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Lillian Barnard: Tech Enthusiast And First Female Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

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Lillian Barnard, a tech enthusiast and seasoned professional has spent over 20 years of her career working her way up the ladder in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, both locally and abroad. And she’s found real success.

In March 2019, Lillian was appointed as the Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa in March, 2019. She became the first woman to hold the position since Microsoft reinvested in South Africa in the early 1990’s.  In her words, She said “My experience, combined with my passion and commitment to continuous learning and understanding the technology trends positions me well to be successful in this industry.” In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola, Lillian spoke about her passion for technology, experiences in top executive positions in the ICT industry, her vision and goals for Microsoft under her leadership. Excerpt.

 

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

From as young as 12 years old, I realise the value of education and the importance of Mathematics.  I was crystal clear that I was going to go to University and pursue a degree in Commerce.  I was exceptionally fortunate that I was enabled the opportunity to realise this dream, especially in the era in which I grew up.

 

Recently, you were the first woman appointed as the Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa. How does this make you feel and were you surprised?

I am honoured to be the first woman to hold the position since Microsoft reinvested in the country in the early 1990s. I am extremely passionate about the possibilities of technology and how it can transform the industry, empower society and enable economic growth for South Africa, and Africa.

My first 3 months in role have been filled with excitement. In my first week, I had the opportunity to be part of a momentous occasion where Microsoft launched the opening of the state-of-the-art datacentres as well our multi-million-dollar investment to create economic opportunities for South Africa through the evolved Equity Equivalent Investment Programme (EEIP).

 

With 20 years’ ICT experience in leadership roles in South Africa and Internationally. What’s the greatest hurdle you’ve encountered, and how did you overcome it?

I was fortunate that early in my career, I was identified as Top Talent, and as result was often placed in roles which I felt required more experience than I could offer at point.  There were three key learnings that I had, which enabled to overcome an hurdle I faced.

Firstly, I realised that my diversity of thinking, my tenacity and my passion for what I do are they three things that often enable my success in any task.

Secondly, I realised that confidence in my abilities – and finding this quickly – was going to be important as I progressed in my career, because I always had ambitious goals.

Finally, and this is still true to this, life is going to be a continuous learning journey of self- discovery that you are going to have to embrace.

 

How has your background prepared you for success in the technology ecosystem?

I have more than 20 years’ experience in the ICT industry, and have held various executive positions with IBM and Vodacom, both locally and abroad, that have enabled me to gain extensive knowledge in sales, operations, business controls, strategy, business transformation and leadership.

This experience, combined with my passion and commitment to continuous learning and understanding the technology trends positions me well to be successful in this industry.

My time as an entrepreneur really taught me the importance of resilience, and to keep focusing on your end goal and not give up until you achieve it.

I have also been fortunate to have a number of strong mentors, through whom I have learnt some key leadership lessons, and in particular the importance of leading through inspiration, constant focus on your people and continuous communication.

 

Tell us about your philosophy and leadership style?

In South Africa, leaders must make learning a new way of life and have to become intentional about their learning agenda; because the tech industry is ever changing. This will ensure that you keep your skills current and it will ensure that you remain relevant.

In my journey to leadership, I learnt that it is critical to have faith in your capabilities and the confidence to express those capabilities through your authentic voice. My personal mandate is to ensure that through authenticity; I am transparent, honest and effective in communicating plans and goals for the organisation and doing so with clarity.

People has always been at the core of my focus. As a leader you must be transformational in your approach and build a diverse and inclusive workplace. It is fair to say that we all understand diversity, but inclusivity is so important, and this is all about focusing on the needs of every individual, ensuring that the right conditions are in place, so everyone can reach their full potential.

As a global organisation that is committed to finding new ways of empowering people to achieve more, we are constantly evolving and creating change from within, so we can provide the best possible service to our customers.

We obsess over what matters to our customers, becoming more diverse and inclusive in everything we do and create, operating as one company instead of multiple siloed businesses and lastly, to making a difference in the lives of each other, our customers and the world around us.

Our business is anchored in a growth mindset, this inspires us to be curious about our customers — learning all we can about their needs and challenges with a beginner’s mind — and then bringing innovative and practical solutions to meet their needs and surprise and delight them. We believe by applying a growth mindset, we have the ability to change the world; empowering every person and every organisation to achieve more.

Also Read Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye

What’s the best and worst decision you’ve ever made? And how were you able to turn the bad decision around?

I live with the philosophy that the only risks that we regret are the ones that we have not taken.  As such, I focus on ensuring I deliver to best on all the decisions that I have taken, while learning and moving on from the ones that didn’t work out as planned.

