- Azam TV CEO Sabrina Mohamedali talks to The Citizen Rising Woman about the stepping stones towards becoming a leader
Dar es Salaam. Sabrina Mohamedali did most part of her early schooling in Tanzania and proceeded to pursue a degree in Finance and Economics while pursuing her ACCA certification. She graduated with both in 2002 and soon after she was offered an opportunity to join PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as an external auditor specializing mainly in the advisory and audit of listed companies and subsidiaries of multinational blue-chip firms. She says: “From a very early start in my career I was exposed to working with diverse teams under high pressure and this gave me an opportunity to build a very strong foundation for my leadership skills”.
After five years of working in such environment relating to supporting clients with different complexities not only in accounting but also tax related matters, she decided to experience the other side of the coin and joined Japanese Tobacco International (JTI) - 4th Largest tobacco producing firm in the globe as factory head of finance for Tanzania but very soon thereafter she was assigned to manage special global projects at the head office in Geneva and in other locations across Europe and Asia. As a result of this mobility her career exposure took the next level and boosted her ambition for growth and success more immensely. Sabrina says that the organization exposed her to exciting futuristic driven projects as well as sharpened her leadership skills.
Sabrina then joined Diageo Plc as head of supply chain managing the full end to end process from production and raw materials planning, procuring, logistics to production, delivery, customer care and distribution.
When taking up this role she says she had absolutely no knowledge of any of these fields but strongly believed in the managers and teams who were working with her. She says, “It was not easy but I was determined to learn something totally new and make the best success story out of it! I led a team of over 300 employees on multiple hierarchy and I can proudly say it was only through impactful leadership that got me to yield the success in this role”. She did this role for over two years and at the end of it she was not only a well experienced finance person but also operationally very savvy and well exposed.
Three years later she was moved to head commercial Finance and immediately a year later she was promoted to head the business development unit for East Africa where she was made responsible for maintaining existing market channels and developing new markets for the company. This was Sabrina’s first stepping stone towards her ambition of becoming a CEO some day.
Sabrina says, “A year into the role and my results were very promising, so the management immediately promoted me to head the full fledge commercial and distribution function where I was end to end responsible for the firm’s strategy, sales and distribution. This was a turning point in my career and an opportunity to become a hard core commercial professional while building a strong entrepreneurial mindset with close focus on the bottom line especially since I was coming from a finance background”.
Sabrina adds that she realized quickly that commercial was her passion and this further fuelled her focus to reach her goal as a CEO because she clearly believed that to sit at that top level, one must have a full 360 degrees exposure of all the key facets of any organization.
After eight enriching years of doing four impactful roles in Diageo, she was ready to conquer an opportunity which would take her closer to her dreams – that of becoming a CEO. Sabrina eventually joined the Bakhresa Group in October of 2019 as the commercial & marketing director for Tanzania, East and Sub Saharan Africa. “Despite limited previous experience in Media and Pay TV business; my confidence was never startled and I remained humble to learn from both my juniors and seniors so that I could master myself into this exciting and fast pace industry. I stood firm with one single vision – upwards and forwards was my only direction to go and here I was eight months latter promoted as the CEO of Azam TV Limited”.
Sabrina has been through a plethora of working fields and she says her motivation is generated from her passion and a positive mindset, “Right from the early days in my career I was a very focused person keeping my eyes always on the prize and determined to work my way through all the adversities with a very positive mindset. But also, to work my way through I had to strongly build on character, humility and patience. Consistency and being open to learn what I did not know. I was not afraid or ashamed when I had to ask/learn – this helped me a lot in closing my gaps both as a leader and professional”.
Sabrina has worked with fellow women throughout her career life, as a leader she often finds herself as a mentor, she therefore takes initiative to support her fellow women, encourage them to work hard but also ensure that they achieve a work life balance. Sabrina believes inclusions, contribution and collaboration are the catalysts to achieve gender balance and female empowerment
As a woman in a leading role Sabrina faces different type of pressures one being of people not having that 100 percent confidence in her just because she is a woman, “One of the uncomfortable realities of being a female leader is walking into a business meeting and realizing that you’re one of the few women (if not the only woman) in the room among your male counterparts and sometimes the pressure of being the only one can be overwhelming”.
In order to handle challenges that she faces as a woman in a leading role, Sabrina leads by example and transforms the hurdles into opportunities. She says, “I have discovered that it is important to have confidence in myself and in the skill sets that brought me to where I am today.
“Sticking out” in the crowd can actually be a positive attribute, a chance to spotlight the unique skills and outlook i bring to the table. So instead of shrinking back, I have learnt to step forward, SHINE and make a lasting impression by being both seen and heard in humble yet impactful way!”
To become a CEO is not an overnight success, for girls and women aspiring to become one, Sabrina advices that they should hold Persistence, Passion and Focus. She says, “Keep going, when times are tough, and you are under pressure, keep putting one foot in front of another. Gradually, things get easier and then you realize you are out of the woods and standing on top of the hill with a great view! I also believe that showing loyalty and being there for people – during good and tough times – means the team understands you mean it when you say ‘we are in it together’ and this is one of the key ingredients of a great leader – Inspiring your team”
Sabrina says she looks up to her parents for their unwavering support and encouragement; and her mentors who have always believed in her potential to excel. She adds that she was lucky that she could connect with experienced Corporate Gurus throughout her career and they cemented her mind set with very strong positive focus towards her goals.
If you may wonder what a CEO’s day looks like, Sabrina says, “I am very much a morning person so my day starts with prayers and thereafter a fitness regime which really helps me boost my energy and gets me more focused for the day after all A healthy body breathes a healthy mind, I kick off my work day around 8am and I believe eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day I always plan the tasks that need my optimal focus in the mornings. I position myself on doing the thing that most moves the needle, which doesn’t necessarily mean the “hardest” task of the day but rather more critical that need immediate attention for the business to move, Afternoons are more for emails, calls, team catch up meetings and external visits. I love the outdoors so often times I do sun set walks especially along the ocean before catching up on all my favorite television content on Azam TV at night”.
Sabrina loves to travel so often times she prefers to take long and short trips away. She loves adventures of all sorts from camping in the bush to walking the high streets of Manhattan in New York City.
To end the interview, we asked Sabrina to advise her younger self and she said, “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature. When you believe in something don’t let anything distract you – wear your “Go getter” hat and chase for it” She also left our readers with a quote that says, “Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”