Championing Collaborative Leadership
On a sunny public holiday, anticipating an enlightening conversation and a delightful meal from The Royal Dil Restaurant at Acacia Park in Lusaka, I await the presence of Zambeef Products Plc CEO Faith Mukutu. She enters, exuding a palpable energy, with a stellar smile and donning an exquisite African print dress. I instantly sense that the conversation with the young CEO is bound to be exceptional.
While we anticipate our lunch comprising of butter prawn masala, vegetable noodles, butter chicken, and rice, along with a round of Malawian shandies, she shares her life story and her climb to the summit of Zambeef.
Zambeef, Zambia’s leading beef producer, is the largest vertically integrated cold chain food products and agribusiness company in Zambia and one of the largest in the region, as well as in Nigeria and Ghana. The company is involved in the primary production, processing, distribution and retailing of beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, dairy products, flour and stockfeed.
In 2019, Faith Mukutu joined Zambeef as its CFO, having previously held the position of finance director in three other notable companies – Zambian Breweries, National Breweries, and Zambia Sugar. Although she possesses more than two decades of experience in finance, Faith originally aspired to leave her mark on the world as a doctor. However, a series of strikes at the University of Zambia deterred her from pursuing medical school, leading her to seek an alternative challenge. This led her to pursue accountancy, which eventually proved to be an ideal fit for her.
In her formative years, Faith’s family taught her the importance of discipline, giving back to her community and respecting everyone regardless of their position. Faith shares growing up in her household; there was no differentiation between boys and girls where chores were concerned. With this upbringing, she continually reminded herself that she possessed the ability to accomplish anything a man could.
I believe in inclusive decision-making, helping everyone understand that they are an integral part of the business at all levels.
Starting her career with a stint as a management trainee at Cavmont Merchant Bank Ltd, she later moved on to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an audit, business and advisory associate for three years.
“I got promoted every six months, and by the time I was getting to my second year, I was entrusted to handle tasks typically reserved for managers. This showed that my potential was valued. I was auditing Zambian Breweries when I got offered a job there,” Faith shares.
In June 2005, Faith joined Zambian Breweries (whose parent company was SABMiller at the time) as a management accountant. She has always loved management accountancy because it’s about helping businesses make the right decisions. She continued her growth journey with SABMiller by taking the plunge and moving to Malawi in 2008 to take on the role of finance director.
In 2011, Faith transitioned to the same position in Lesotho. After three years, in 2015, her aspirations were realised when she returned to Zambia to serve as the finance director of Zambian Breweries.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Finally! I’ve made it; this is what I’ve been striving for.’ I returned to Zambia during a tumultuous period of high exchange rates, significant depreciation, and soaring interest rates. It was now a matter of determining how the company could weather the storm. Despite popular belief, women can collaborate and work effectively together. I had the pleasure of working with an exceptional Managing Director at that time, and together we led ZB towards a path where we could reduce costs and accomplish remarkable feats.”
After her time at Zambian Breweries, Faith joined Zambia Sugar before assuming the position of CFO at Zambeef. She credits her expertise in operational finance for making her transition from CFO to CEO a seamless process. “I always say that the most powerful position in any entity is in finance because a finance director or CFO has a comprehensive understanding of the entire business. However, one of the skills that has helped me throughout my career is my ability to build sustainable relationships. Creating a good network allows you to pick up the phone and ask for help when you are confronted with an issue; someone always knows someone.”
This CEO role is one Faith is navigating conscientiously because more accountability now rests with her. She adds that she is grateful to have a supportive workforce behind her.
As someone with a deep love for coaching and building people, Faith has always strived to practice participative leadership, avoiding a culture of fear among her colleagues. She adds, “Depending on the occasion, l use other styles; transformational coaching, which l love; and pacesetting. I am unafraid to roll up my sleeves and work hard to set the pace. I believe in inclusive decision-making, helping everyone understand that they are an integral part of the business at all levels.
I always advise my mentees, especially young women, to ask questions. If you want something, ask. What’s the worst that could happen? I have always asked questions.”
Regarding Zambeef’s place in the agro-processing industry, Faith points to the consistent output of quality products. She states, “The high quality, affordable products offered by Zambeef have been one of the primary reasons for our success, as consumers have continued to trust us to provide them with safe and nutritious foods. When I joined, Zambeef was already a well-established brand with even bigger plans that spoke to our vision of being one of the region’s most accessible, affordable, quality cold-chain food providers.
When I took over as CEO in July 2022, I was aligned with the vision, and the plan is to steadily move beyond just feeding the nation and into feeding the region, which is reinforced by our US$100 million expansion plan. This will double our cropping operation and enhance the value addition downstream.”
Faith remains excited to be part of the agriculture, agro-processing, and retail industries, especially when Africa seeks to address food security challenges. For her, most importantly, this presents a further opportunity to impact livelihoods positively, as most of those involved in the agriculture industry are small-scale and emerging farmers.
“Zambia has been fortunate enough to have a government that prioritises the agriculture industry, especially compared to other countries. The country’s policies and recent budget allocation towards this sector are evidence of this commitment. Being land-linked, with eight neighbors, positions Zambia as a prime candidate to take a leading role in ensuring food security for the region.”
Change is a constant factor, and individuals must continuously innovate and adapt. Self-belief and purpose play a part. Having a compelling story that people can resonate with can be helpful. Maintaining discipline and focus is crucial, especially when setting goals; you must be committed to excelling.
Faith believes there are some essential principles to remember for success in life and business. “Change is a constant factor, and individuals must continuously innovate and adapt. Self-belief and purpose play a part. Having a compelling story that people can resonate with can be helpful. Maintaining discipline and focus is crucial, especially when setting goals; you must be committed to excelling.”
As our conversation draws to a close, Faith sums up her life by describing it as a “faith kind of life.” Despite never envisioning herself achieving what she has at her age, Faith attributes her success to God’s faithfulness.
The Royal Dil
The Royal Dil Restaurant within Acacia Park is a perfect venue for family, friends, and colleagues to get together for a delicious meal in an elegant and spacious environment. It has earned a reputation for offering some of the best Indian food in town. The restaurant has modern décor that sets the stage for an exotic Indian experience.