‘What keeps me going is being able to make positive impact, both from an organizational perspective and also from the talent in bringing people up with me’
Fumbi Chima is an accomplished senior executive and Non-Executive Director with extensive experience, leading digital transformations within established, global corporations. Fumbi as a Chief Information Officer & Business Leader, focuses on driving business outcomes through the use of technology and digital solutions, with in-depth experience in global transformational programmes and inspiring an organisation to embrace a new future.
Prior to joining Adidas as CIO in 2019, Fumbi has been the transformational CIO for several global organizations and was most recently the CIO of Fox Network Group; CIO at Burberry Corporation, CIO of Walmart Stores Inc Asia business operations, and CIO of American Express’ Global Corporate Technologies. She has a proven track record of successfully partnering with business leaders and building world-class teams.
Fumbi has a Bachelor of Arts, Politics and Philosophy, University of Hull, North Humberside, U.K. In addition, she has a post graduate certification in Women Corporate Directorship, Hong Kong University and Executive Leadership Development of Harvard University.
Highlights of her career include developing and managing the execution of multi-channel digital strategies that doubled revenue and decreased spending by 23%, creating significant margin expansion. Within another strategic initiative, Fumbi led a team that divested low-value functions and reinvested in high-value ones that had an impact of several billion dollars in additional incremental annual revenue.
Fumbi has both for and non-profit board experience and is a sought-after speaker on topics ranging from the CIO’s role in the executive suite and boardroom, to making digital part of an organization’s culture. She has been recognized as a top leader in STEM, Globalization, and IT. She is Independent Non-Executive Director at Africa Prudential.
Excerpts of the interview with the BusinessDay Weekender.
If you were to use one word to describe your transition/journey of being CIO of various global organizations including Fox Network group, Walmart stores, Burberry corporation and others, what would that word be?
If I had to use one word, it would be Transformation! I think transformation just because a lot of those companies that I got into, partners I worked for, and work with are trying to use technology as an enabler to improve their business outcomes and or imperatives.
What is your motivation/what keeps you going/what is your mantra in the industry?
My motivation is making a difference. What keeps me going is being able to make positive impact, both from an organizational perspective and also from the talent in bringing people up with me.
What was your starting point and defining moment that set you on the right track?
My starting point, I would say is, great mentorship and sponsorship. The ability to help people that believe in you and give you that opportunity to do things and for me the courage to take on difficult challenges and coming out of my comfort zone.
As a young girl growing up, did you (always) see yourself as a leader? Would you say leadership was taught to you by the top notch universities that you attended for undergraduate and graduate studies or instilled in you by your experiences; perhaps it was a natural/inborn talent?
I don’t think I would say there was any moment I knew I was on track because that would exude an element of arrogance. I think it is just going one at a time. I just believed I was going to do the best I possibly can and with hard work and resilience. Through that, I was blessed to have great people around me that mentored and guided me. I never had a destination plan that I was going to be X. To me, that helps make that whole difference because it is not about the target it is about having a broader perspective.
Yes. We are all leaders. I have always been a leader in the sense that I have had opportunity to be either a prefect in school or drive a change or lead a team from a sport perspective. Leadership is never taught. You either have it or you don’t. However, having that background taught me on how to apply broad knowledge and bringing it back to your professional life. For me, it is less about my institution, because people can go to the best universities and still come out with nothing. I was lucky to work for great organization during my formative career that taught me how to be an individual, on how to be a leader. I also had people that I looked up to or I have seen either at the work place or in person and I admire and like their leadership style and would love to emulate.
Personally, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My biggest achievement is being a Mother. Honestly, I don’t weigh my success based on my profession. I base my success on how balanced my children have been and I am blessed two wonderful kids that are grounded in every aspect. I don’t wake up every morning in a haste on managing the home. Bringing up two balanced young women is my greatest achievement.
Tell us about your first experience in the boardroom.
Oh my goodness! That was a long time ago! My first experience to interaction with a board was in an Executive capacity, where I was presenting some of the I.T / Technology Road Map and vision to the board. Therefore; the transition of participating in board meetings as a CIO (part of the executive management team) and regularly interact with the board members has helped me transition not only being a presenter at the board room, but knowing the kind of questions the board members ask, lessons learnt and I take that and incorporate it into my next presentation and pivoting onto the other side, I have been a Non-Executive Director, I am able to balance both. I can see what it is like to be a presenter and knowing the kinds of questions to ask. At first when you go in you could feel fluttered about being in their presence but then when you think about it, they are human like you so don’t be nervous.
Your BSc. and graduate degrees were more about politics and leadership, how did you delve into technology/IT?
I had a short stint in Finance and Accounting. The marriage between Finance and Technology was what got me into Technology. I worked on projects where I had to help with translations of Accounting principles to help determine how the companies were doing against a project or implementation and that was really a close alignment with working with Tech people. That intellectual perspective, maybe it is the art of when you are doing philosophy and art, you think broad. I was able to connect things together and apply some of that into those projects and the experience and I realized that I actually liked it. I wanted to spend more time in that arena and I got an opportunity to do that. It also speaks to the element around what do you do when given those opportunities to take up challenges. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could and I believe it paid off.
