Zambian CEO Susan Mulikita on overcoming the challenges on her path to success

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Susan Mulikita has more than 23 years' ICT and telecommunications legal, regulatory and management experience, operating at a senior level for both private sector and public organisations. Susan joined Liquid Telecom Zambia as CEO in January 2019.

How do you define success?

Success is relative. You can define it in many different ways – whether from a professional, academic or social sphere. Professionally, it’s whether I can achieve the objectives set out by stakeholders each year. Socially, and I can’t leave that out, I have to ensure that I succeed in terms of managing and raising my family in the best way I can.

What have been the driving forces behind your success?

Personally, it's education that’s helped me to be where I am. In terms of the other side is family. So, the fact I was able to go to school and obtain an appreciable level of education, has brought me to where I am, which means I can do anything else I want to do for myself, and for anybody else.

What have been the stumbling blocks on your path to success?

Fear has been a huge stumbling block. Fear of meeting other people, fear of networking, fear of failure. Once I was able to overcome that fear, I was able to navigate pretty much any path.

What one habit you have cultivated has been key to your success?

I aspire to achieve. I aspire to do well. Whatever it is I'm doing, I want to do it really well. Whether for myself or for somebody else, I want to do. My approach is ‘excellence in everything’.

What advice would you give your 30-year-old self?

To be focused, to be determined. There is no hurry really. Two people who start off at the same time might end up at different places, but that doesn't necessarily mean that if I started off faster than you, I'll end up better than you. I must just be determined to achieve what I want to achieve.

What does your personal day look like?

They're hectic. I wake up at 5am to make sure that the three younger children are sorted for school. One of them demands I actually personally make sure everything is catered for. We leave the house at 6.20. I am in the office at about 6.45/7, and then I start my full day. The first two hours of the day are quite busy. I'm only realising now that I’m getting tired early because the first two hours of my day are very busy.

How do spend your day or week in peak performance?

Monday has stopped being a drag for me. Monday is now a good day. I make sure I dress well on Monday and, with that, my mood is enhanced and I'm able to plan my day. I prefer to do work in the morning and schedule meetings for later in the day, or later in the week. I think that helps with performance.

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What strategies do you use to build relationships?

I've learnt to banish fear. Fear of people. I think it's quite paralysing to be afraid of meeting people. I am now able to go up and meet whoever I want to.

As you are a woman at the top, what word would you have for men that are mentoring and growing young women in the industry?

My experience has been that there is a lot of this talk about, and it's real, men take advantage of women. I haven't experienced it, though. I have been mentored by men who have really supported me along the way. And I think it's very possible to do. If it's possible men should then take it up, and women should also be open minded to realise that it's possible to be mentored by a man, who will not take advantage of you.

What have you learnt as a CEO, that you wish you had known before?

It's exciting, but the role is also demanding. My regional CEO told me when I accepted the role that he was going to expect me to work very hard, very, very hard. It's very true. So, the lesson is work very hard and also have fun along the way. Spend your money otherwise somebody will spend it for you.

What skills to do you need to demonstrate to be selected as a CEO?

Confidence – you absolutely have to be confident in your abilities. You have to be able to show the people you're talking to that you are capable of delivering what is expected. You have to build resilience as well, because when they talk to you, they test you.  So, you have to demonstrate you are capable of managing yourself and the business. 

At the end of the day, you will not just be managing the business, you will be managing yourself as well. You build integrity as you go. When I talk to young people now, I remind them that, look, you are living in an age where unfortunately the Internet has a way of recording everything that you do.  You have to be very careful, otherwise those things are going to come back and haunt us and bring us down at the moment when we should get what we want to get.

Is there anything you would do differently in your career?

If I had done things differently from what I did, I would have been in a court right now, maybe as a courtroom lawyer or a judge.But if you ask me, I love what I do and I have enjoyed my career, so I don't think I could change anything about it.