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“At 23:56 on 23rd October 1963, Zambians rose in reverence of the Union Jack, the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom, for the last time as it lowered, signifying the end of British rule in Zambia.”

― Precious Mwansa-Chisa

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Mizinga Melu
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It’s not every day that one has the privilege of sitting down for a meal with one of Zambia’s most influential corporate leaders.

For the short time we had together I seized the opportunity to glean some precious gems on what makes this amazing woman tick. For the many accolades she has received and the numerous awards she has earned, Mrs Melu the Chief executive officer of Barclays bank is extremely down to earth and refreshingly humble and friendly.

While many would describe her as a top business executive or a leading banker, she describes herself as a wife and mother who loves what she does. Very much a family person, Mrs Melu believes that when you do what you love, balancing a demanding career with family life doesn’t seem so much like juggling. “You do what you do best because you enjoy it. There are times that you have to say ‘no’ to certain responsibilities. There isn’t really a choice between being a family woman and a career woman, because you’ll always be a mother but you won’t always be a banker.”

Her illustrious banking journey began many years ago when very much a daddy’s girl she would accompany her father to the bank. The young Mizinga was captivated by the bank tellers and the way they worked. She told herself that one day she would become a banker. Little did she know that one day she would indeed become not only a banker, but one of the best and so much more.

Mizinga Melu

Surprisingly, before studying banking Mizinga studied nursing for two years. She didn’t complete her studies but to this day she has tremendous respect for nurses and the work that they do.

She worked as a clerk at the Zambia National Commercial Bank, Zanaco for two years. With the encouragement and support of family members she moved to the United Kingdom where she obtained a banking degree and later on a Master’s in Business Administration. As a student she worked part time at the fast food chain restaurant MacDonalds. Due to the nature of the job and the type of interaction she had with customers her love of working with people was nurtured. The skills she acquired at Macdonalds would come in handy throughout her banking career.

Our generous hosts for the afternoon were Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel. Conveniently located near various embassies and shopping malls, the Musuku restaurant offers a good getaway for an informal meeting, intimate dinner for two or a business lunch. The serene surroundings offer the perfect environment for unwinding. The atmosphere is excellent and the food is served with a smile that epitomizes African hospitality. On the menu was chicken and salad. Mizinga loves chicken and tries to maintain a healthy diet. Vegetables are very much a part of her diet. Among the varying types of cuisine she has sampled Indian food stands out. Curry and naan bread is a favourite in the home. Whenever she has the time, usually over the weekend she enjoys to cook for her family.

Very much a family oriented people person, Mrs Melu spends a lot of time with her family. Travelling is something they like to do together whenever they get a chance. Mauritius is one of the favourite family destinations. Like many other women, working out and retail therapy help her stay sane.

Banking is very much her life and Mizinga can’t imagine doing anything else professionally. The private sector is what she loves as she believes it drives the engine of growth in the economy in a unique way. Her career has taken her to many different countries in various roles and has allowed her interact with many people of diverse culture. Among the countries are the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya. One of the challenges that come as a result of working with so many different peoples is appreciating the role that culture plays in how business is done. Simple things like learning to greet in a local dialect or sampling local cuisine are small gestures that yield high returns in making one become accepted in a foreign land.

Mizinga Melu

On the specific hurdles she’s had to face on her climb up the corporate ladder, they have been part of the refining process for her. “If you don’t face hurdles you don’t grow as a person.” Despite the many strides made towards gender equality in the corporate world a lot remains to be done. “Being a woman means that you have to put in 110 percent because for women, the tolerance levels for mediocrity are lower or in other words expectations for women are higher. For some countries the fact that she was black and to make matters worse a woman people assumed she didn’t have anything to bring to the corporate table. She had to prove that it’s not about the colour or the gender but about what one knows. Working in a predominantly Muslim country one would have to understand how to do business in such an environment.

Women leaders are very effective because of the sixth sense that women have. That intuition helps with leadership and it’s difficult to separate who you are at work from who you are at home because essentially you are the same person. Among the women that serve as role models to her are her sisters and fellow banker Dolika Banda. She fondly states that Ms Banda is just a phone call away.

Other people who mentor her are a former boss in the UK who was one of the first to see her potential and believe in her even before she believed in herself. She even became a keen follower of Manchester United if a fickle one in the pursuit of knowing when to approach him. Her church leaders also support her spiritually and emotionally.

The secret to her success is that there is no secret at all. There is absolutely no substitute for working hard. A good attitude and being diligent in all that you do is essential. She does not downplay God’s grace as part of her success. Success is not to be taken for granted. A very supportive family is key to excelling in any field. Having a good team to work with is also important.

Throughout her career Mrs Melu has attained many milestones and received many accolades. Her first mile stone was becoming a treasurer, which she first achieved in Tanzania. Her second was her first appointment as a Chief Executive Officer. She has been named Business woman of the year Southern Africa 2013 and Business woman of the year.

One of the most difficult moments was having to come back to Zambia and walk the journey of success without her father. Having being the first female Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank in the country and on the continent nothing would have made him more proud than to see his little girl’s dreams come true even beyond her expectations. This was one task she was not prepared for.

Her words to motivate the young are to follow your passion. Anyone can be what they want to be. Identify what your purpose in life. Never lose who you are. Look for people who will see greatness in you.

Currently she is still consolidating herself in her new role as CEO of Barclays Bank. A role that she is very excited about. She is very present in her new job and looks forward to enjoying the ride.

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