Dr STELLA KHUMALO, CEO of uShaka Marine World says making a difference is what drives her - not only at Africa's largest marine theme park but also within KZN.

A hard worker who walks her talk, she's passionate and determined. "I believe that, throughout my career, I have always left an indelible mark. I drive a very hard bargain - but I am always at the forefront and expect as much from others as I do from myself," she says.

Her career started with a Bachelor of Science at the University of Zululand after she matriculated from St. Francis College, Marianhill, in 1980. She went on to complete a Higher Education Diploma at the University of South Africa in 1989, a Bachelor of Education from the University of Zululand in 1994, a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) specialising in Strategic Management from the then University of Natal in 2004 and, more recently, a Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She achieved the latter whilst firmly at the helm of the award winning uShaka Marine World which she joined in June 2014. As the first female leader of one of the city's more influential tourism attractions, she was again a trailblazer.

Even during the toughest of economic times when shrinking disposable incomes have impacted on visitor numbers and operational costs have escalated, Dr Khumalo has run a tight and successful ship. One of her proudest achievements is that uShaka Marine World has received clean audits for six years in a row and continues to be a sustainable business in its own right.

"Our focus as a business is continuous improvement, differentiation and diversification. We play in a highly competitive private sector environment and continuously look at new trends," she explains. This is particularly pertinent as uShaka Marine World finds itself at an important cross road - it is integral to the city's plans for further development of the Point Precinct and on the brink of a recapitalization phase that will significantly impact tourism in the province.

But she's more than up to the challenge, confident that, together with her team, she can deliver on the innovative solutions and good public private sector partnerships that will see the introduction of major upgrades and new attractions.

At the same time, both at her desk and at home, Dr Khumalo is all too aware of the needs of her community. At uShaka, she values helping deliver tourism with a conscience and a strong conservation message as well as social upliftment projects such as the annual Swiminathi which teaches disadvantaged children to swim.

She also founded the Stella Educational Foundation to empower, support and mentor youth, serves as mentor coordinator in the CDWL programme run by Zen-Africa Academy, to empower potential and current women leaders and is President of the Catholic Women's League at Mpumalanga Roman Catholic Parish.

As a past recipient of the 2018 Annual Gagasi FM Shero Awards in the Public Service Category, KZN Top Business Awards (2017) as well as having won the 2016 Business Women's Association (BWA) Regional Business Achiever Award in the government category, Dr Khumalo believes that women can make a huge contribution to the future of this province.

"I am humbled by the fact that I was chosen together with two other nominees who are high-performers and whom I respect a lot. This acknowledgement of our contribution in this province is very encouraging and gives us impetus to work even harder, as we strive to smooth the path for future generations," she says.

Dr Khumalo is a mother of two boys and a girl and wife of Baba uKhumalo.

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