Former CEO of ArcelorMittal South Africa, current Chairman-designate of the JSE
Celebrated as South Africa’s lady of steel, Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita is the former CEO of ArcelorMittal South Africa, the largest steel producer on the African continent and a subsidiary of the global ArcelorMittal Group. After six years at the company’s helm, she stepped down in February this year to take over as chairman-designate of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).
Nyembezi-Heita’s journey to success began when she was awarded a prestigious scholarship from Anglo American, enabling her to further her studies in England. Her shrewd recognition of South Africa’s need for engineering skills, combined with her aptitude for mathematics and physics, led to her graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science. She also holds a Master’s degree in electronic engineering from the California Institute of Technology and an MBA from Open University in the United Kingdom.
Nyembezi-Heita began her distinguished career in 1984 as an engineer at IBM's Research Triangle Park in North Carolina in the United States. She later moved to its Dallas branch, before returning to South Africa as an accounts sales representative for the company’s local venture in 1986. Seven years later, she was appointed as IBM’s regional manager at its Windhoek branch, a position she held until 1998 when a career change saw her take over as CEO of financial services group, Alliance Capital. In 2008, she was appointed as a board member and CEO of ArcelorMittal South Africa.
During her tenure as CEO, Nyembezi-Heita had to balance shareholder expectations with maintaining the company’s position as a globally competitive low-cost steel producer. By focusing on cost-cutting initiatives and company efficiencies, she guided the company through the height of an economic downturn in 2008, and an acutely difficult period for South Africa’s construction sector, which fell into a deep slump after the 2010 Soccer World Cup. It is in times of adversity that leadership mettle is tested, and in this regard, Nyembezi-Heita consistently proved resilient. Under her leadership, the company increased its commitment to environmental conservation, social responsibility and construction safety.
Described by Wits Business School Journal as one of South Africa’s 30 most influential women, her leadership style has often been defined as a subtle blend of hands-on commitment, humour and conscious open-mindedness. With an open-door policy, she is averse to hierarchy and welcomes teamwork and diversity.
Taking over as chairman-designate of the JSE, Nyembezi-Heita is no stranger to the finance industry, having served as a non-executive JSE board member since 2009, and as chairwoman of the Bond Exchange of South Africa in 2004, before it was incorporated into the JSE.
She currently serves as a non-executive director on the boards of Old Mutual and Macsteel International, and as chairwoman of the South African Iron and Steel Institute (SAISI).
In 2011, Nyembezi-Heita was listed as one of Forbes magazine’s Most Powerful Women, and a year later, ranked eighth in the magazine’s list of Most Powerful Black Women in the World.