Dudu Msomi, the strategic consultant facilitating the effectiveness of leaders to achieve their goals
Dudu Msomi is the Founder and CEO of Busara Leadership Partners, a research-orientated strategic advisory and consulting company whose expertise is to facilitate the development and effectiveness of leaders to achieve their desired goals.
Busara Leadership Partners is a boutique firm of new generation individuals steeped in qualifications, experience and capabilities that are driven by performing and achieving measurable results and making a difference in everything they do operating virtually since their establishment in 2009.
Msomi labels herself an expert generalist, which affords her the ability to strike the right balance between depth and breadth of knowledge to be an effective strategist and facilitator for clients to see the possibilities, have the courage and the knowledge to do the right things, the first time.
She has trans-disciplinary qualifications and multi-sectoral experience making her a sought-after and powerful strategy facilitator, corporate governance expert, leadership coach, diversity and inclusion strategist, business advisor, keynote & guest speaker and writer.
She designs and delivers bespoke leadership, board, and entrepreneurs development programmes. Msomi was recognised by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the Top 29 Influential South African Business Leaders in 2019. Dudu Msomi was selected by the US Consulate in South Africa as a mentee on the FORTUNE/US State Department Global Women Leaders in 2010 and on the Cherie Blair Foundation in 2015.
She presents a series called Wisdom Personified Conversations with Dudu Msomi on the YouTube channel ‘Wisdom Personified’. She is also the founder of the Dudu Msomi Foundation which contributes and prepares young people and women for educational achievement, employment. entrepreneurial success and leadership.
Dudu Msomi has a B.A. Hons. (University of Natal, Durban); Postgraduate Diploma in Advertising and Marketing (AAA School of Advertising); Postgraduate Diploma in Corporate Governance (RAU); Programme for Management Development (GIBS) and a Master’s in Business Administration (GIBS).
Dudu Msomi is an Institute of Director’s (IOD) Fellow and is an independent non-executive on boards, one being the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). She is the Chairperson of the FSCA, OPFA and FAIS Ombud HR Committees and sits on their respective Remuneration Committees. Msomi is on the Vodacom Foundation Advisory Board and a Trustee on the Humulani Trust.
She was my guest recently on #InspiringwomanserieswithKemiAjumobi where she shared on advancing the involvement of women in leadership, being a strategy mentor and strategy coach, her selection by the US Consulate in South Africa to be part of the mentoring programme with Fortune/US state department, being on the board of South African Reserve Bank and Vodacom Foundation Advisory board, the need for women to support each other among others.
Growing up and influence till date
I had one sister, S’celo who died in 2006. With my mother and father, I called us the ‘Fantastic Four’. I loved reading as a child. Started reading on my own before I entered school. Thanks to my mother, at four years old, I was enrolled into Grade 1.
I grew up in a family that was ‘open’ – one that fostered diversity and tolerance. An environment in which your opinion was not suppressed but tackled and resolved in family meetings. I appreciated my parents’ contextual leadership in assessing situations and broadening awareness without compromising their values. My mother’s advice is never to get worked up when you are talking to people and always to remain courteous towards others. My parent, particularly my father, encouraged me to explore ideas without fear, but to appreciate that every choice has consequences.
Diversity infused my childhood career fantasies, changing from astronaut to Psychologist to lawyer to consultant. The ultimate desire which brewed as a teen was to a few careers by evolving into various roles through studying various disciplines and working in diverse occupations. I just wanted varied experiences.
My hobby as a child was thinking. I would just survey my environment and observe people, and think and also play around with different scenarios in my mind. I have always known that I would use my passion for thinking, strategising and making situations better as my contribution in the world. Since I was a child, I have deliberately built up my knowledge, diagnosing and thinking skills to bring a refreshing lens to the way I see the world. I just did not know what form my sharing of my expertise would take until I entered the corporate environment. I fell in love with business, organisations, strategy, and leadership. From about 1996, I have been passionately accumulating skills to assist me to develop the strategic advisory and consulting expertise that inspired the formation of Busara Leadership Partners.