 

What’s the greatest transformation in tech you’ve witnessed in your career and the next big thing in ecosystem?

We are in the midst of a technological revolution, the 4th industrial revolution, and I believe that artificial intelligence(AI)  will be the defining technology of this time. Similar to the discovery of electricity or the development of the steam engine, I believe that AI will have the power to fundamentally change people’s lives, transforming industry and transforming society.

When developed at scale, quantum computing will change the world.  Imagine a computer that could accurately model the natural world, allowing us to create real and practical solutions to climate change. A computer that could accurately model human biological systems, leading to new and incredible breakthroughs in medicine.

 

Women in technology are definitely in the minority, how are you encouraging and supporting women to come be part of the ecosystem?

Women are still under represented and having women’s representation in these fields is not only a matter of fairness, but our economies and societies also lose out when we fail to engage half of the world’s brainpower in our engines of innovation.

We need to encourage interest from the early years of development, combat stereotypes, train teachers to inspire girls to pursue STEM careers, develop curricula that are gender-sensitive, and mentor girls and young women to adopt different mind-sets.

I have played a pivotal in re-igniting the South African chapter of Women@Microsoft and spurring a culture that encourages gender equality in the workplace.

At Microsoft, we start early in the pipeline by sparking girls’ interest in technology, for example:

  • Our YouthSpark programmes seek to ensure that all youth have the opportunity to learn computer science through unique partnerships with governments, business, and non-profit organisations such as Code.org. Girls represent 52 percent of the total beneficiaries of YouthSpark. Through YouthSpark we spearhead an initiative, DigiGirlz which is aimed at giving middle and high school girls opportunities to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops.
  • Microsoft started a movement, inspiring girls, as well as the parents, educators and nonprofits who encourage and support them, to #MakeWhatsNext. Not only does this open up opportunities for careers in the technology industry, but in our increasingly digital world, STEM skills also offer a leg up for those wanting to become researchers, consultants, business managers, teachers and many more.

What is your vision and goals for the Microsoft South Africa brand under your leadership?

Short term;

  • I believe that cloud computing presents a big opportunity for Microsoft in SA. Public cloud services are set to triple in the next five years. This is because a lot of businesses are looking to drive innovation from cloud services.  The recent opening of the datacentres and EEIP investment talks to the heart of our focus for the next 2 – 3 years.
  • I also want to work closely with our partners to make sure we continue to build the requisite skill sets so that South Africa can continue to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution and become an emerging giant in this space. How we will skill our people to prepare them for the job of the future will also be a challenge.
  • I want to continue driving the agenda of a more inclusive and diverse workplace by providing equal opportunities for men and women.

Long term;

  • As I mentioned earlier, I am passionate about the possibilities of technology and how it can transform the industry, empower society and enable economic growth for South Africa, and Africa.
  • Together with our partner ecosystem, we are focussed on enabling business and Government to harness the opportunity presented by these emerging technologies in an ethical and inclusive manner to ensure that every individual is empowered and benefits from the digital era.

 

What are you seeing with organisations as Microsoft South Africa that have a social mission?

I believe that companies that have a social mission, aligned to their core business, tend to be more inspiring to their customers, partners and employees.  People deeply commit to companies with an authentic higher purpose – and it enables them to be passionate about what they are doing!

It not just about doing good or doing business, it is about doing good business.

 

Teach us one word in your home language. What’s your favourite local dish and holiday spot in Africa.

In South Africa we are spoilt with our choice of incredible food.  But, with the beautiful oceans surrounding, I have to say I love fish!

 

Her Short Bio:

Lillian Barnard was appointed as the Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa in March 2019. She joined Microsoft in May 2017 as Public Sector Director for South Africa, a role she held for almost two years.

Lillian has more than 20 years’ experience in the ICT industry. She is a seasoned professional with proven capabilities and a strong understanding of local market. Through the various executive positions that Lillian has held, both locally and abroad, she has gained extensive knowledge in sales, operations, business controls, strategy, business transformation and leadership. This experience, combined with her deep industry knowledge, positions her perfectly to strengthen Microsoft’s commitment to South Africa and its wishes to drive its digital transformation ambitions and empower governments, organisations and individuals to achieve more.

