Stella Khumalo - I have learnt a lot of things - but the most important thing has been the difference between being assertive and aggressive

CEO of uShaka Marine World

STELLA KHUMALO, CEO of uShaka Marine World's career has focused on three things - determination, hard work and passion.

"What makes me sleep at night is knowing that I have made a difference. I believe that, throughout my career, I have always left an indelible mark wherever I have been. People who have worked with me can attest to the fact that I drive a very hard bargain - but I am always at the forefront and expect as much from them as I do from myself."

Whatever she does, she gives it her all and she is never afraid to learn.

After matriculating from the St. Francis College, Marianhill, in 1980, she completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Zululand, followed by a Higher Education Diploma from the University of South Africa in 1989 and Bachelor of Education from the University of Zululand in 1994.

She started out as a high school teacher specialising in science subjects, working her way up to be deputy principal of Luthayi High School and then Head of Department (Science) at Phezulu High School in Mpumalanga. She then became a subject advisor in biology and general science for the Zululand region.

After 10 years, she moved into skills development, working as a director in KwaZulu-Natal's Department of Education and then as Chief Director for Tourism Development in the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism. She ultimately served as provincial head of that department between 2007 and 2012.

Khumalo also added a Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA) specialising in Strategic Management from the then University of Natal in 2004.

She was appointed CEO of the KZN Liquor Authority in March 2012. In just two years, she transformed this newly formed entity into one that has had a positive impact on the retail liquor trade and associated sectors.

She took the helm at uShaka Marine World in June 2014, becoming the first female leader of one of the city's more influential tourism attractions.

She doesn't take this role lightly, especially as she is acutely aware of the fact that state owned entities like uShaka are often subjected to harsh criticism. Instead of being daunted by intense scrutiny, however, Khumalo enjoys the challenge of ensuring that uShaka is a sustainable business in its own right.

"For us at uShaka, business sustainability is key as it informs our business continuity and business growth strategies. We are a state owned entity and we pride ourselves in the fact that we are not a grant funded entity. Therefore, our focus as a business is continuous improvement, differentiation and diversification. We play in a private sector environment and constantly compete with new alternatives in family entertainment that spring up all around us. Therefore, we continuously look at new trends, testing the guest appetite and assessing how our target market behaves and feels,"
she explains.

Khumalo believes that she is leading the organisation and the team that has not only put uShaka on the tourism map but earned it numerous awards over the years at a critical time.

The shareholders and board of uShaka are in the throes of developing an integrated master plan for the organisation. This aims to align the organisation with the city's urban renewal plans and further plans for the development of the Durban Point Waterfront.

"The public and the Durban business community must watch this space. Our objective is to change the family entertainment game and to bring something completely different and exciting to Durban. We are three years into the second decade of uShaka Marine World's existence. This is an opportune time to review and give our guests new tourism offerings," she says.

Khumalo is definitely a team player and she attributes her strong and successful leadership to understanding herself, the people that she leads and the direction in which she is leading them.

"Over the years, I have learnt a lot of things - but the most important has been the difference between being assertive and aggressive. I admit that there have been times when I have allowed my emotions to run ahead of my common sense. I have learnt the hard way that working with people can test you. But remaining objective, calm and not personalising issues makes a whole lot of difference when dealing with challenging situations," she says.

Going forward, Khumalo points out that it is important to live one's life in order to create a legacy for both your own children and the next generation to come.

As the mother of two boys and a girl and wife of Baba uKhumalo, she has certainly done that.

She also continues to grow her career and has just finished a thesis entitled: Balancing Corporate Governance and Oversight over State owned enterprise:
as part of her PhD studies.

Whilst she is waiting to see whether she can add the title Dr to her name, she says she has time to again indulge in her favourite hobby - reading.

"My library is growing again," she smiles.

Stella Khumalo

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