Setting up Busara Leadership Partners and impact from inception till date
I am motivated rather than intimidated by the unknown. This has underscored my entrepreneurial aptitude. One of the highlights of my life’s journey thus far has been the founding of Busara Leadership Partners, a strategic advisory and consulting firm whose expertise is to facilitate the development and effectiveness of leaders to achieve their desired goals. The name Busara means wisdom, prudence, and intelligence in Swahili. With no capital set aside, I took a leap of faith in starting the company in 2009.
One of the biggest challenges globally is that the demand for certain skills, qualifications and experience exceeds supply. There is a dearth of leadership, strategy, communication, and governance skills. Busara Leadership Partners has competence and expertise in developing and inspiring effectiveness using an integrated approach to leadership development, governance, and strategy.
We strive to offer a real option for leaders, namely board members, management, and entrepreneurs, of necessary scarce skills that is better than the status quo. The magic of Busara Leadership Partners lies in the trans-disciplinary and multi-sectoral nature of the core team bringing forth an innovative way of thinking and seeing the same issues from different vantage points and knowledge systems. The various insights that the team brings to client challenges and problems ensures that the approaches and the solutions are always fresh, relevant, and effective. As the Chief Executive, I have honed our expertise in strategic thinking, corporate governance, diversity and inclusion so that we are sought after because of the quality of what we do and our proven track records.
Everything we do is grounded in assisting our clients to make a positive impact in everything they do. This they do by making quality decisions that drive sustainable growth. I am also passionate about eliminating stereotypes about African people and the businesses we can create and succeed in. Knowledge firms with a strong unique value proposition that can survive and thrive without a black economic empowerment framework and a bias towards government projects are not commonplace in South Africa. Busara Leadership Partners wants to be ground-breaking in how African people, particularly women’s impact and influence are appreciated in the leadership, strategy, and governance space. Our aim is to be locally relevant and globally niched.
It has become a South African stereotype that white people are the teachers, are experienced and competent and that black people are politically connected, need to be trained and to be ‘empowered’.
Black people are more often than not, approached for Black Economic Empowerment partnerships for their business, personal or political ties, or else for their ability to add symbolic lustre to a company, whilst their value to contribute at a strategic or operational level is de-emphasised. The fact that African South Africans, in particular, have not really been known and valued for their strategic knowledge and input in organisations, but rather for their networks and political influence, further inspired me to influence and shape the quality of leadership in our country and beyond because Busara Leadership Partners believes that effective leaders and managers have credibility because of their technical competence and their personal integrity.
Having worked in the Advertising agency for as long as you did, what were the lessons learnt?
There are three things that I value for having started my career in advertising.
Naming your company: The name you give your company is one of the most important marketing and branding decisions you can make. How people pronounce or cannot pronounce your name, how your name reads and is said by different people anywhere in the world can make your brand global or not. A difficult or a culturally specific name requires a lot of investment to ensure that people do not butcher your brand. A powerful name adds significant value to branding, marketing, and business development efforts. Brand names are an important choice in market differentiation, a company’s positioning, and uniqueness in the minds of clients and consumers. The choice of the name communicates a lot to the prospective target market.
So choosing our company name, Busara Leadership Partners needed to communicate a ‘mouthful’ about how we think of ourselves and aim to do in the marketplace in terms of targeting leaders and partnering with them to facilitate their development and effectiveness. If in the future, people just refer to us as “Busara”, which some do already, owning ‘Wisdom’ as a positioning is what we intended.
How brands are built: When you know how brands are built, you tend to be sceptical and hopefully more discerning. Branding involves managing the effect that a product or service has on the customer. Branding is more than the name, logo or pay offline, as a brand is defined by a customer’s perception and experience of your product, service, or business.
