Singh has the support of a team of seven highly capable people. “My responsibilities also include finding the right people to fit the team, and making sure they receive the right level of support and guidance.”
Small Business in the Big Picture
“I come from a background of small business,” says Singh.“My grandmother had her own business – in fact, she is still running it, and this business put me through school and got me my first job exposure.”
What then attracted her to a large corporate like Massmart? She expounds on this question: “The Supplier Development Fund and the fact that it focuses on smallholder farmers was the drawcard for me.” Singh previously worked on smallholder agricultural programmes across the African continent from a donor perspective and now working in the same field, from a commercial perspective, became a very attractive option for her. “A really exciting thing is that I am able to impart my knowledge and experience in setting up grants and the governance thereof.”
The fact that Massmart, with its connection to Walmart, is now a global business was also very attractive to her, she explains. “The playing field is now a global one. We have the ability to develop and try out models, and, eventually, we could scale them beyond South Africa into the global arena.”
Singh, even though her earliest exposure to the business world was in the small business environment, says that, during her early university years, she decided on a career path. “And I have managed to do what I set out to do, and, today, whilst working in a large global corporation, I still have a passion for small business development – and, in my position, I now have the best of both worlds.”
Do Women Differ from Men in Their Attitude to Work?
“Without playing into stereotypes, yes, I think women bring something intangible into the work situation. I think it is a passion, an ability to bring their whole selves into the work environment, unlike men who may prefer to compartmentalise their lives. Women, on the other hand, because they have difficulty deconstructing themselves, bring more of their authentic selves to all situations.
“If, as a team leader, you can match the right person to the job, you will have a person who brings her complete self with all the energy to run the extra mile. After all, women have always had to juggle many things at once, and, as we get older, we have to juggle even more things.”
What Helped You Along the Way?
She says one should have a plan, but not a rigid one. “You need to remain open otherwise you may miss an opportunity.” She also firmly believes that mentoring is the fastest and most effective way to learn. In her situation, she has been mentored mostly by men. But, she, in turn, mentors students at the African Leadership Academy. “Women can pass on knowledge even by way of simple daily demonstrations of capability that provides encouragement to other women: by buying your own house, by living on your own in another country, and so on,” she points out.
Singh talks passionately about her career. She believes that, to be successful, “you need to be present. You have to understand where your gaps are by seeking 360-degree feedback. This will allow you to have a full view of yourself, and of your strengths and weaknesses. One must also grow into one’s weaknesses, and this you can only do if you have feedback from others.”
Her advice to businesswomen on the rise? She says: “Confidence is the key and it is multifaceted. Women should come to the table with the state of mind that they are taking their rightful place, not from a place where they feel they have to prove themselves in order to have the right to be at the table.
“If you come to the table and you are not confident that you have the ability to be there, it will affect your ability to lead, and you will be second-guessing yourself all the way.
“You are never fully ready,” she admits, “even the most senior of executives are not always ready for every eventuality, yet they come to the table with confidence.
Always be present, be confident and speak up, not only for yourself but also for the next woman to join the table. Be persistent and don’t give up,” she concludes.
Passion and Persistence
Sherry-Lee Singh is a woman with a mission, which is to make a difference and impact the lives of others, both within her company, Massmart, and together with the suppliers she deals with as the company’s Supplier Development Programme Manager.
Singh, who joined Massmart a year and a half ago, and who became Supplier Development Programme Manager in July this year, is passionate about development and small business. She explains: “We have a Supplier Development Fund that was established after the Massmart merger with Walmart. The purpose of the fund is to develop SMEs in the local South african market to do business with Massmart. My responsibilities span operations, including project preparation for presentation to a Fund Committee as well as the concomitant administration, project implementation oversight, governance and reporting oversight.”
WIMVATION | Massmart
by Ilse Ferreira