EY alumnus Priscillah Mabelane is BP's first black female CEO

19 September 2017 Consultancy.uk 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, takes charge of the oil magnate’s South African arm as of September 2017.

BP Southern Africa (BPSA) has appointed chartered accountant Priscillah Mabelane as its new Chief Executive. The first woman in the history of the country’s oil industry to head a multi-national company, Mabelane’s appointment is said to mark a significant milestone in the organisation and industry’s transformation journey, amid a broader ongoing debate in South African society about the legacy of Apartheid – a system of institutionalised racial segregation that continues to leave its mark on an unequal society, some 23 years after its official end.

Earlier in 2017, it was found by a Bain & Company report that, further to racial inequality, women particularly face ascension challenges in the business environment of South Africa. Despite the increased tendency toward women being aspirational and confident about making it to the executive suite, the research found that few do - 31% of corporates have no women in senior leadership positions. Discrimination at the social level, as well as harassment and implicit barriers, continue to hold women back. While the findings were part of a global trend, which Big Four firm PwC recently also reported means women have more obstacles to becoming senior managers than men, in the context of South Africa, the former Apartheid state casts a long shadow over the issue of inequality too.

Priscillah Mabelane - CEO at BP

On top of this, Jacob Zuma, the increasingly divisive President of South Africa and leader of the African National Congress, has come under increasing criticism for a variety of political scandals, including a $23 million corruption probe. Despite maintaining power, this saw Zuma booed at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. Part of this increasingly divisive legacy has been mounting allegations that only “tenderpreneurs” (businessmen who have close ties with government and ANC to win contracts) can get ahead in South African society. This, coupled with the problematic views on women championed by the President, which many see as outdated, has significantly hindered the progress of black women in business, making Mabelane’s appointment all the more note-worthy.

CEO of BP South Africa

Having taken the helm of BPSA on 1st September, exactly six years after joining the organisation in 2011 as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Mabelane has more than 20 years of service in management positions, which she will bring to bear as the first black female CEO of the South African oil sector. Prior to joining BP, Mabelane also held various executive roles in a number of large South African companies.

The new CEO previously worked as CFO for the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), and as a tax-director at consulting industry giants EY. Mabelane also held various roles at Eskom, including finance, tax, and general management.

CEO, Daniel Odogwu, who was at the helm for three and a half years leaves in what appears to be part of 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.

“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.”

To this end, 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 as human resources director Southern Africa, and Prinisha Khoosal as commercial integration manager, Southern Africa during the latter part of 2016.