Successful brands are aligned in what their communication says they are and how they are experienced. The benefit of having worked in advertising is the true appreciation of the role of psychology in creating brands. Our feelings and our sense of identity influences our relationships with brands more than objective reality. We think we are above ‘manipulation’ and are rational beings, but we are more emotional in our decision making than we think. It is a humbling thought, but also empowering when you are aware of this fact.
Building your personal brand: Understanding the power of brands, made me wary of over-estimating my value in business relationships and society at large. Advertising is a glamorous industry, not taking away the hard work, long hours, and the ‘unsexy’ grind behind the scenes. But the reality of my life in advertising, was that we were wined and dined, invited to glamorous social events, and in general, had a very ‘unreal’ life. I learnt early to separate the fact that I was getting particular treatments and getting attention for the roles I occupied, rather than because of the value of just being Dudu Msomi, without the corporate brand behind me or the titles I held.
Having achieved ‘success’ relatively young, in my 20s when I was already occupying strategic roles and began to sit on boards, I consciously started building the brand of Dudu Msomi to be able to survive and thrive regardless of the corporate brand I worked in. This mindset made it easier to start my own business. Thus, my focus has always been on building my expertise and having the patience that building credibility in my chosen field will not result in instantaneous financial success, and build the Busara Leadership Partners’ brand will take time and come against many obstacles.
However, because what I do is my life’s passion. It is a journey that has been worth taking. I have been focused on building my expertise in the integrated approach to leadership, strategy, and governance. I was awarded the 2013 Laureate Award by the University of Pretoria as a GIBS Alumnus to honour her outstanding contribution to the field of leadership development, strategy and governance and recognised by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the Top 29 Influential South African Business Leaders in 2019.
How are you helping to advance the involvement of women in Leadership in your own way?
The dialogue about women in leadership has centred on questions like whether good women are hard to find, whether they suffer from a deficit of relevant skills, or whether their non-representation reflects cronyism and resilient social and cultural patterns. Despite the growing numbers of educated women entering the workforce, their increasing buying power and influence, women continue to hold only a small proportion of leadership positions in business, particularly. There is a view that representation of women in leadership would multiply exponentially if women were readily able and willing to collaborate and actively support each other using networking as one of the main tools. “Men are better at networking than women”, “women in business and the corporate world don’t offer support to each other”. These are some of the statements we hear often, but rarely interrogate how much truth, if any, there is in them.
Busara Leadership Partners has conducted research on networking to obtain insights to propose solutions for increasing the number of women in decision-making positions and to provide tools for women to change their circumstances.
Randall Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson say that “If experience is the best teacher, learning from someone else’s experience is a close second”. The scale in which each of us will make an impact in the world may differ. I coach and mentor women and men. Being a mentor is to be instrumental and active in increasing women representation on boards, not just in South Africa, but as far as one can reach; to increase interactions, partnerships and trade amongst women globally and to build a pipeline of women leadership who bring a balance of technical competence and ethical decision-making to take their rightful places in business, politics and civil society.
I am passionate about building generous and active networks with like-minded individuals who have the values of abundance and paying it forward. I believe that networks are critical for individuals’ successes due to the advantages one gains through access to privy information, opportunities for collaboration, protection, visibility, and upward mobility. The key principle of a network is that of trust as it is based on mutually beneficial exchanges between individuals.
What women in leadership can share with their mentees and protégés is not the same as with just any acquaintance. Thus, as women leaders who have achieved success, we can touch many lives using our gifts, fortunes, and positional power, despite the many obstacles such as constraints on our time. But whether we touch one life or millions, it seems a worthwhile mission to actively offer ourselves as mentors and to leave the world a little better than we found it.
I am an Adjunct Faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. I design and present on the Corporate Governance and the Women as Leader programmes. Over and above that, Busara Leadership Partners designs bespoke programmes for boards, management, and entrepreneurs where the bias is towards females.
In what ways are you a strategy mentor and coach?
