Young Leaders Dinner with Zyda Rylands, CEO of Woolworths SA

On 10 May 2016, Accelerate Cape Town hosted the fifth of our Young Leaders Dinners – a programme to support talent attraction and retention particularly within our Sponsor organisations. With a focus on Resilience, Diversity and Transformation in the Workplace, Zyda Rylands, the CEO of Woolworths SA, was ideal to tell her story and share the importance of focusing on your passions, finding your path, identifying opportunities, and preparing yourself for the career you want.

What has been your most defining characteristic throughout your career? Determination – Zyda attributes much of her success to her determination and spoke about how, regardless of your circumstances, if you are determined you will find a way. From Zyda’s point of view, she hasn’t broken through any glass ceilings because, with passion as her compass and not wanting to be capped, she didn’t see any glass ceilings. She has always known her intentions, mapping out her journey and sticking to her path.

What are your leadership principles? Quality – a passion point,  along with innovation, service, energy and sustainability, are some of Zyda’s leadership principles. She added that her leadership principles are closely aligned to her values.

Advice to future leaders: Don’t shy away and use your leadership voice wisely – be mindful that when you whisper, sometimes people hear a roar – be clear on your intentions and be conscious of your power as a leader. “As you rise, the road might not always be straight to the top, consider who will be there when you come down. Remember, people want to be engaged and there is great value and a better outcome when the collective is engaged – value lies in debate”. Zyda said that it is important to surround yourself with people that believe in you and emphasised the value of owning your life and your career. She also highlighted the value of enquiring and knocking on doors in an effort to keep your mind open to seeing opportunities and possibilities.

What have some of your challenges and learnings been as a black female? Zyda responded by saying that, in the workplace, she never defined or saw herself as either black or a woman, but rather as a person wanting to do her best. She practiced being her authentic self and never allowed her race and gender to become shackles.

It was an inspiring evening hearing from Zyda and we valued her advice around being determined, knowing your intentions and having a purpose. Zyda left us with her three life laws:

  • What you sow, you will reap
  • Suffer the pain of sacrifice or suffer the pain of regret
  • If it’s to be, it’s up to me.

We’d like to thank the candidates from British American Tobacco, I&J and the V&A Waterfront for ensuring a rich discussion on Resilience, Diversity and Transformation in the Workplace.

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