Mizinga Melu: a corporate global icon

 Mizinga Melu: a corporate global icon

The Mizinga Melu brand is famous in the corporate world locally, regionally and internationally.

However, little is known on the other side of the ever-smiling Mizinga in terms of her upbringing.

Mizinga Shansonga Melu, is married to Chipepo Melu and the couple has two children namely Matthew and Ruthmary.

She has written and launched an interesting international best seller book which outlines her personal life experience.

The book, which is titled Braving the Odds, A Memoir on Resilience, Finance, and Faith, recently emerged number one in various categories of Amazon Best Seller in four countries namely United States of America (USA), Canada, United Kingdom (UK) and Australia.

Braving the Odds is an intimate and inspiring memoir by the CNBC, All Africa Business Woman of the Year Award winner.

It is a story of a daughter, wife, mother, woman of God, and an African businesswoman in a man’s world.

Through its telling, Mizinga hopes to inspire women and girls around the world to not let anything stand in their way.

The book is about how an ordinary girl from Zambia overcame setbacks such as loss of her mother while still a younger girl.

It also outlines how Mizinga failed out of nursing school as a younger woman and was denied of an executive role although she was the most qualified for an aspiring banker.

African Export-Import Bank President and Chairperson of the Board of
Directors Benedict Oramah provided the Foreword to the Book.

Prof Oramah says Mizinga’s book contain the story of the African girl child who overcame the hardest of barriers to self-determination.

“Mizinga’s triumph shines a light on the resilience, tenacity and unrelenting spirit that drives the African woman,” he says.

Prof Oramah says Mizinga has joined the growing list of African heroines and developed the blueprint for not only the African woman but all Africans aspiring for leadership in a challenging world.

Former Bank of Zambia (BOZ) Governor Denny Kalyalya says the book is the must-read for women in the corporate world and the men they work with.

Dr Kalyalya, who is former World Bank Group Executive Director, says the book has numerous lessons from Mizinga’s personal experiences.

Development Finance and Investment Professional Dolika Banda says Mizinga’s book has demonstrated that it matters not where one came from.

“This is an uncensored story of the corporate world, as experienced through the life of a woman who has carved out her own worth by weaving her profession, traditions, and values into a singular brand,” Ms Banda says.

Others have described Mizinga as an authentic and purpose –focused leader who is always breaking new frontiers.

Mizinga has a strong religious background as a member of Salvation Army, Pentecostal Church and Roman Catholic.

Apart from being Absa Bank Zambia chief executive officer and the first Zambian and the first woman to hold the position of managing director and chief executive officer at Standard Chartered Bank Zambia, then who is Mizinga and what odd did she overcome?

According to her, she was playful in her early days and climbing trees was her favorite activity.

Mizinga could climb the beautiful Mukwa and Musekese trees to have an endless fun for her adventurous spirit.

She embraced her late mother Mary Shansonga’s advice for her to use the oil from Mukwa tree leaves to cure any cough, cold, sore throat or an infection.

She further ate Musekese leaves each time she complained of stomach pains and she got better afterwards.

Mizinga’s father, Elijah Shansonga, was a tough and strict person who wanted the best of her daughter.

He discouraged Mizinga from associating with wrong friends when she was a pupil at Roma Girls Secondary School in Lusaka.

Her life as a girl was only about going to school and going straight home to Shimabala during holidays.

From the time she was eight to nine years, Mizinga was thinking of becoming a bank teller.

After completing grade 12, Mizinga made several applications and she was accepted to study nursing at University Teaching Hospital (UTH).

Her father was not in favour of a nursing career and so he advised Mizinga to wait for other better opportunities.

In view of her determination and passion for nursing, Mizinga’s father reluctantly allowed her to study nursing.

She recalls that many nursing students then were dating with doctors since the nursing school was located close to the medical school.

“The young men (student doctors) would wait for us underneath a large tree next to the gate. I had a relationship but it was one that did not materialise into anything significant. Several of my friends, however, went on to marry their doctor boyfriends,” she says.

Mizinga, who loved working with patients in wards at UTH, failed nursing exams in her first year.

She had to retake her first year exams in six months while undergoing her second year practical exams.

Despite being a playful student, Mizinga worked hard in her nursing studies but she failed again.