Strategy is one of the most overused words inside and outside of business. Also, a misunderstood discipline that everyone believes they can do. Strategy is about the choices an organisation makes of how to configure and deploy limited resources (time, energy, technology, finances, people etc.) to obtain and sustain a competitive advantage and be profitable in achieving its vision (mandate). Strategy requires a way of thinking and interacting with the context and the data available (or sought). Therefore, as a coach and mentor. I facilitate the development of strategic thinking and planning capabilities in board members, management, and entrepreneurs.
I coach: Specialists who want to become competent general managers and effective leaders with strong strategic thinking capabilities, Aspirant executive managers who want to break out of their comfort zones to be more creative and innovative in the VUCA world, Executives that want to transform and create inclusive environments and retain diverse talent, Women who want to reach the highest echelons of their profession and workplace, Upcoming African talent to guide them to thrive, to master unwritten rules and to cope in workplaces where their experienced alienation can stand in the way of their progress and adversely impact performance, Individuals who want to live their best lives at home and in the workplace, Aspirant board members who want to equip themselves to be board ready and Board members that want to understand and live diversity and inclusivity in its broadest forms e.g. thinking, disciplines, cultures and so on.
What are the transformational programs you design and implement for companies and industry bodies?
I believe that our world can be better than it is. I believe that the role and value of women in leadership is to use their power and influence to transform the environments they lead, not just to assimilate. In advertising, at Saatchi & Saatchi, by the time I left the company, I had facilitated the transformation of the management level to be 70% women and the entire Johannesburg agency to be 60% African. As the Deputy CEO of the Life Offices Association (LOA) in South Africa, I led the development of the Black Economic Empowerment Charter which later fed into the Financial Services Charter for transforming the sector.
Being selected by the US Consulate in South Africa to be part of the mentoring programme with Fortune/US state department
The greatest value of having been selected in 2010 to be part of 35 women from developing countries to become mentees on the Fortune 500 / US State Department Mentoring Programme was the fellow mentees. Long after the relationships with mentors have fizzles out, about 12 of us who attended the programme are still in touch, have reunions every two years and lend support to each other’s dream across borders and support each other through the joys and sorrows of life. Being selected for the Fortune Programme, with those specific women who are now my sisters from another mother, was one of the biggest blessings of my life. Tara Fela Durotoye and Detoun Ogwo are my sisters for life so much so that I visited Nigeria for a holiday in 2017, not business. It was a coming of home. I cannot wait to return.
What part of your life’s journey do you remember and remain grateful for?
Every experience in my life both painful and joyful is embraced with gratitude. I am who I am because of all the experiences I have had. I usually say I have a charmed life. I believe in being open to the gifts of the Universe. That if my intentions are pure in everything and anything I do; life surrounds your dreams and desires. Guardian angels who are friends or strangers, rally around you and help you achieve your goals. I am living proof of the validity of the spirit of Abundance. When you are open and give of yourself, you create space for other to pour into you as well.
South Africa has been through a lot, but definitely not where they used to be. What part of the struggle did you experience?
If someone had said 27 April 1994 that South Africa would lose its moral compass to the extent that it has, I will say it wasn’t possible. That greed and corruption would run rampant, I would not have thought it impossible, but would have wished that more than not, South Africans would demand more of themselves. South Africans have a self-correcting gene that pulls them back from the abyss. From the times of apartheid when they chose a bloodless revolution to refusing to be quiet when their country was being unashamedly looted during the Zuma years. But we seem to wait too long to self-correct.
My privilege is that the new South Africa arrived when I was young enough to be able to appreciate the new possibilities, but old enough to have seen the dying ambers of apartheid to know what country we should be building. The most painful memory of Apartheid is that my sister Nomsa Mildred Msomi was gunned down by the apartheid regime in Swaziland at the age of 22, so she never got to experience a democratic South Africa. I live a life that tries to honour her sacrifice for the freedom I have.
How do you rate the participation of women in politics, governance, and leadership in South Africa?
