IT Leadership Series: Philip Morris South Africa CIO Mary Mahuma

With a career spanning diverse industries – banking, financial, insurance, telecommunications, security, education and FMCG – Philip Morris South Africa CIO Mary Mahuma has led several digital transformation and innovation projects. At Philip Morris South Africa she steers IT strategy, data management, cybersecurity and digital initiatives. TechCentral asked Mahuma a few questions for its IT Leadership Series.

What does your company do?

Established in 2003, PMSA distributes its cigarette portfolio both domestically and exports to markets in the region. Affiliate Leonard Dingler manufactures tobacco products such as roll-your-own, pipe tobacco and nasal snuff. Philip Morris’s leaf operations centre for Africa is located in Cape Town, from where leaf-buying is coordinated throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

What do you see as the IT leader’s top priorities in 2024?

  1. Delivery excellence, by strengthening organisational capabilities for project and digital product delivery. Developing the organisation’s AI strategy; prioritising initiatives that address security and risk, with modernisation and innovation.
  2. Financial excellence, through controlled costs of funding innovation and digital delivery.
  3. Service excellence, by improving consumer experience across touchpoints and innovative technologies such as automation.
  4. Organisational excellence, through strategic preparation of the workforce for the future, through upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

I would choose a Marvel character, T’Challa, also known as Black Panther, who embodies leadership qualities of empathy, compassion, inclusivity and authenticity. As a king of Wakanda, T’Challa is not only a powerful superhero but also a wise and just ruler. He cares deeply about his people and the well-being of others, making decisions with a strong sense of empathy. T’Challa’s leadership style emphasises collaboration, inclusion and understanding, showcasing a genuine commitment to justice and equality. I think these are admirable qualities to emulate as a leader.

How do you attract and retain talent?

To create an environment where employees feel valued, supported and motivated for long-term engagement, I ensure that competitive compensation is offered, that I support a professional development path, and provide opportunities that have significance and purpose for individuals. Importantly, I give accountability for the outcomes of work assigned. What is crucial is my capacity to exemplify the qualities of a leader to inspire talent growth and retention within the organisation.

If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

If I could have a chat with my 18-year-old self I will probably drop this nugget of wisdom: “Embrace uncertainty. Life is a roller-coaster, and not everything goes according to plan. The twists and turns, the unexpected detours, are all part of the journey. So, don’t worry too much about having it all figured out. Learn from the bumps, and trust that you will end up where you are supposed to be.” Oh, and don’t invest in pyramid schemes.

What’s your favourite productivity hack?

The Pomodoro technique. It goes beyond just managing time: it is about reflection, reassessing the goals and importantly, it is a mindfulness pit stop. This is not about getting things done but about doing them with intention, focus and tranquillity.

Publications are responsible for AI errors, says PCSAWhat occupation (other than your own) would you like to try?

Adopting my strengths of cognitive agility, critical analytical thinking developed in IT, critical analysis from my legal studies, and communication proficiency from business studies, journalism might be an occupation to try. This coupled with my passion for the truth would make journalism an exciting exploration. The fusion of technology understanding and a legal-business mindset would position me as an amazing storyteller with a distinctive perspective, ready to engage diverse audiences and bring impactful narratives to light.

Where do you see the technology industry heading in the next three to five years?

The industry will continue its rapid evolution. Artificial intelligence, blockchain and the internet of things will become even more integrated into our daily lives. This could lead to advancements in healthcare, education and communication. However, in the tobacco industry, the application of accelerated technology might face constraints due to regulations, so there could be strict regulations in place to control the use of technology in this industry. This might include limitations on marketing strategies, product development and distribution.

What is one book you’d recommend to our audience and why?

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, by Haemin Sunim, struck a resonant chord with me. As a leader in the tech landscape, the book’s exploration of modern anxieties offers a calming reminder of the strength and joy that emerges from slowing down. Sunim prompts introspection, encouraging us to question the perpetual busy-ness that characterises contemporary life. This introspective journey is especially pertinent in our fast-paced industry.

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