JOHANNESBURG - Priscilla Mabelane, last week became the first woman to lead one of the country’s prime oil and gas businesses, BP Southern Africa.

Mabelane, who was appointed as the company’s new chief executive, told Business Report that although she was anxious about the path that lies ahead, she was confident of executing it to her fullest.

“I felt mixed emotions on being appointed, but now I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given,” Mabelane said this week.

The company is not new terrain for the chartered accountant. She has worked as the chief financial officer for six years. She says her main goal will be to help refocus BP South Africa as well as to assist the fuel and lubricants market in general.

Also read: Minister of Energy congratulates new BP CEO

“Our industry is in transition in a number of areas. However, we are looking at areas that are competitive and therefore also at ways of dealing with other players active in our markets.” It has been a long journey for the village girl from Mabocha, outside Burgersfort in Limpopo, but she has certainly made her mark in the highest echelons of an industry that is dominated by males.

Mabelane says she knew from a young age that she wanted to go into business. At the age of 12, she was already honing her skills as a typist in her father’s bookkeeping company.

She graduated with a B Com accounting degree cum laude from the then-University of the North, now called University of Limpopo. Later she obtained an Honour’s degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I knew that I wanted to do maths and accounting.” She says her success in maths and accounting made her determined to make her mark in the business world.

Read also: First black female to head multi-national oil industry

Such determination has already seen her serving as an operations director for BP’s UK retail business, where she was credited with maintaining a strong safety record while delivering record levels of financial performance and progress on key strategic milestones. She says that more than 20 years of service, including long hours spent in boardrooms, will help her bring a wealth of expertise to her new role.

All eyes will be on her as the first woman to head one of the large multinationals in South Africa. It’s also a milestone for BP as an organisation that will always be seen as a leader in the industry’s transformation. “I’ve never had lows in my career. I made mistakes and took those mistakes as lessons that have helped me become a better and more effective person.”

Her appointment follows closely on the heels of two senior executive appointments to BP’s leadership team: Kelebogile Tseladimitlwa as human resources director for the southern African region and Prinisha Khoosal as commercial integration manager.

Mabelane says her best lesson throughout her leadership journey has been to avoid disappointing those who consider her a role model. “I’ve been given the opportunity to ensure I safeguard the strategy and the direction of the business in the manner that I wanted,” Mabelane said. “South Africans are all capable and there are opportunities given to us.

“I have been handed those opportunities for my own career’s sake and to create an opportunity for other people to grow.” She says the organisation is in a transformation process aimed at recognising more women in the global oil and gas industry.

“I need to ensure I continue to build on our foundation and also ensure that we will be sustainers.” While the challenge might seem daunting, it will not deter this mother of two, who has already held executive positions in companies such as Ernst&Young, where she was a tax director, and Eskom, where she held various roles in finance, tax and general management.

“I was clear about what I wanted to achieve, and I’ve been given the opportunities to ensure I safeguard the strategy and the direction of the businesses in the manner I wanted.” But how does such a decorated executive unwind?

She’s a devout Christian who attends church as often as she can and supports a number of orphanages. She also enjoys running, reading and spending time with her family, adding that she tries to do everything with compassion. “I know there are a lot of talented young people who look up to me. “I need to lead by example.”

- BUSINESS REPORT