Significant change has happened in South Africa with regards to women’s equality and emancipation, however, the leadership of corporates stubbornly evolves at a snail’s pace. Gender diversity has been proven to improve governance and financial performance. Research has been indisputable in the fact that companies with gender diversity on boards, outperform boards lacking women representation and yet companies are reluctant to make credible efforts to achieve equity in the leadership echelons. South Africa is not faring badly in women participation in politics and public sector institutions. However, the private sector is not transforming to reflect the non-sexist, non- racist and equity principles enshrined in the Constitution.
Being on the board of South African Reserve Bank
When I received the letter of appointment, I kept the news to myself for a couple of weeks. I did not tell anyone. I guess there was a bit of disbelief though I had been given permission a few months prior for a background check to be done on me.
Though it is not the first board role I have on a financial services regulator body having served on the Financial Services Board since 2010, it is a privilege I am not taking likely and look forward to serving my country with other imminent board members of our country.
Are there enough women on boards in SA?
The representation of women on boards in South Africa was accelerated by legislation, namely the Employment Equity Act of 1998 and later the Broad based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003. As part of my MBA studies, I undertook a research thesis on Factors Affecting Women Representation on Boards of Directors. The conclusion was that hegemony and historical stereotypes are the main reasons that women are not widely appointed to boards, especially in the private sector. Entrenching the principles of diversity and inclusion in the cultures of organisations and, particularly in the hearts and minds of leaders, is the only way progress will be achieved to get equal representation at board levels.
Being on Vodacom Foundation advisory board
It is an honour to serve on the Vodacom Foundation Advisory Board. I was recommended for consideration by a male board member. After quite intensive interview process, I was appointed. It is the corporate social investment arm of Vodacom which is one of South Africa’s largest mobile company. The Foundation leverages Vodacom’s technological capability to improve people’s lives. The areas of focus are education, health, safety and security and donations and volunteering. I am proud of the impact our decisions have on the South African community, more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you believe women support women?
I do not believe in stereotypes – that women are homogenous. Some individuals who are women are not supportive of others, just as some individuals who are men do not support other men.
My gratitude goes out to every man and woman who has ever supported my dreams, big and small, and continue to.
I have been in discussions with women about supporting each other. The main reason women give for not being as active in helping others is that they are busy. The work life imbalance that men in the majority do not suffer from.
I do not believe in the excuse of being too busy. Being too busy to actively help each other as women, perpetuates our own alienation and makes us even more vulnerable when we occupy the leadership positions. Change cannot be left to chance and self-promotion. Life is not always fair. In any case, studies have shown that women that self-promote receive a double standard backlash whereas it is more positively accepted of men because people, in general, perceive female leaders more negatively than male ones, even if both sexes behave the same. Thus as women leaders, I believe and practice what I preach, that we must not under-estimate our own power in taking on more active ambassadorial and guardian angel roles to ensure that upcoming women and our peers are exposed to experiences and decision makers that will ensure their mobility and opportunities.
Day never to be forgotten and why?
I have two days that I will never forget that play in my head every now and then. 7 December 2006 when I lost my only sister and sibling. 23 June 2007 when my Dad left this world. The excruciating pain is indescribable. However, there is nothing in my relationships with both that I regret or left unsaid. I miss them both. Terribly
What do you do for leisure?
I love to take walks with my friend Don Walker when I am in Durban. I like taking short ‘holidays’ that are actually about changing the scenery and I continue working, but in beautiful surroundings. I enjoy great restaurants, watching TV or recently Netflix. I also enjoy reading.
As a leader, ensure that you deserve the positions you occupy because your credibility begins with the trust in your technical competence.
It is critical that as a leader, you have integrity in terms of having an alignment in what you say and in what you do. Thus, you must live the values you espoused even when it is not to your benefit. You must always have the courage to do the right thing.
Stay in School. It is said that the only competency that matters in the 21st century with its exponential rate of change is that of continuous learning. It is important that as a leader, you never rest on your laurels. You must never believe you know it all or that your position shields you.