It’s impossible to miss Maserame Mouyeme as she strides into the foyer of Coca-Cola’s vibrant head office in Johannesburg. The huge domed reception area pulsates with an energy that trails Mouyeme up to her office.
It’s soon clear that this member of Coca-Cola’s women’s leadership council, who took part in the Global Shapers panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town earlier this year, is passionate about her job.
She’s equally passionate about improving opportunities for women in the workplace and encouraging them to step boldly into it.
This is what Mouyeme did as a teenager in Soweto when she wrote to the CEO of Nampak Keartland Press to ask if the company would give her a job once she matriculated.
“I wanted to land a job before I went to university,” she says. “So I posted a bulky, handwritten CV with a letter to the CEO. When it reached its target – and I’m talking about the turbulent 1980s – it was checked by security to ensure the CEO’s safety.”
To her amazement, she received a call from his assistant, telling her that the CEO would like to meet her.
“He said there wasn’t a position right then. But because I had the guts to write directly to him, they would create something for me in their estimating department.”
Mouyeme’s determination, and the response it elicited, set the tone for her 25-year career across many African countries, usually in executive positions.
When she felt she needed to expand her knowledge or experience, she moved to a new industry and studied further.
She moved from a comfortable position as group managing director of FCB, one of the largest advertising and communications companies in South Africa, to take up the challenging position of division marketing director for Coca-Cola East and Central Africa in 2006.
“It meant relocating my family to Nairobi,” says the mother of two. “My daughter was only two years old at the time, but I didn’t hesitate, and luckily I have a really supportive husband.”
Mouyeme handled the company’s marketing in 27 of Africa’s 54 countries. “I learnt so much. And, from a language perspective alone, I was dealing with French, Portuguese and English people.”
Fortunately, due to her Cameroonian husband’s influence, she now understands basic French.
However, working in 27 countries meant a lot of travelling, “but I was lucky that Nairobi is such a hub, with planes flying into it from around the world”.
She coped by ensuring that she nearly always spent a full weekend at home.
“Women have to make choices if we are to climb the corporate ladder and grow. Men do too, but strangely enough, they seldom feel torn by the choices the way we do.
“So marry the right husband, use your extended family’s support and get on with it,” she advises.
A pivotal career moment for Mouyeme came in 2008, when she decided that, to achieve her aim of becoming a general manager for Coca-Cola, she needed to have much stronger operations experience.
“So I spent 2009 on the factory floor at Nairobi Bottlers. You don’t always have to move upwards to get ahead,” she says.
Today, she is the franchise general manager for Coca-Cola’s central Africa region. She is responsible for operations in eight countries – Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There are 22 bottling plants throughout the region and her role ranges from overseeing operations to customer management and finance.
There is no notion that she is career-focused to the exclusion of a balanced life.
“I go to gym and for walks around our neighbourhood. I am passionate about reading, and love spiritual books. Right now, I’m doing research into women’s empowerment.”
In her way, Mouyeme is trying to ensure the next generation of young women “are not like I was, with no career counselling or role models”.
She urges people to keep studying, no matter the stage of life they are in.
Little black book
Business tip: Surround yourself with people who will guide you.
Mentor: I have had many because I reach out and ask lots of questions.
Favourite book: All of Dan Brown’s books, for escapism. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist from a spiritual perspective.
Inspiration: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South Africa’s first female deputy president, who is now a UN under-secretary-general and the executive director of UN Women.
Wow! moment: The day I heard I got my first job.
Life lesson: Persevere. Persist. Always think how good things are – or could be.