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Lessons Learnt

SAP: Pfungwa Serima

SAP CEO, Pfungwa Serima, talks about leadership, the year ahead and keeping a cool head.

Juliet Pitman



Pfunga Serima of SAP Africa

When you joined SAP as CEO in 2008, what were your key goals and how far are you from achieving them?
The primary focus was to expand, specifically into West Africa, East Africa, SADEC (excluding South Africa), the Portuguese-speaking and the French-speaking African countries. In spite of the recession we have been fortunate enough to have experienced growth, and have entrenched ourselves in  these five regions.

What have been the biggest challenges in your current role and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges have come as a result of the recession. They lie in the ability to keep people in an environment in which the changes are very unpredictable. I think the key to overcoming this challenge is to ensure that people believe in the organisation’s objectives and to be very transparent and frank with people about the hardships and challenges of the market. The third thing is to celebrate success as it happens. Sometimes we forget to do this. Success should be celebrated not as individual triumphs but as team wins. One of the things I try to evangelise is that success is not only due to the person who eventually signs the contract – it’s about all the people in the background. Everyone plays a significant part.

What are you most proud of having achieved?
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), success is determined by whether you make your numbers and I am pleased with and proud of our growth figures to date. I am also very fortunate that we have the calibre of people who work in this organisation – they understand why they come to work every day and that makes things much easier.

What do you think is the mark of a good leader?
There are two key elements in any professional life: values and performance. A good leader has to have both – they need to live the values and deliver results. Achievement of goals is vital, but you can’t compromise the organisation’s values in order to attain the desired level of performance. Other things a good leader should have are an eye and an ear for good people. One person is too small to ever achieve greatness; the people you surround yourself with will determine whether you are successful or not.

A good leader is also someone who realises that leadership develops daily, and not in a day. It’s an ongoing journey so you need to be open enough to listen to other people. Finally, in every organisation someone has to remain sane, regardless of how tough the situation is. People often comment that I appear not to be under pressure, but as a leader part of my role is to contain the pressure, manage the stress and keep a cool head.

What, in your opinion, is the key to getting the most out of people in business?
Respect and trust. People work for other people, not for organisations. If you earn people’s trust and they respect you, they will work for you.

What gets you up every morning?
Success and the ability to make a difference, both for myself and for others.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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