Stella Khumalo - Determination, hard work and passion

Stella Khumalo - Determination, hard work and passion
Stella Khumalo:CEO of uShaka Marine World

STELLA KHUMALO, throughout her career, CEO at uShaka Marine World, 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 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 and a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) specialising in Strategic Management from the then University of Natal in 2004. She has recently graduated with a Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

This doctorate is a fitting addition to her career to date. Her dissertation, entitled Exploring critical factors for effective corporate governance practices of the schedule three state-owned entities in KwaZulu-Natal, is particularly pertinent as state-owned enterprises (SOEs) tackle the challenges associated with good corporate governance on a daily basis.

"As the CEO reporting to a Board where there is shareholder and stakeholder involvement and other dynamics, understanding this is critical. My studies have given me good insight. My research has broadened my perspective. Completing this qualification enables me to better advise my Board and the Shareholder (the eThekwini municipality) and to perform my job as an accounting officer more effectively and efficiently.

She is particularly proud that uShaka Marine World has received clean audits for three years in a row since she has joined the organisation.

"I believe that doing my PHD has taught me many things. Besides just having a more in-depth understanding of the subject of corporate governance, which is very relevant for my job, it has also, surprisingly, taught me resilience and patience when working with a variety of people that were critical for the research."

Khumalo 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 it 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 and integrated master plan for the organisation. This aims to align it with the city's urban renewal plans and further plant 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.

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.

Stella Khumalo

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