Yolanda climbed corporate ladder to top

UP THERE: Yolanda Cuba is deputy chief executive of Mvelaphanda Group.
UP THERE: Yolanda Cuba is deputy chief executive of Mvelaphanda Group.

Thomas McLachlan and Phumza Macanda

Thomas McLachlan and Phumza Macanda

Yolanda Cuba is not even 30 years old and she is already generating tidal-waves in the business world.

Last month she was named top empowered businesswoman of the year at the Fidentia Top Empowerment Awards.

Cuba is deputy chief executive of Mvelaphanda Group, one of South Africa's most successful empowerment companies and, at 29, she is one of the youngest women in the country to hold such a high-powered position.

She is not fazed by the fact that in most board meetings she is the youngest person.

"People forget your age once they realise you know what you are talking about. They respect you for your ideas and contributions," she said.

Cuba was exposed to the business world at an early age, helping out in her aunt's shop on the weekends when she was at school. On completing her matric she toyed with the idea of becoming a financial- markets analyst, but later realised that chartered accountants (CA) commanded far more respect. She has a BCom in statistics from the University of Cape Town, a BCom Honours in accountancy from the University of Natal and is also a qualified CA.

Before joining Mvela's finance department in 2003 she was a consultant to a number of BEE companies and worked at accounting group Fisher Hoffman Stride and in the marketing division of food group Robertson's.

"Working as a marketer taught me that the creative side is important too, and I often bring a very different point of view to a problem than your traditional numbers person," she said.

Though empowerment has presented a lot of opportunities to young black professionals, Cuba maintains that "people with a strong work ethic will be able to rise in the business world".

"When you are new in an organisation, you should 'under-promise' and 'over-deliver' and people will definitely take notice of you."

And take notice they did. Cuba got her first promotion after only eight months.