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Dynamic combination of beauty and brains are apt for Mokgokong

By unknown | Jul 07, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Those with printer's ink in their veins will tell you they avoid clichés like the plague in their writing.

But when the subject of the interview is someone like the elegant Dr Anna Mokgokong, even Shakespeare could have been tempted to note that indeed, oft-times, beauty does go with brains.

She was at medical school in the early 1980s when the entrepreneurial bug bit. Legend has it that "while studying medicine, Anna started a business selling handbags and belts."

Through a contact in Swaziland, she was given R40 000 worth of stock. The business was a huge success and diversified to include African clothing and curios.

The lecturers at medical school didn't like that Anna was running a lucrative business while studying and tried to persuade her to drop her business interest and focus on her studies, even though she was one of the top performing students at Medunsa.

Undeterred Anna continued with her business and by the time she completed her medical degree was able to sell her business for R150000.

We meet her at her upmarket Waterkloof home, a palatial edifice where the spoilt take the lift up one floor from the ground should they find the stairs a cumbersome exercise. The house dwarfs others in the vicinity and looks like something out of a glossy decor magazine.

She calls ahead on her way back from a business breakfast to tell her attentive personal assistant, Nadine, that she won't be late.

In no time a gleaming chauffeur-driven black Bentley deposits her at the front of the monstrosity with six garages she calls home.

She's in chic black-and-white. The handbag is a red Versace she bought in Italy and she exudes confidence. Mokgokong is executive chairman of Community Investment Holdings (CIH), a 100percent black-owned company with interests in healthcare, electronics and telecommunications, logistics, financial services, power and energy, and mining.

Known as the Malesela group when she founded it, the company, four of whose largest subsidiaries have a joint turnover of over R1,3 billion, keeps her on her toes. She's just been to open offices in Rome, Milan and Lugano, a small town in the south of Switzerland, says the well-travelled Mokgokong, who, just that morning, had had to decline a request to go to France on business. "The body says 'No'," is how she explains her unwillingness to get on the next flight out.

She does not have to be at CIH, which operates out of a Menlyn address, every day as each division of the company is headed by a chief executive officer.

A hands-on kind of leader nevertheless, this arrangement allows her time to be by herself, she says. A typical day starts at 9am "because I go to bed late".

Between 7am and 8am, she's talking to herself - "It is Anna time".

Married with two children to a man who is not intimidated by her success, one other rule is that she doesn't work weekends.

"I cook."

She's so au fait with such culinary demands she'd even happily cook at traditional family gatherings in drievoet (three-legged) pots. "The only thing I hate is making the fire," says Mokgokong.

A year after she was born in Pimville, Soweto, the family moved to Swaziland, where she began her elementary education.

She went to Botswana for her maiden degree, a Bachelor of Science, before hitting the Medunsa campus in 1981 for her training in medicine, where she'd scoop the Best Family Medicine Student Award.

The Mokgokong name is huge in Medunsa. Her uncle, Professor Ephraim Mokgokong, a distinguished gynaecologist, was vice-chancellor.

Another, Sam Mokgokong, is better known for his speciality in separating Siamese twins.

With two sisters and three brothers, she is the daughter of Mary, a scientist and Sos Mokgokong, a mathematician.

The bitterness that met with her decision to go into business is understandable. The money she made from the sale of her handbag shop went into setting up a private medical centre in Kgabalatsane, Hebron. This was her way of assuaging the hurt in her family of academics, she smiles.

Before going out on her own, she was medical officer at the GaRankuwa Hospital from 1984 to 1987. Her CV says she was a councillor on the board of the University of South Africa between 2000 and 2002.

The section that details her awards is a litany of honours for the woman who, in 1999, won the the prestigious Shoprite-Checkers Businesswoman of the Year Award.

She's also a board member of the Women's Leadership Board of the Harvard JF Kennedy Business School in Boston, USA.

Despite this impressive body of work, she remains grounded and humble and laughs like your sister, or the friendly girl next door.

She bemoans the fact that young women today twiddle their thumbs at home.

"It was not easy in my day," she says.

There are exceptions, though, she says, citing her 26-year-old niece, who grew up in New York: "She has a contract to supply sports bags to National Basketball Association teams."

"Without my help!" she hastens to add.

Does she socialise with other bigwigs in business?

"I come from a very big family. I'm very difficult to make friends with and I keep a close network of friends. Inner friends."

She's a much sought-after public speaker who will share the stage tomorrow at the 2008 Investec Young Women in Finance Conference with, among others, Graça Machel and business luminary Hixonia Nyasulu.

Who better to inspire young women in business and, generally, damsels in distress, than this able stalwart who says she'll go into fashion when she retires?

Beauty and brains, after all, isn't so hackneyed a phrase!


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