Recently, GE South Africa Technologies (GESAT), a joint venture between GE Transportation and the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC) announced the appointment of a new CEO, Zeenith Ebrahim. Zeenith has been with the company since its formation in 2008 and succeeded Gorman Zimba in the role from 1 July 2015. As Commercial Leader for Sub-Saharan Africa at GE Transportation, Zeenith was part of the executive team at GESAT.
“I joined GE because I wanted to work in rail. While I was doing my master’s degree at Oxford, I learnt a lot about facilitating inter-regional trade across the Africa continent. Because a large part of the continent is landlocked, improving rail infrastructure is bound to have a positive impact,” says Zeenith.
One of her first tasks will be to make sure that GESAT fulfills its order for 293 diesel locomotives for Transnet Freight Rail, a division of the state-owned freight and logistics companies. Valued at US$520 million (ZAR7 billion), this is one of GE’s largest-ever transportation deals outside the United States. All except six of the locomotives will be built locally.
Zeenith comes with an intimate understanding of GESAT’s operations having been on the company’s board since 2011. In her role as CEO, one of her key responsibilities will be to oversee the implementation of GE’s localisation strategy, which seeks to foster a more sustainable Africa. “I was involved in the conceptual stage of this localisation programme, so it will be extremely rewarding to be part of its implementation,” Zeenith said.
“South Africa is one of GE’s most promising growth regions and it makes me proud to have an equally promising leader at the helm,” said Thomas Konditi, President and CEO of GE Transportation in Africa, and President and CEO for GE South Africa. “Zeenith’s keen interest in the business of locomotives and her depth of experience working in different parts of GE made her an excellent candidate for the position of CEO.”
Yet as a female CEO, Zeenith admits that women leaders in male-dominated industries have to work a bit harder than their male counterparts to prove their credibility.
Being a CEO in a male dominated sector is not easy. While men continue to build relationships outside the boardroom — over drinks or on the golf course — as a woman you have to establish and maintain your credibility within the boardroom. If I hadn’t learnt to proactively express my views and offer myself up to do and lead certain things, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Zeenith always felt driven to succeed in order to make a meaningful difference. While in high school, her work with children’s rights group Molo Songololo elevated her social consciousness and led to her first overseas trip at the age of 16.
“It felt good to be part of a global community with common interests. I felt like I had a voice,” she says.
This experience informed her decision to obtain a finance degree and later to pursue her MBA at Oxford University as a Nelson Mandela scholar. Zeenith’s voice is being heard, and she’s getting the country moving.
This article originally appeared on GE Reports.