Thokozile Lewanika Mpupuni

Current Job: 
Public Sector Key Accounts Manager at Novartis South Africa
Don't think "job", think "experience".

Previous job(s): Expert at McKinsey & Company Sub Saharan Africa office

How did you obtain your current position?

I made an internal transfer from the Learning Department where I had worked for 1.5 years establishing programmes for our African corporate university and heading up talent management and organisational development for our African Cluster.

In what way does your qualification relate to your work, whether directly or indirectly?

My qualifications gave me a good understanding and experience of molecular and cell biology research. My current job has expanded on this and provided understanding and experience of what it takes to transform research into effective medicines and provide them to patients in a way that is profitable (thus sustaining the business) but also patient-centred (affordable). I have also found that a lot of the problem solving approaches used in scientific research work well in business.

What are the key skills that have contributed to your success thus far?

Being bold (learning to always ask for what I want / put myself out there in an engaging way), networking (mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors, supporters, mentors), social intelligence (largely driven by a curiosity to understand people), being analytical (always asking why or so what), communicating well (verbal, written, body language), effective project management (seeing my work as a series of high quality deliverables).

What are your day-to-day activities?

Managing key customers in the public sector (existing and potential sales opportunities, special projects/partnerships, trouble-shooting, etc.); meetings with our different brand teams to develop / implement / review strategies for our key brands; contributing to internal office projects / activities.

What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?

The best part is when I am able to experience real-life patient stories of how our medicines saved or prolonged a life or allowed someone to have a better quality of life. I also love it when we are able to increase access to our medicines in a way that is sustainable for both the patients and ourselves. The most challenging part is working with our customers to find win-win solutions that ultimately benefit the patient. A lot more is needed than just selling a pill, it's supporting the customer and the broader system to treat the patient end-to-end by also contributing to patient education, health care professionals' capability building, infrastructure development, etc.

How did your extra-curricular involvement while at UCT add value (transferable skills) to what you offer the world of work/your degree?

I found that UCT offered a lot of character-forming and experience-building options. I have a strong "teacher" mind-set and my tutoring, academic writing consultant and Scifest experience at UCT set me up to be a good team member, manager and learning facilitator in the world of work. I love helping others learn and grow and I am often told this is a real strength I have. My active involvement in SHARP and the TAC really embedded a social conscience / activism / passion that has stayed with me and helped me to be passionate about my work. I have always wanted to make a difference. Initially in HIV/AIDS (i.e. SHARP, TAC) and these days also in other areas like mental health, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, etc.

To what extent did you make use of the Careers Service while you were at university?

The Careers Service helped me get my first job at McKinsey & Company. They helped me transform my academic CV into a skills-based CV and introduced me to a recruiter at McKinsey & Company. I have very fond memories of this experience as the Head of the Careers Service personally helped me to revise my CV. She was so available and enthusiastic about the whole process of helping me move from academia to the corporate world that I was so humbled that someone so high up was willing to help me. She was one of the first people I told when I got the offer from McKinsey.

How best should students use their time at university to give themselves a competitive edge in your field?

Use the opportunity to explore and get involved in activities beyond your academic programme. Preferably, activities that show you making a positive impact. Employers are looking for socially conscious, value-driven, entrepreneurial and high-performing candidates. Do some community service with friends, start a business together, excel at a team sport, etc. Show employers you can work effectively in a team, solve problems, have strong values, can achieve something more than good grades, etc. You need to really demonstrate that you can achieve more than a distinction in maths because your potential job will not be to produce a second distinction in maths.

In retrospect, what advice can you give to students about how to approach their own career development journeys?

Think of your career as a series of experiences that will help you grow, develop and make a difference. Don't think "job", think "experience". Sometimes these experiences will be in the same job, sometimes you will need a new job. Don't let a job be the ultimate goal as this will limit and potentially frustrate you.

Do you have any advice for a new graduate entering the world of work?

Do everything with excellence (make this your brand). Ask when you're not sure (it shows you're efficient). Have a life (family and friends matter more). Learn, learn and learn some more. Be grateful (stay humble, look out for the next newbie).