Former EY advisor Priscillah Mabelane CEO of BP South Africa

08 November 2017 4 min. read
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Twenty-three years after the election that saw the end of legal Apartheid in South Africa, British Petroleum (BP) has named its first black female CEO in South Africa. Priscillah Mabelane, a former advisor at accounting and consulting giant EY, took charge of the oil magnate’s South African arm as of September this year.

This year marks 23 years since the abolition of the racially seggregationist Apartheid regime, and society in South Africa continues to grapple with intrenched legacies of racial inequality. However, BP’s latest appointment in South Africa not only defies racial inequality, but also champions the cause of gender parity that the entire globe seems to be struggling with, particularly in the business environment. The company has appointed Priscilla Mabelane as its new Chief Executive, which makes her the first woman in the history of South Africa’s oil industry to head a multinational company.

A number of reports in recent times have highlighted the challenges that women in South Africa Face when trying to ascend in the business environment. Earlier this year, consulting firm Bain & Company found that few women in the country made it to senior leadership positions, despite having both the desire and the capability to do so. The firm reports that 31% of corporate organisations in the country do not have women in senior leadership positions. Moreover, only 10% of the organisations had women in the position of CEO.

Gender disparity

Matters have not been helped by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who is not only becoming increasingly divisive in his policies, but has also expressed views on gender that are both backward and outdated. This becomes especially problematic when viewed in light of allegations in the country that the only way to succeed in business is to have political connections. A patriarchial political system in such a scenario leaves women almost entirely out in the dark. In essence, the appointment of Mabelane as CEO of a multinational firm is no small feat.

Priscillah Mabelane - CEO at BP

Mabelane joined BPSA as Chief Financial Officer in 2011, prior to which she worked at both the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) as well as Big Four professional services firm EY as a tax-director. In addition, she has held a number of roles at Eskom in similar fields of tax, finance, and management. Her overall experience at the management level spans over 20 years. As of 1st September, she is the first black female CEO of the South African oil industry.

The new CEO replaces Daniel Odogwu, who was at the helm of the organisation for three and a half years. His departure appears to accentuate a global trend for short-term tenures at the top of businesses, with CEOs typically lasting no longer than five years thanks to increased accountability in the role. BPSA chairperson, Thandi Orleyn, thanked outgoing Odogwu, and welcomed Mabelane.

A strong leader

“Given her proven track record in her previous executive roles, we are confident that Priscillah will be a strong leader for our business, especially as we continue to explore new areas of growth and development,” Orleyn said. She concluded that BP is committed to overhauling its previous approach to management in favour of improving board-room diversity, stating, “Priscillah’s appointment reinforces BPSA’s pioneering role and strength of commitment to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce that will breed creativity and ensure we meet, even exceed customer expectations.”

Mabelane’s appointment follows closely on the heels of two recent female senior executive appointments to the BPSA leadership team. As BP continues to transform its executive and managerial make-up, Kelebogile Tseladimitlwa was appointed as human resources director Southern Africa, and Prinisha Khoosal as commercial integration manager, Southern Africa during the latter part of 2016.