She has become renowned for building strong, high-performing teams that consistently deliver on their financial targets, while also bringing innovative digital solutions to her partners and customers. Having led large teams both locally and abroad, she is recognised for strength in developing people and creating an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Lillian is passionate about enabling a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. By drawing on her own experiences, she endeavours to create a culture that enables people to bring their authentic selves to the workplace and be embraced for that individuality. She has been pivotal in re-igniting the South African chapter of Women@Microsoft and spurring a culture that encourages gender equality in the workplace.

Prior to joining Microsoft, Lillian served as Chief Sales Officer for Vodacom’s Enterprise Business for two years. She also headed LillianB Consulting Services where she was an advisor and coach to business leaders. During Lillian’s 15-year career at IBM, she held a number of key leadership positions, including working for 7-years at the IBM European Headquarters in France and Switzerland.

She previously served on the boards of Vodacom South Africa, Mango Airlines and Dad-fund Non-Profit Organization.

Lillian holds a BCom Honours in Business Economics from the University of the Western Cape.

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Corporate Executive

Lesley Ndlovu, Africa’s Climate and Disaster Risk Insurance Leader

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Lesley Ndlovu is an executive with extensive international experience in insurance and investment management. He is currently the CEO of the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Group, a Specialised Agency of the African Union founded in 2012. ARC is a hybrid mutual insurer and the commercial affiliate of the Group founded in 2014. The ARC Group was established to help African governments improve their capacities to better plan, prepare, and respond to natural disasters triggered by extreme weather events, as well as outbreaks and epidemics. Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online caught up with Mr. Lesley Ndlovu to reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons, key highlights of ARC 2021 financial report and the ARC Gender Strategy.

Alaba: To begin, perhaps you could briefly share the African Risk Capacity (ARC) position on the pandemic. The challenges, lessons and how the industry is dealing with the impact?

Lesley: The pandemic was a period of great uncertainty for everyone. For us at ARC, it forced us overnight to become a virtual organisation in a business where face to face interaction with our clients is extremely important. It was also an opportunity for growth because it made our clients, particularly governments, more mindful of risk management and anticipating what could go wrong. As a result, we saw double digit growth in our core insurance segments. We are looking to expand our product offering to include insurance coverage for outbreaks and epidemics.

Alaba: What would you say are the impacts and highlights of the ARC 2021 financial report?

Lesley: 2021 has been a challenging year due to the payment of large insurance claims all across Africa. However, we are an impact oriented insurance company, paying claims means that we are helping out people facing difficulty after an extreme weather event and the funds we provide allows the affected people to bounce back and continue with life. Since the inception of ARC, we have paid close to US$100 million in claims.

Alaba: Could you share with us your set goals for the year and the ARC Gender strategy?

Lesley: Our ambition is to mainstream the gender dimension into our insurance business in terms of both underwriting and claims, as women and girls bear the brunt of the impact of extreme weather. The starting point is to gather the data and measure the impact, we estimate that 54% of the claims we pay benefit women. In West Africa, we have worked with partners to provide insurance coverage for women farmers in the karité (shea butter) sector. We see this area as a tremendous business opportunity because it is a historically underserved segment.

Alaba: How are you making sure the ARC insurance offerings are easily accessible to clients in key sectors like agriculture, health, etc in the continent?

Lesley: At ARC, we focus on 3 core client segments – governments (federal and state), humanitarian agencies and small-medium scale farmers. We are building scale and diversification in our business both across products and geographies by introducing new products and entering new markets. Our mandate is to close the protection gap and increase the number of people protected by insurance. We want insurance to be more available, accessible and affordable. We have launched a number of strategic partnerships, including acquiring a stake in Pula Advisors, a leading parametric insurance aggregator, this move has enabled us to grow our market share in the agricultural sector. At COP 26, we mobilised close to US$100 million to subsidise governments in the payment of insurance premiums over multiple years.

Alaba: You recently met with key strategic partners in Nigeria, making it your third visit to the country. Can you tell us about the key outcomes emerging from the meeting?

Lesley: I had the good fortune of being in Abuja at the end of March, this was an opportunity to renew and strengthen relationships with our key stakeholders in Nigeria. We would closely work with the Ministry of Finance at the federal level as well as local insurance companies. With local insurance companies, we provide technical expertise on the development of products and risk management and reinsurance capacity, our local partners provide us with product distribution and local market insights. The scale of the opportunities is so vast that it can only, the opportunities can only be fully exploited through close collaboration between the various stakeholders.

Alaba: Lastly, Where do you visit next on your ARC mission visit and what is the future of climate risk insurance?

