PALESA PHILI became the CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) after a very successful corporate career. This included being in an executive role with a computer company looking after the organisation's services in the southern, eastern and central regions of Africa, being the executive head for Vodacom Business in KZN and then the regional head for MTN.
DCCI represents the business community. As CEO, Palesa oversees the organisation, ensuring good governance and that the Chamber fulfils its mandate which is to look after its members, who are mostly from the business community of the Durban region. The Durban Chamber identifies government policy relevant to organised business in Durban by amplifying core issues that impact on business with short, medium - and long-term perspectives. At the heart of this unit are industry-specific forums and area forums (Western, Northern, Southern, and Central) that engage on a monthly or bi-quarterly base.
"Our forums provide the coal face of interaction between our members and the Durban Chamber. This is where we get city officials and provincial policy makers to interact with our members in terms of any plans that are being put in place as well as business opportunities that are available," says Palesa.
Advocacy is central to the role the Chamber plays and partnership approaches to complex and problematic issues affecting business are promoted. The Chamber's extensive networks also connect members both with local and international organisations.
Success is inspirational
Palesa attributes her success and where she is today to her Christian faith, hard work, and dedication. Numerous people assisted her along the way and she has had a number of different mentors for different aspects of her career and life who have helped her. Success inspires Palesa. She adds, "One does not want to be around something that is negative or does not work." Successful people across the country and across the world attract her attention; what they are doing attracts and inspires her. "I try to see what I can do personally, in my own way, to add to the betterment of my city, my province, my country, and the world at large."
Keep your eye on the ball, the rules for women are different
"Women definitely need to approach business differently to men," says Palesa. And thinks the existence of "The Boy's Club out there" cannot be denied and that women cannot fit into the club. "As a woman, typically, as you grow in your career, as you go higher, you become more of a loner as there are very few women up there." Palesa adds that males are still in the majority at the top of the corporate world and that the rules for women are very different. "As a woman, you need to be clear about your objectives, why you are where you are and what it is that you want to achieve."
Palesa says one of her mentors told her that one is at work to do work, not to make friends, and you need to make sure the job gets done. Her advice to women is, "When you encounter corporate politics, it is important to keep your eye on the ball, understand the rules are different for you as a woman, and then you should be fine."
As she is a wife and the mother of two boys, achieving a work life balance is not easy for Palesa. She says she is too busy to attend social gatherings like "breakfasts for moms" and is too busy for tasks like personally dropping her boys off at school. This results in her not knowing many of the moms, but Palesa is fortunate that her husband helps with most of the parental tasks. Her support structure is important to her. "Without their assistance, I would not be able to do everything I need to do and achieve a work-life balance," she adds.
Looking back at herself when she was younger, Palesa would advise herself not to take things at face value but to analyse these and ensure that she makes the right decisions. She explains that she would react spontaneously when she was young so she would tell herself to listen more before making decisions.
There is much more to achieve
Compared to what she would still like to accomplish, Palesa does not think that she has achieved much. If she looks back at her corporate background, Palesa says what she did was mostly target driven to make profits for an organisation. Her involvement with the Chamber does, however, give her a greater purpose and this enables her to achieve more of what she wants to achieve. It enables her to make a difference and impact on many people.
Palesa explains, "I always had a thing in me, even when growing up, to give back. In everything I do I try and give back in my own small way. I would like to look back in five years from now and say this is the number of jobs I helped to create, and this is the number of entrepreneurs I have assisted to grow and get where they are." She adds she would like to see measurable growth, and only once she gets there would she be happy with what she has achieved.