Linda Mabhena-Olagunju

Managing Director | DLO Energy Resources Group (PTY) LTD

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

WHO WERE YOUR ROLE MODELS DURING THE PIVOTAL STAGES OF YOUR LIFE?

I am inspired by various African entrepreneurs that have taken a chance and a risk on doing business on this continent, which is not without its challenges. I am also inspired by my parents who are entrepreneurs; and I am inspired by other business leaders such as Adewale Tinubu of Oando who like myself is a lawyer turned entrepreneur. The philanthropy of Oprah Winfrey leaves much to be admired – what is business if it is not to help in lifting others as we rise?

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?

It is having the ability to see a vision when no one else can. You have to be able to discern the optimal opportunity and recruit the right team to execute that vision, which is driven by a leader’s innate drive, charisma and motivational inputs.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST STRENGTHS?

I have been able to inspire people to believe in me and in my vision. In addition, I am good at forming strong alliances, which is important for deal-making.

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST BLIND SPOTS?

When I am excited about a concept I can often miss the finer details, which is why it is important to build a team around you that is more pragmatic and who have less appetite for risk than yourself and can therefore identify the potential pitfalls when it comes to decision-making.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING IN YOUR OPINION THAT PEOPLE COMMONLY MISCONCEIVE ABOUT YOU?

Some people may think that I am aggressive. We are operating in a male-dominated sector and when you are direct as a woman, men may take that as a tone of aggression when

you are merely asserting a point of view. I am actually a softy [laughs] but fair and firm. Most importantly, I know what I want and I go for it.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR KEEPING A TEAM MOTIVATED?

In any business, you should instil a sense of ‘ownership’ in your team members, which inspires people to perform optimally as they feel they are working with you, not for you. This accountability is important for people to feel that they are building something together

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

I sold everything I had and my parents mortgaged their home to assist me in funding my portion of the wind farms that we own. This risk could have gone either way – we lost in Round 2 and won in Round 3 of the South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

WHEN CONSIDERING A NEW PARTNERSHIP, WHAT FACTORS ARE DEAL-BREAKERS FOR YOU?

A partner that is not going to allow you to add value and doesn’t show mutual respect. As we are a female black-owned company, there is a perception that we are here to only tick boxes – which is not the case. If we cannot have operational involvement the partnership won’t move further. We have co-developed every project that we are involved with and, in most instances, we are originators of these deals where we are now in the position to bring on partners.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Critical analysis [laughs]. Not when working with documents but rather in negotiations with people – easier now but hardest then.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED?

Managing people. Starting from the premise that you are not perfect and extending that on to realise that you won’t get 100% from another individual but rather appreciate the value that the person brings to the team. With my A-type personality, this is something that I have had to learn as a manager

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?

The ability to employ and empower other women to excel in their business ventures. From this year alone, the DLO Power Africa Roundtable that I run, where 80% of the team comprises African women, has empowered these professionals to reach for their goals. At Group level, and where possible, we pick female candidates for key roles based on merit.

HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE?

My daughters ground me, as to them the only title I have is mum; they are completely unaware of the rest. Motherhood has truly given my life balance and in many ways centred me. Therefore, spending time with my family is paramount. I do the school runs myself when I’m home and all their extra mural activities. More importantly, I work from home as often as I can as I have a one-year-old daughter so I try to be around as much as possible. Also, because I employ women who are mothers, I am conscious that we are more productive when the home front is settled, which means I do allow for flexible working environments – often allowing them to work from home. This whole notion of working from 9 to 5 is ridiculous; as long as you are producing the work, allowing flexibility should be encouraged.

WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR?

Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo. It’s a love story set in Ghana, although in my view that is simplifying it. It is more about feminism and its challenges for African women operating in the African context. It’s a brilliant read and what I liked most about it is that it does not pretend to have solutions; rather it merely poses the important questions about the African woman and whether it is possible to have it all – career, family and love. It leaves a lot for the reader to interrogate. It left me thinking, which is always good.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK, AND WHAT TREND WILL FADE?

Globally there is a lot of focus on storage, electric vehicles, innovation. What I would love to see trending is a trading platform with no really big restrictions where IPPs could sell their power. This would definitely change the power sector, in Africa especially.

The traditional utility model and obsession with a state-owned utility will change. Its function will become decentralised and in some instances deregulated to the extent that makes it easier to give access to private sector players.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.