Age: 41



Ever since she was a child, Bongiwe Gangeni has always been deeply ambitious. Her career is focused on driving growth and profitability in the banking sector. Gangeni has held positions such as a general manager in the small business segment, head of private banking, and finally entered the managing executive echelon. She's now the deputy CEO for retail and business banking as well as the head of relationship banking at Absa. This climb began in an unlikely way.

A younger Gangeni had always dreamed of becoming a pharmacist. Consequently, she studied pharmacy at the University of the Witwatersrand, and once qualified, she worked as a pharmacist for three years. But It became clear that life as a pharmacist was not for her. Leaving pharmacy was certainly a difficult choice; it took faith in her own purpose for Gangeni to decide to leave behind a lifelong dream. But she was motivated.

“Simply stated, there was not enough ‘disruption’ for me and my routine became far too predictable,” she recalls, and with that, she followed her instincts. She registered for a Postgraduate Diploma in Management (PMD) that fed her appetite for business and the corporate world.

This set the foundation of an inspiring ascent. Gangeni was recruited for global consulting company Accenture shortly thereafter. Her three years in management consulting gave her first-hand access to a variety of industries across the business landscape. Perhaps most importantly, working in management consulting proved that she could do whatever she put her mind to. She realised she had the requisite skills, foresight and determination to hold her own in business.

Having had exposure to multiple sectors, Bongiwe was drawn to banking given its centrality in the lives of fellow citizens and the economy, as well as wanting to focus on innovation with purpose. ”Many people struggle with access to financial services. As a banking leader I am committed to efforts for improving access so as to contribute optimally to society,” she says. She was inspired to sink her roots in the sector – specifically, to make a change.

Inspirational is exactly what this dynamo of a woman is. In understanding what it takes to be a leader in your industry, Gangeni maintains that it’s vital that one resonates with the people across various spheres of the organisation, especially in finding mechanisms and a tone that makes sense to colleagues. “Remember, it’s the employees that make or break any organisation, finding a way to win a share of mind and a share of heart is the foundation of any good leadership ethos.”

Gangeni is exactly the person she always felt she would become. While determined to live a life of significance and be successful, what she has found to be most rewarding is the smaller, meaningful, difference she’s made in the lives of those around her.

With all that she does, Gangeni ensures that she stays calm and centred by travelling, reading and spending time with her family. She enjoys jazz, classical music and a night at the theatre. Gangeni emphasises the importance of staying aware of the bigger agenda, even in moments of pressure. “As human beings, our best decisions are made when you're calm and rational,” she says.

Many people struggle with access to financial services – as a banking leader I am committed to efforts for improving access so as to contribute optimally to society.


Age: 44



Mathe is a consummate business professional and entrepreneur with over 23 years’ experience spanning the advertising, media, sponsorship and events industries. With a passion for strategy, planning and project management, she has built a solid reputation as a successful leader and team player.

She started her career in advertising and progressed into media, where she spent a number of years at the SABC, eventually taking on the role of general manager at SABC 3, the broadcaster's flagship station.
Looking to spread her wings, Mathe moved into the financial services industry as a senior sponsorships and events manager, prior to exploring her entrepreneurial abilities with the launch of a holding company that provided communication, design and media solutions to clients. It was here that she focused on her core abilities of strategy development and execution and new business acquisition.

Within the communications and advertising industry, growth as a whole is paramount to Mathe, thus encouraging and driving the involvement of smaller industry players and advertising professionals at the “adults’ table” is a critical and personal deliverable in her role as ACA CEO. Mathe is currently studying towards her Master in Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Roehampton in the UK. Going forward, just like Minister Mboweni used the analogy of the resilient aloe in the budget speech, Mathe believes agencies need to build on their resilience in order to continue along a path of innovation with purpose.

“Chat to any agency representative, and they’ll tell you how difficult it is out there. Budgets are shrinking while expected delivery remains on par. South African agencies are akin to the aloe. They are resilient. They make do with what's available and always look forward to plum times. They are iconic in their own right. South African agencies and the professionals within them are highly regarded worldwide. Punching way above their weight,” she says.

“In past years we’ve spoken about recession, difficult times, shrinking revenues and increased expenditure. It was all about where the money was going. This year it would seem it’s more about ‘what the money can do’. And that’s precisely what agencies should be asking as they take an inward view of how to make it out there,” continues Mathe.

Mathe believes that the industry has staying power. “We’ve never given up, and we’re not about to start. But what we can do is raise the bar on the perception of what we offer. As a collective, we can drive our own ‘currency’. Our true value. We should use this year’s budget as a reminder of how to keep our own ‘houses’ in order, and in so doing, making them work to the best of their ability. Making them stronger, more efficient and effective,” she says.

She often asks the question: What are agencies here for, if not to help brands succeed? It’s not to simply create pretty pictures, accompanied by some clever copy. Agencies set out to build brands, guide them, ensure they have longevity, and deliver a return on investment to the brand owner. In these relatively tough times, the communications and advertising sector as a whole needs to target growth. This is achieved by creating effective communications campaigns that have a positive effect on the client’s bottom line.

“We’re a tough bunch. While issues at the SOEs threaten the entire economy, tax bracket creep and a review of civil servant wages reduce disposable income, and so-called ‘sin taxes’ drive increased revenue collections for government, all of us need to suit up. As an industry we need to ensure that we take action with proper insight. We need to look after the industry seed that we have grown over the years, nurture and protect it, and it will deliver the plum.”

...what we can do is raise the bar on the perception of what we offer. As a collective, we can drive our own ‘currency’.