Her father comforted her and told her she would get something better as failing nursing was not the end of the world.

Mizinga then applied to be a bank clerk and the Bank of Credit and Commerce gave her a job.

Her father did not endorse her job and so the appointment was rescinded.

Mizinga was devastated at the behavior of her father but she later appreciated that her dad meant well for her.

She later applied to be a bank clerk at Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZANACO) and got a job in Ndola.

For the first time, Mizinga felt of having a major breakthrough as her father did not object to the job offer.

After working with ZANACO for another six months, her father and her brother, Atan, advised her to continue with her studies.

Mizinga applied at City Banking College in United Kingdom (UK) to study a degree in banking and she was accepted.

Chipepo Melu, who is Mizinga’s husband, was one of the Zambian men in her class in London.

Her family in London advised Mizinga to marry Chipepo Melu but she initially laughed at it as the man had a girlfriend then.

Mizinga and Chipepo spent time together and later fell in love after which the two married around 1994.

While studying in London, Mizinga worked for McDonald’s as a cashier and salesperson.

She obtained skills in the areas of sales, standardisation, customer service and efficiency.

One of the lessons she has embraced to-date is that clients are made up of individuals and hence there is no one-size fits all solution to address their needs.

Mizinga always ensure to understand each client’s buying and decision making behavior.

After obtaining a degree in banking, Mizinga joined Standard Chartered Bank Zambia in Lusaka on October 10, 1993 as bank management trainee.

Her job involved learning different departments but her base department was the treasury.

It was at this point that Mizinga started building her brand in the banking sector as Standard Chartered Bank was her first professional job.

At the end of her three years in the treasury department, the Zambian branch was called upon by a Branch of Standard Chartered Bank in Uganda and she relocated to that country where she became an excellent sales person.

She later returned to Zambia and remained in the treasury department of the same bank.

With her Uganda experience, headhunters began to notice the talent Mizinga had in the banking sector beyond Zambian market.

Her personal brand developed a reputation and she received a call from Citibank inviting her to join the bank as head of sales.

Citibank praised Mizinga in ways her employer had not done before and offered her a higher salary and promised to pay for her Master of Business Administration (MBA) studies.

When Standard Chartered Bank Zambia got wind of Mizinga’s looming resignation, management told her not to resign and promised to give her the same package Citibank offered.

Mizinga agreed to the counsel and Standard Chartered Bank kept all the promises for her.

It was a tough balance for Mizinga to be a married woman, study for her MBA and work on a full time job within the bank but she completed her studies with excellent marks.

In 1999, she returned to Uganda for another three month stint.

In 2000, she was given an incredible opportunity of working in the treasury department at the World Trade Centre in the New York City for six months.

She also worked in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa in different capacities including that of being the bank’s regional manager where she was responsible for 10 countries on the continent.

The first child, Matthew, was born in 2002 after the couple had waited for eight years while the second child, Ruthmary, was born in 2009.

Mizinga’s work was not compromised after having babies but it was difficult for her to balance her home and work life.

In view of her wide experience in Africa, Mizinga moved to the bank’s office in London where her new job involved looking after different continents namely Europe, America, Asia and Middle East.

While working in London, she attended interviews and was appointed CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Zambia at the age of 38 in 2008.

Mizinga, a multi-award winning business leader, became the first Zambian and first women to become the CEO of the Bank.

It was a bitter appointment because she had to leave London after working there for about 10 years.

On another hand, the appointment was sweeter in that she was returning home to be the first woman to take up such a role.

Mizinga’s rising in the banking sector came with challenges especially from the men folk.

According to her, research shows that a man only needs 60 per cent of what it takes to rise as the remaining 40 per cent comes along for being a man while a woman requires 100 per cent to rise.

Further, racial game came into play in the boardroom especially in the UK where she was working as a departmental head.

But such a scenario did not deter Mizinga from being dedicated and hard-working in a man’s world.

She witnessed boardroom politics from men as she was usually the only female in board meetings.

“There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in boardrooms. Unfortunately, these challenges turn women away from corporate leadership,” she says.

As a female leader in the corporate world, Mizinga feels it is now time for women and girls to brave the odds.

While being a female leader in the corporate world has its challenges, Mizinga wants women to develop confidence in their God given abilities.

Source: Times of Zambia

The Independent Observer


John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism