Ramos Maria: Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year

Maria Ramos

Maria Ramos is the CEO of ABSA, one of the four major banking groups in South Africa.  She is in her mid-forties, and has already built a career and an international reputation to be proud of. 

She was born in Portugal, but moved to South Africa with her mother and her brick-layer father when she was a young child.  In addition to 2 banking diplomas, she also has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Wits and a Masters of Science from the University of London. 

She started her career at Barclays Bank, later First National Bank and worked there from 1978 - 1989.  When she found out about a Barclays Bank scholarship that was restricted to men only, she shamed the bank into changing its policy.

After that, she held several positions at leading institutions, working her way up steadily, until she was appointed Director General of the South African National Treasury in 1996.  She was immensely successful at National Treasury, and made a significant contribution to transforming it to one of our most successful government departments.  She left National Treasury in 2003, to take up the position of Group CEO of Transnet.

She brought to Transnet her trademark no-nonsense approach, and has done much to improve the efficiency of this organisation, though they still seem to have quite a long way to go before declaring real success.  She is the first person to admit this, talking openly about Transnet's problems and how they plan to fix them. 

When she first started at Transnet she spent 4 days shunting along railway lines and living on the trains with her staff, so that she could have a proper understanding of the operations and challenges.  In November 2008, Ramos announced that she would leave Transnet shortly, as the parastatal's "turnaround" strategy had been accomplished and they were back on their feet.

She felt it was time for a new challenge for her.  It was announced shortly afterwards that she would take up the position of ABSA CEO on 1 March 2009.  Maria Ramos was ranked as Fortune Magazine's 14th most influential International BusinessWoman in 2007. 

In 2006, she was number 16.  She has also won many other national and international accolades.  In July 2009, she was named Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year at the African Business Awards 2009 in London, for carrying out substantial transformation, and outstanding achievements to Africa and the world at large. 

She is the life partner of Trevor Manuel, former-South African Minister of Finance, and currently Minister in the Presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission.  They married in a private ceremony in Cape Town on 27 December 2008.

Maria Ramos Quotes:

"I don't pay you for your ego. Leave it outside and get the job done ... or it will count against you" Maria Ramos, relating what she said to her staff recently in Cape Town (Sunday Times)

"This is an organisation that had for many years learnt how to sweep all of the problems under every mat that was available. Nobody ever spoke about the problems until they became a crisis. I knew at that point that there were many executives that would not last a year." Ramos speaking about her early days at Transnet.

For more information on Maria Ramos, follow these links:

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Ramphele Mamphela

Mamphela Ramphela
Mamphela Ramphela

Mamphela Aletta Ramphele, a South African academic, business woman and a medical doctor was born on 28 December 1947 in Polokwane.

She completed her schooling at Setotolwane High School in 1966. After completing matric, she enrolled for pre-medical courses at the University of the North. In 1968 Ramphele was accepted into the University of Natal's Medical School. That was the only medical university that allowed black students to study without any permission from the government.

While at university, Ramphele became involved in student politics and anti-apartheid activism. She was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) along with Steve Biko. She was also involved in organizing and working with community development programmes. Ramphele and Steve Biko had a passionate relationship. Though Biko was married at the time, they had two children a girl which was born in 1974 and died at two months. In 1978, their son was born just after Biko's death.Ramphele was moved by the apartheid government to the town of Tzaneen from 1977-1984 due to her political activities.

Ramphele joined the University of Cape Town as a research member in 1986. She was appointed as one of its Deputy Vice-Chancellors in 1991. At the time, she was studying at the University of Cape Town and qualified as a medical doctor in 1992. She also received a Ph D. in Social Anthropology from the same university. She also has a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Administration from the University of South Africa. She also has diplomas in Tropical Health & Hygiene and Public Health from the University of the Witwatersrand.

She was appointed to the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand in September 1996. She became the first black woman to hold such a position at a South African university. In 2000  Ramphele became one of the four Managing Directors of the World Bank. Her task was to look at the strategic positioning and operations of the World Bank Institute as well as the Vice-Presidency of External Affairs. She is the first South African to hold this position.     

Ramphele has served as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. She also served as the director of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and as a board member of the Anglo-American Corporation and Transnet. Ramphele also serves as a trustee for The Link SA fund, a charitable organization that raises money to subsidise the tertiary education of South Africa's brightest disadvantaged students. She is a current trustee on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.