What would you say is the most common recurrence when leading people?
I think most people want direction. They like leaders that can set directions, that have a focus and can help guide them. And I think people are very excited when you spend time to understand who they are and the needs they want and being helpful to achieve that. I describe myself as a Coach and I think what that means is that I focus about keeping the momentum, encouragement, helping the team navigate to achieve the optimum outcome. I know the end state and I create that vision but it is that motivation and encouragement that sharpens everyone to move directionally into the path that we need. It has been most recurrent in leading people. Also, trust is very important. Most people don’t have the confident in themselves and sometimes giving them that power and ability to make decisions can be overwhelming and you need to provide that confidence to make them believe in themselves
You were just announced as an Independent Non-Executive Director of Africa Prudential; did you see this coming?
No, I didn’t see it coming. I have been helping to advise and give perspective to the idea of how the company wants to be positioned and I am humbled that some of those ideas were taken and they see the value that I am bringing to being an Independent Non-Executive Director. It is fairly touching, and I hope to do my best to help them reach their goals and objectives.
What are your thought on the technology ecosystem in Africa and how is Africa Prudential playing a role in this?
From a digital standpoint, I think Africa moved frontier before anybody did because they didnt have the infrastructure and they weren’t encumbered with the legacy systems that many modern world had to deal with. They just had to leap from into digital in all aspects and I think that has been an advantage for them. The challenge is to keep that momentum going and I think Africa has that innovation and talent. The potential is huge. It is just how much we harness it in the right way to continue to exposure that innovation and creativity to the rest of the world. Africa Prudential is a very ambitious company. They want to be dynamic, disruptive. How often do you see a company pivot from a traditional registrar to becoming a digital company that wants to create products that services entities across multiple domains? I think that speaks for the dynamism and aspiration and I think they are well positioned to do that.
How do you de-stress after a long day at work?
I am much of an outdoor person. I love to go for a long walk or run. I also love to watch the TV. My kids make fun of me because I am always watching CNN. I also love to spend time with family and friends and do enjoy having a great dinner.
Which part of the entertainment industry appeals to you the most for relaxation purposes? And who is your favorite personnel in that particular industry (e.g. actor/actress, musician). Why this choice? Anything in common with the person?
I don’t really have one. I would watch good movies when it is out but I won’t get excited over it. If a good movie comes out, I will go watch it. I do enjoy music, I love jazz music. I believe a lot in my faith so tend to listen to worship songs as well and that particularly allows me to connect my inner being and self. Between my worship and jazz music, it really enables me to relax and meditate. I think every actor or actresses. I admire them in a different way. I think everybody does phenomenal in their own aspects and they all rise up in different topic of discussions that I admire.
What are your coping mechanisms given your busy schedule? How do you combine your personal life, work and family? Does it get easier?
I didn’t think there is a coping mechanism and I don’t think there is a work-life balance. I call it a work-life integration. I mix my home and work together. When I need to leave work for personal I excuse myself and whenever I need to sacrifice my personal time for work, I do that too. It is really more of an integration. I pick my battles. Does it get easier? No, it doesn’t, I stopped feeling guilty about it. Th moment I feel guilty it becomes a limiting factor in my life and journey. I have gotten to this point in my life and career that it works for me and my family
What is the first number/first three numbers on your speed dial? Which contact do you communicate with the most frequently?
It would be my children which are my daughters, my husband and my sisters.
If you had one grand wish, what would it be?
I am on the journey in life to deepen my spiritual relationship. I think my wish is to continue in that journey more deeply than I have ever done. Sometimes, work takes priority but I think it is important one’s spirituality is just as important and my biggest wish is that I continue to grow deeper in that.
What advice would you give to women out there on balancing their family and work lives, while still setting good examples (as in leadership) for others?
You’ve need have a good support network. Whether it is in-laws, nannies, friends etc that is going to help you in that journey. I mentioned in an earlier question with regards to work life balance that it is important not to feel guilty and accept that there would be tradeoffs along the way. You can’t feel guilty to say o gosh I missed my daughter’s recital because of work. If that was really important to you, then you would have gone to the recital and excused yourself at work. Because at the end of the day, work remains work. It is important for one to realize what tradeoffs they are willing to accept. Do it for yourself. Do not do it because yoU think that is what is expected of you. Do YOU!!. Most important, you have to enjoy it. The moment you don’t enjoy it, then there is no fulfilment.
17. What technology medium would say is the most awe-inspiring.
I am in awe of this TitTok app. They it has basically engulfed the youth market. It started as a teenage thing now a lot of adults are using it. Especially seeing the surge of adoption in the last 6 months has been a very interesting one on TikTok. It helps revolutionized the way we communicate within ourselves and to other people. It has been fun.