Mpumi Madisa

Courtesy of Alon Skuy for Arena Holdings
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    South Africa

In October, Madisa took the reins at Bidvest, a sprawling $5 billion conglomerate whose businesses span from pharmaceuticals and office furniture to banking, cleaning, and logistics services. Just 41, Madisa’s appointment was announced on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2019—when none of the largest companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange had a female CEO—and was publicly celebrated by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who called her life and career trajectory “an inspiration to all of us.”

Indeed, Madisa’s ascent to the highest ranks of power was hard-earned. Raised by a single mother, she has described her upbringing as a “tough” but typical one for Black South Africans: growing up “with not enough money, thinking about whether you’re going to be able get into a university or not, wondering if you’re going to be able to finish or not.” For Madisa, the stakes of graduating were high; failing to do so meant “I won’t be able to change my own life or my family’s life,” she told CNBC Africa last year.

Madisa spent many of her post-university years learning the Bidvest business by working at one of its subsidiaries; after a brief stint in government, she returned and then moved to the head office, where she was trained by Bidvest’s founder and her predecessor. She took over as CEO at a challenging moment, with the battered South African economy in a severe recession. In a recent interview with CNBC Africa, she said she would maintain Bidvest’s “performance-driven” culture and lead the diversified, international company of 123,000 employees “authentically, as a young Black woman.”

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