Interesting things about Mamphela Ramphele:

She has received numerous prestigious national and international awards, including three honorary doctorates, acknowledging her scholarship, service to the community. Her role in raising development issues and spearheading projects fcued on the upliftment of the most disadvantaged community sectors in South Africa.

In 1984 Dr Ramphele received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Hunter College of City of New York. In May 1991 Tufts University awarded her an Honorary Doctor of Science degree for her professional commitment and devotion to the health and social welfare of the poor in South Africa. She also holds an Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Natal. She received a Medal of Distinction from Barnard College in the United States, where she was elected to the Institute of Medicine. She was elected an honorary member of Alpha & Iota Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa at Radcliffe and Harvard Colleges.

Ramphele has also written and edited a number of books.Some of her publications are:

  • Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge, 1989, Co-author. This book draws together research conducted by the second Carnegie inquiry into poverty and development in South Africa and received the 1990 Noma Award, an annual prize given to African writers and scholars whose work is published in Africa.
  • Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko, 1991, Co-editor.
  • Restoring the Land, 1992, Editor This publication deals with theecological challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa.
  • A Bed called Home, 1993, Author. This book was based on Ramphele's PhD thesis in Social Anthropology, The Politics of Space, and deals with life in the migrant labour hostels of Cape Town.
  • Mamphela Ramphele - A Life, 1995, Author.
  • Across Boundaries: The Jouney of a South African Woman Leader, 1996, Author.

More links on Mamphela Ramphela:

Silwana Lulu

Lulu with her first doll
Lulu with her first doll

Lulu Silwana (51) was born Upington in the Northern Cape. In 1985 she moved to Khayelitsha in Cape Town, where she currently lives. She is a single mother of 4 children. In 1986 she noticed that the unemployment rate in Khayelitsha was very high. One of the reasons for this was the awkward transport network in the location.

Fortunately she had a sewing background and she started a sewing project with the intention of sharing her knowledge and skills with other women. She trained the women in her house. As the number of trainees increased, so did the problems they encountered.

Difficulties with space, and the shortage of machines and equipment created a challenge for her. As result of these problems Lulu decided to seek formal training to that she can run her project and learn how to present to audiences to seek funding. When she was in her forties, she registered for a Diploma in Public Relations Management at Cape Technikon. After her graduation she decided to formalise the project and named it Mzikantu (Home of Tradition).

Mzikantu's objectives and goals were to train women so that they are able to provide for their families. She then realised that many women are, like her, victims of abuse. "We don't need only to learn to cut and sew.  We also need a counselling sessions. Hence my skills: I could manage to listen to their problems and build one another's self esteem and confidence.  That was the most important thing - to show these women the things that they think they cannot do", Lulu says.

Lulu had thought that abuse was something which happened only to older, married women.  The experience of dealing with abused women led Lulu to realise that the abuse of women is not a matter of age, stage of life or race. The abuse of women is an issue which impacts and affects all women.   She discovered that the abuse of women can start on a first date or in a first relationship, and girls stay in bad relationship for too long.

She tried to show these abused women that anything and everything is possible with sufficient determination. She tried to teach them that if they want the respect of men, they should stand up and do something for themselves. Going back to school and learning to communicate with different people would assist them to regain their self confidence.

The other problem was that of girls falling pregnant too young. The boys who impregnated them would soon lose interest and move on to the next girl. The girl is then condemned to life as a single mother, while the man often just continues with his life, accepting little responsibility for his actions. To solve this problem, Lulu started a drama group for youth who were not proceeding from school to tertiary education.  Her aim is to teach these young people that there is much that is possible even without the benefits of a tertiary education.  The youth project was so strong that Lulu won an award for it.

As Mzikantu grew, they won a Community Builder award three times, 2 locally, and one national. She also won a women's empowerment award in 2004.  For this award she was nominated by women who were trained in the project.

The youth project closed in 2005 due to a lack of funding.  Shortly thereafter, Mzikantu started to experience a drop in funding as well.  The situation got so bad that Lulu was forced to end the training component of this operation. Mzikantu now operates as a business.  This means that they can concentrate on improving production and buying more machinery and equipment.

Their products are traditional clothes for men and women for Imibhaco (traditional occasions).  They also do cushions for the home.

Their main product is African dolls. These dolls give the women who make them the opportunity to express their feelings. Each doll has a special meaning to and message from its maker.  The dolls differ in size and design from pocket sized to people sized.

You can Visit Mzikantu at no1 Zenzele Training Centre, Lwandle Road, Khayelitsha Or contact Lulu to 084 776 8561