Dar es Salaam. Getting hold of Ms Linda Riwa, the Vodacom Commercial Business Unit Director for this interview was not at all easy.
Her schedule kept changing and clashing with the writer’s as she shuttled in and out of her Vodacom Tanzania office with pep unseen in an expectant mother (she is expecting her first child).
That notwithstanding, she managed to spare a few minutes for the interview because as it were, she was winding up for her maternity leave.
A Commercial Business Unit Director is one of the main driving forces behind a thriving company.
He or she is willing to make difficult decisions to drive the strategies and effectiveness of the unit – be it what service to launch, when and how to launch it, continuous market analysis, understanding customer needs as well as finding best ways to address them, forecasting and a myriad of other roles that in turn make teams more effective in delivering Vodacom’s commercial objectives.
It therefore goes without saying that leadership skills and a broad knowledge base entailing the company and the industry at large are requisite ingredients to ensure overall success of a business unit and subsequently, the company as a whole.
Other Business Units at Vodacom are M-Commerce and the Enterprise Business Unit.
Ms Riwa is a young woman who has risen through the ranks to become Vodacom’s first woman Commercial Business Unit Director.
A vivacious young woman exuding confidence, good humour and indisputable capabilities on the job, she says that burning ambition and exposure in the telecom industry have been the hallmark of her success.
There is no doubt that we are currently at the peak of innovation in the telecoms industry as companies strive for excellence and differentiation. What occupies Linda’s time is leading the team through this journey to give birth to life transforming products and services powered by Vodacom’s technologies, wide range coverage and accessibility across the Country.
Ultimately contributing to transforming lives of Tanzanians through the use of mobile technologies.
Linda’s many feats did not come on a silver platter. She had to orient herself towards the position by taking advantage of opportunities as they unfolded. A five years stint in the telecom sector in and out of Tanzania whetted her appetite for further grounding in the telecom sector.
She had a burning ambition to achieve her goals even though what she did at the time was not exactly what she trained for through her university degree. Of course, when one leaves university, they have their ideal jobs cut out for them in their minds but just as the saying goes- when life gives you lemons, make lemonade - Linda grabbed what she saw as an opportunity before her and started off her career as a telecoms professional in marketing and she has never looked back.
“Armed with a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees in Economics from the University of Dar es Salaam, I reckoned that I would find myself in research. This was deemed swanky at the time. However, when one is looking for their first job, they cannot afford to be choosy. You are driven by a strong desire to just get started – I therefore, too started out at a telecom company.”
She was so ambitious that even when a job was mundane and simplistic, she went further and tried to decipher a deeper meaning and heighten the impact of her involvement in a roll. According to her, she would always go the extra mile.
“I consider myself very ambitious and aggressive and love working on complex things. This saw me work with figures and charts from early on. At the beginning of my career, I was not so sure of the trajectory my career would take having found myself in telecoms and not economic research somewhere else. However, because I enjoyed a good challenge, even if the tasks seemed rather mundane and commonplace, I would go an extra mile to make it interesting to ensure that the end products met or even exceeded expectations,” she added.
Weaving her way upwards
“Following a certain restructuring exercise at my former employer’s, I got an opportunity to decide what I where I wanted to take my career. Pricing was a new concept then and many people sort of shunned upon it. I took lead on the new possibilities and responsibilities and I can only say my efforts were rewarding in the end” Linda recalled an experience that truly propelled her up the corporate ladder at the beginning of her journey where within a year she had rotated into four different roles.
In her quest for exposure to other markets, she requested to be given an opportunity to explore. “I was transferred to the African Regional Operations Headquarters overseeing a project in six African countries,I was stationed in Rwanda which gave me a lot of exposure and challenges that spurred my growth”.
She later came back to Tanzania to take on a bigger responsibility and at that time, she was determined to work for the leading market player in Tanzania that is Vodacom.
“All these culminated to acquisition of wide range of knowledge in a far as CBU aspect of telecom industry.
This meant I was ready to take on responsibilities in Tanzania. I understood the Tanzanian market relative to other markets. Getting the feel of being a leader and in a position to influence the market was top in my mind. I crossed over to Vodacom to experience its market dynamics that are different from where I started,” she said.
Rising to the top of the game
Joining Vodacom presented new challenges, nothing she couldn’t handle. As a woman she attests that there are challenges but she is grateful for her employer who is able to accommodate them.
“Starting a family is no doubt a challenge. I am grateful that Vodacom is a company that greatly addressed my concerns through its women friendly policies. By virtue of the company having a large number of women in leadership positions means that women have the confidence to aspire to reach to the top. The company is an equal opportunity employer that maintains positive environment that nurtures supportive of women. At Vodacom, you will find a good number of women working in all departments alongside men. The female-male ratio is 40-60”
Asked about the misconception that has bred gender imbalance in institutions despite deliberate efforts to encourage gender inclusivity, she noted that there are positive changes that are beginning to recognize women and reward them for their input at work.
“In the past, a good majority had the notion that women are incompetent. They were doubtful that women could achieve unless perhaps bribed their way to the top. It does not have to be this way. Hard work, commitment and aggressiveness are key for any woman to rise,” she said.
She advises the young and aspiring professionals especially women to espouse tenets of hard work and commitment.
“Always be ready for the opportunity that may present itself. Apart from seeking to deliver the best, be daring believing in yourself that you can take on responsibilities and don’t shy away from being assertive and focused. These are traits that one must always espouse,” she said.