Lesley: Climate insurance is one of the most exciting sectors of the insurance market because it answers a pressing need on the African continent. Currently, there are over 700 million Africans whose livelihoods are vulnerable to extreme weather and insurance has a major role to play in protecting their lives and livelihoods. Agriculture is the mainstay of most African economies and any investments into the sector should be protected through insurance products as a de-risking mechanism. I fully expect the industry to grow at double digit rates for the foreseeable future because the coverage gap is large. Closing the gap is of paramount importance in the era of climate change, where the frequency and severity of natural disasters is increasing.

 

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Corporate Executive

IWD 2022: Bukola Adelusi on Breaking The Bias

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IWD 2022: As a corporate-commercial lawyer who has lived and worked in two continents, I have witnessed the significant impact women have had and continue to have in law, management, business and all other spheres of life. While there is an increased awareness of the social and systemic barriers to women’s development and participation in leadership. I believe there is so much more to be done in order to achieve gender equality. 

The history of gender equality highlights the struggles and triumph of women. Which is why every day makes for fantastic opportunities to celebrate women in the world and the IWD gives another reason to do so. Outside of these celebrations, it is an opportunity to reflect and search our minds to identify biases towards women. Be open minded and willing to interrupt the biases and provide more support for women in our communities and workplaces. We celebrate IWD 2022 today but we must all work proactively every day to realize the change we desire.

In light of this year’s theme, “Break the bias”, I recognise that we all have biases and unfortunately we cannot control the biases people have towards us. My advice to women is – Don’t let others define your worth. Continue to work on being a better version of yourself. Knowing that there is no limit to what you can achieve. You are powerful beyond measure. You are enough!

Bukola Adelusi is a corporate and commercial lawyer who immigrated from Nigeria to Canada to further her LLM. Prior to her LL.M at Western University, she practiced law in one of the top law firms in Nigeria where she advised both local and international companies on banking and finance, mergers and acquisition, and private equity deals in Africa. Bukola currently works with a top law firm in Toronto, Canada. 

 

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Deloitte Africa CEO-Elect, Ruwayda Redfearn on Breaking The Bias

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Deloitte Africa CEO-Elect, Ruwayda Redfearn speaks with Business Africa Online (BAO) on this year’s international women’s day theme: #BreakingTheBias. Excerpt.

“International Women’s Day is a timely reminder of the progress made over the past few decades around the advancement of women and improving gender parity. The day is also an opportunity to remind each other of the work that still needs to be done to realise the global goal of gender equality.

I would like to urge all boards and management teams to be conscious of the role and power of their decisions in advancing gender parity and be conscious and deliberate in their efforts.

This year, we commit to #BreaktheBias of class, roles, geography and expectations, and as a leader, I continuously challenge myself to promote gender parity as a business and social imperative.

Deloitte has adopted the “ALL IN: Accelerating gender and inclusion” strategy as a way to underline the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to accelerating representation of women in leadership roles.

The rationale and evidence linking gender parity to financial performance and business success is compelling, and linking gender diversity to better decision-making, is the basis of our business case at Deloitte Africa. We recognise that when we invest in women and work to eliminate inequalities, poverty can be eliminated and Africa as a whole can better its chances of becoming a stronger player in the global marketplace.”

 

Bio

Ruwayda Redfearn most recently served as the Chair of the Deloitte Africa Board. She started her career as a Trainee in the Durban office in 1997. After experiencing a New York secondment, she returned to Durban as a manager and was appointed a partner in 2004. She was promoted to lead the Audit Practice of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) region in 2010, serving some of the region’s most prestigious clients. During this time, Ruwayda also chaired the Global Young Partners’ Advisory Council reporting to the global CEO.

Ruwayda was appointed to the Deloitte Southern Africa Board and Remuneration Committee in 2011. In 2012, Ruwayda decided to take up a Chief Financial Officer role at a global commodity trading business for a three-year period, and gained invaluable experience, serving as a Board member on a number of the group’s companies.

She returned to Deloitte in 2015 as the Office Managing Partner for the KZN region and managed the Risk Advisory business for the Eastern Seaboard. Ruwayda was appointed to the Deloitte Africa Board in 2016 and has chaired the firm’s Remuneration Committee as well as serving as a member of the Performance, Reward, Succession & Nominations Committee.

Having spent time both in the profession and in commerce and industry, Ruwayda brings to the role an outsider’s view. She is also known for her ability to form and nurture strong relationships and networks, her strength in a crisis and her ability to make tough, bold decisions. She has proven herself to be a very capable and strong leader.

Ruwayda graduated from University of Natal and is a qualified CA(SA). Ruwayda also serves on the Deloitte Global Board of Directors.

 

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