Msaka
Interviews  
7 February 2017

“Africa has in the last two years alone added thousands of megawatts to the grid”

Lungile Mashele, Energy Specialist, The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). This interview is exclusive to The African Power Elites: Projects and People 2017.

Who were your role models during the pivotal stages of your life?
I have never believed in the concept of role models or mentors; I could never outsource my career or world outlook to anyone else. However, it is through a culmination of life experiences and relationships that I have shaped my life and who I am today. My parents helped me understand the concept of money: how to spend it and invest it. My siblings have taught me patience, calm and resilience in the face of adversity. A summer spent reading Maya Angelou reminded me of my voice, and why the world needs to hear it. Through listening to Oprah speaking about finding your passion and living your best life, I knew what I needed to do to turn my career around. For me it is about listening to the right voice during times of change and deciding to take action.

What are your top attributes of a successful leader?
1. A leader should lead by example and manage output not people, demonstrating teamwork rather than dictatorship. 2. A leader should focus on developing people and understand what drives them in order to get optimal results. 3. A leader is not afraid of failing or showing emotion (whether happy or sad). 4. A leader has the ability to celebrate success and learn from failure.

From a global perspective, who inspires you in the power sector?
Kandeh Yumkella, former co-chair of SE4ALL, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at African Utility Week in May 2016. It was through his articulation of what Africa needs to do to achieve preeminent status that I was moved by his vision and passion for Africa. Through his many initiatives across the continent, Yumkella wishes to see an energy rich Africa.

What leadership qualities are lacking in the African power sector and how can this be overcome?
Africa’s energy sector needs honest, decisive and forward-thinking leaders – when all three are aligned, a true leader arises. The African power sector requires leaders divorced from politics and acting for the greater good. Having worked with many African utilities and independent power producers, I can attest to the brilliance that lies in those utilities. This is often overshadowed by government corruption and inaction in moments of crisis.

What values do you demonstrate as a leader?
With an open-minded approach, I entrust my team with the freedom to fulfil their daily roles and responsibilities without interfering, allowing them to challenge themselves and their abilities. I believe in having an open door approach where my team can approach me without fear or favour. The future is not tomorrow: it is happening right now. The time has come for Africa to rise up and determine its energy future. Africa should be at the forefront of providing sustainable solutions for its people.

Who were your role models during the pivotal stages of your life?
I have never believed in the concept of role models or mentors; I could never outsource my career or world outlook to anyone else. However, it is through a culmination of life experiences and relationships that I have shaped my life and who I am today. My parents helped me understand the concept of money: how to spend it and invest it. My siblings have taught me patience, calm and resilience in the face of adversity. A summer spent reading Maya Angelou reminded me of my voice, and why the world needs to hear it. Through listening to Oprah speaking about finding your passion and living your best life, I knew what I needed to do to turn my career around. For me it is about listening to the right voice during times of change and deciding to take action.

What are your top attributes of a successful leader?
1. A leader should lead by example and manage output not people, demonstrating teamwork rather than dictatorship. 2. A leader should focus on developing people and understand what drives them in order to get optimal results. 3. A leader is not afraid of failing or showing emotion (whether happy or sad). 4. A leader has the ability to celebrate success and learn from failure.

From a global perspective, who inspires you in the power sector?
Kandeh Yumkella, former co-chair of SE4ALL, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at African Utility Week in May 2016. It was through his articulation of what Africa needs to do to achieve preeminent status that I was moved by his vision and passion for Africa. Through his many initiatives across the continent, Yumkella wishes to see an energy rich Africa.

What leadership qualities are lacking in the African power sector and how can this be overcome?
Africa’s energy sector needs honest, decisive and forward-thinking leaders – when all three are aligned, a true leader arises. The African power sector requires leaders divorced from politics and acting for the greater good. Having worked with many African utilities and independent power producers, I can attest to the brilliance that lies in those utilities. This is often overshadowed by government corruption and inaction in moments of crisis.

What values do you demonstrate as a leader?
With an open-minded approach, I entrust my team with the freedom to fulfil their daily roles and responsibilities without interfering, allowing them to challenge themselves and their abilities. I believe in having an open door approach where my team can approach me without fear or favour. The future is not tomorrow: it is happening right now. The time has come for Africa to rise up and determine its energy future. Africa should be at the forefront of providing sustainable solutions for its people.

What is your greatest weakness and your greatest strength?
Due to my laissez-faire leadership approach, I often discover an error when it is too late. Some people persist in the face of all adversity and fail, but by then I am already upset and not willing to engage any further. I am slow to anger; however, once there, the relationship is irreparable. I think that my greatest strength is my strong belief in people and their aspirations. I give them space to pursue their dreams and many have gone on to do amazing things. I believe in well-rounded people, and I celebrate their victories both in and out of the workplace.

What is the one thing in your opinion that people commonly misconceive about your character?
People often perceive me as being rude, domineering and a workaholic – I am not. You are just not used to seeing women in positions of leadership. If you think I am a workaholic then you should see me let my hair down, when I party twice as hard.

How do you motivate a team after experiencing a defeat at a time of low energy and enthusiasm?
Champagne! “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate … and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.” – Napoleon Bonaparte. On a serious note, I feel it is important for the team to sit down together and understand what went wrong. To perform a post mortem, assign blame if necessary and start mapping a way forward. A pity party with Champagne is allowed for one day and then you need to forgive yourself, your team and move on – I have been known to bring Champagne to the office; it is mandatory.

In the short-medium term what do you foresee for Africa’s power future?
The African utility model is starting to change and adapt to accommodate different technologies and include other generation apart from state utilities. The market has become robust and in order to sustain the industry it is in urgent need of a strong regional transmission network to facilitate the trade of power; flexible baseload technologies that can accommodate renewables; and a better way to support municipalities financially so that they don’t rely on electricity sales to sustain them. Some African countries have started to privatise their generation arm, which is a great start but cannot be used as a blanket approach. Each country should address its power shortages and decide on the best model based on their requirements.

Is there an increased need for sector crossover and are we seeing enough of this in Africa?
There is a huge link between the energy sector and related sectors; however, only recently have they gained prominence. With the drought affecting the greater Southern Africa, many countries are starting to realise the need to use water wisely – not just for hydroelectric power generation but for agriculture and drinking too. We are not seeing this nexus as much as we should be seeing it, and if people think loadshedding is bad – imagine water rationing.

How important is bilateral trade between Africa and foreign countries with a similar market blue print?
Bilateral trade is important; however, I would not limit it to those with a similar market blue print. There is a lot to be learnt from countries that most resemble you as well as those you have nothing in common with. Africa is a very dynamic and vibrant continent, and its needs are as unique as its people. Bilateral trade will assist in setting standards, benchmarking, skills development, market share and industrialisation.

Are there any achievements/challenges that your country of residence has made/experienced across the power value chain that you feel are worthy of some attention?
Africa has in the last two years alone added thousands of megawatts to the grid. There are many new projects particularly in solar, wind and geothermal as well as conventional technologies. The bulk of these projects have been brought on stream quickly, on time and within budget. There are also innovative technologies such as the Powership, which is being used by a number of countries in Africa. The continent is doing better than ever, it really has opened up for business and is offering great returns on investment.

This interview is exclusive to The African Power Elites: Projects and People 2017 publication, available for download on esi-africa.com

 

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