has played a key role in strengthening the Group’s financial position, delivering the successful listing of the MTN Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda subsidiaries, and driving the Ambition 2025 strategy – designed to turn the operator into a diversified tech giant by 2025.
A seasoned businessman with expertise in financial services, M&A and emerging markets, the Zimbabwe-born civil engineer first pivoted to finance before moving into telecoms. He spent 15 years at pan-African insurance and banking group Old Mutual South Africa, where he climbed the ranks to CEO of emerging markets. He then joined MTN in 2017 as finance chief before securing the top job just three years later.
Market cap: US$11.226 billion
Joining in 1994, Shameel has operated at senior level in various companies across the group for 22 years, including leading Vodacom South Africa and as CEO of Vodafone Spain.
As CEO of the South Africa’s biggest mobile carrier for more than a decade, Shameel has won high praise for growing revenues while navigating major hurdles like widespread load-shedding and spectrum availability.
Under his leadership, Vodacom has delivered industry firsts, from launching the first commercial LTE network to the first 5G mobile network in South Africa, and expanded service offerings beyond broadband connectivity, with financial services showing strong growth in recent years.
This year, Shameel landed the MyBroadband Telecoms CEO of the Year Award and secured an honorary doctorate from the Central University of Technology.
Market cap: US$8.37 billion
With a career at Sasol spanning 40 years, Fleetwood Grobler took the reins of the energy and chemicals group in 2019, just months before the pandemic hit. Established in 1950, the Sandton-based conglomerate operates in 33 countries and employs 30,100 people.
Under Grobler, revenues have grown 35% and the petrochemicals major – South Africa’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – has targeted a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, net zero by 2050. Among plans, Grobler has indicated replacing some coal use with natural gas, addressing operational issues, and testing the manufacture of green hydrogen.
The mechanical engineer has worked within most of Sasol’s operating facilities, including as EVP of its chemicals business in Germany.
Market cap: US$8.48 billion
As the first internally appointed CEO since 2005, Arrie took the helm of Absa in 2022 and has since led from a transformation and inclusivity perspective – bringing black representation at leadership level closer to 50% and ensuring succession management is part of the corporate strategy.
Under his leadership, the group saw a 13% increase in revenue in the first half of 2023, thanks largely to the group’s diversification strategy.
With a banking career at Absa and Barclays Africa spanning some 25 years, Arrie previously led Absa’s retail banking unit – which was awarded ‘Best Retail Bank in Africa in 2020 – and as chief risk officer, was instrumental in navigating the split from Barclays and in devising the Group’s strategic vision.
Market cap: US$7.14 billion
A seasoned executive with 20 years of mining experience, Nompumelelo (Mpumi) Zikalala has served as CEO of the JSE-listed Anglo American subsidiary since January 2022.
Under her leadership, Kumba, the fifth largest iron-ore producer in the world and the largest in Africa, delivered a resilient financial performance in 2022.
Passionate about transforming mining, Mpumi has helped to drive greater diversity and lead the industry’s move to sustainability and carbon-neutral mining. She is also committed to accelerating the involvement of women and youth in the industry.
This role follows a 20-year career for Mpumi at diamond mining giant De Beers, where she held various leadership roles and was the first female GM in the Group.
Market value: US$6.97 billion
As the driving force behind Shoprite Group’s strategic thinking since 2017, Peter Engelbrecht has led the Group to become Africa’s largest and most successful food retailer and low-price leader – and South Africa’s largest employer.
He successfully steered the Group through the pandemic, ensuring job security for the Group’s 154,000 employees and under his leadership, the Group is achieving industry-leading growth in sales and profits.
A chartered accountant, Pieter started his career in the corporate finance divisions of PwC. Joining Shoprite in 1997, he rose through the ranks becoming COO Shoprite Checkers in 2005, where he was instrumental in guiding the Group’s expansion.
Market value: US$6.65 billion
With 40 years in insurance, Paul Hanratty has led Africa’s largest insurer and non-banking financial services group since July 2020 – delivering record financial results in 2022 and in H1 2023 driving a net results increase in financial services of 30%, along with a 19% jump in business volumes and a surge in share price.
Hanratty has delivered on the group strategy amid challenging operating conditions, recently acquiring 60% of leading health insurance provider AfroCentric, overseeing the buyout of innovative insurer BrightRock and partnering with Capital Legacy to extend the group’s range of client solutions – not to mention, scooping an award for long-term insurer of the year.
A qualified actuary, Hanratty previously held key leadership positions at Old Mutual, and has served as an independent non-executive director of MTN since 2016.
Market value: US$4.81 billion
When Mpumi took the helm of Bidvest Group in 2020, just shy of her 40th birthday, she became the only black female CEO among the top 450 JSE-listed companies and the first to be appointed Bidvest chief.
Since taking the helm mid-pandemic, Mpumi has successfully steered the industrial conglomerate to double-digit profits and grown the Group’s renewables and alternative energy segment.
With four years under her Bidvest belt, Mpumi has worked her way up the leadership ranks, including as Executive Director and was CEO-in-waiting prior to transitioning.
Passionate about mentorship and female leadership advocacy, Mpumi has worked on creating an enabling environment especially for women to succeed and rise.
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