“Life is not a rehearsal. You cannot rewind and replay it as if it is a tape recorder. Today is Wednesday and tomorrow it won’t repeat itself. As you are seated there you are writing your obituary. People should come to your funeral because of your significance, not because they knew your parents.”
This is how the founding Chief Executive Officer of Bona Life Insurance, Regina Sikalesele-Vaka started her motivational talk on, “Advancing in a male dominated industry” to a well attended inspirational women in business and leadership speaker series session at University of Botswana’s auditorium, last Wednesday evening.
She underpinned that to unleash potential one should know and understand his or herself. One should also understand his or her background well, the qualities and weaknesses of where they come from.
She informed her audience, predominantly young women in their final and third year that breaking into highness, even as a graduate is not easy. She then took some minutes to give her own life as testimony of excellent performance that earned her a bright life that many can learn from, and that women have the potential to be agents of change.
Going corporate was by mistake to her. She started up as a lawyer, and to her that was not career choice but just something she had passion for.
“I believe that even if I could have been a train driver I could have been the best. After graduating I practiced as a lawyer for five years and I won all my court cases,” she said.
She would later quit the profession because, following her maternity leave she felt her baby was still young and needed her care. When she tried to extend her leave she was told it was impossible as her work had accumulated in the past three months. Given to either choose her work or daughter she opted for the latter and submitted a resignation letter.
Later, in search for a job that would permit her to continue giving love to her baby, she landed in a small-staffed Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (MVA). When the then CEO’s contract ended she was promoted to the post of Acting Deputy CEO. When the Board recommended her for the post, the Minister responsible opposed the recommendation on the ground that she was young. However, when a new minister took over he went by the Board’s decision. She had to research how she would drive the institution forward.
“When I took over as CEO of the MVA, at the age of 30, it had deficit of P12 million. We customised our model and when I left it, it had P120 million profits with asset base of close to a billion Pula,” she said to loud round of applause. When she took over the Botswana Life, the institution’s profits leaped from 63 percent to 86 percent.
When she had taken a sabbatical leave she received a call from the Minister of Sports informing her that they were preparing for the second African Games and needed a chairman. When she asked the minister whether she had chance of being excused the minister responded on the negative.
“I knew nothing about sports. I did not understand the meaning of second African Games. Now, to you I say understand as an individual the things that work for you, then you can leverage. I knew how to supervise people. I knew how to handle the issue of sourcing funds. I knew the corporate world and how it operates.
“We did all preparations well and Americans who sponsored the events expressed surprise of how well organised the event was. Not typical to an African country.
“If a complaint was raised the next day things would be fixed,” she said. She said the day before the kick-start of the events they agreed to meet at a venue in the University of Botswana at 6am. She arrived at 5.50am, wondering how many people would be there. When she arrived, her team, comprising 38 people some from as Gabane, was all there.
The event was organised by University of Botswana Women in Business Association (UB-WBSA). Its president, Obakeng Moroka said: “The series’ main objective is to create platform where students could interact with locally renowned business and corporate women and to also learn to turn dreams into reality.”