Siza Mzimela has earned her stripes at South African Airways (SAA), paying her dues the old-fashioned way. She joined SAA in 1996 as a research analyst, after five years with Standard Bank as a corporate planning analyst. In her 14 years at the airline she has held down numerous positions, including regional general manager for Africa and the Middle East, executive vice-president of global passenger services, head of the global sales and Voyager portfolio and chief executive of SA Express. She was appointed to take the reins of SAA at a very difficult time, with the parastatal reeling from the controversial reign of former chief executive, Khaya Ngqula.
Women hold only 4.4% of CEO/MD positions, 5.3% of chairperson positions and 15.8% of all directorships. — BWA South African Women in Leadership Census 2011
As head of SA Express, Mzimela was instrumental in turning around the subsidiary’s dire financial position. Under her leadership the company acquired new routes domestically and regionally and became known as the fastest-growing regional carrier airline in Southern Africa. The acquisition of a new-generation aircraft for SA Express, a first in Africa, demonstrated Mzimela’s ability to react quickly with vision and insight amid a fast-changing industry. More remarkably, Mzimela was able to get the carrier’s technically insolvent status eradicated, without the need for recapitalisation.
These achievements earned Mzimela a solid reputation in the industry, so it came as no surprise to anyone when she was appointed chief executive of SAA in 2010 and the first woman to sit on the International Air Transport Association board of directors since its inception 66 years ago.
— Cat Pritchard