Frying High

Pumeza's Potato-Powered Leadership Journey

From a fresh graduate with aspirations, to a seasoned leader overseeing the Delmas plant, Pumeza Nkala’s story is one of tenacity, growth, and a firm commitment to McCain's core values.

Pumeza’s 17-year journey with McCain began with a vision, not just a job application. Drawn by McCain's values of authenticity, family and trust, she approached the company with the aim of personal growth. The warmth she felt from the HR Director at the time, SJ de Clerk, sealed the deal, making McCain feel like home. Pumeza’s role evolved from management graduate trainee to plant manager of McCain’s Spring’s facility (focused on vegetables) where she navigated various responsibilities with finesse. Her career trajectory has now brought her to Delmas where she will focus on the potato part of the business; a true reflection of McCain's commitment to internal growth and development, showcasing the company's investment in its people.

Pumeza's primary areas of focus involve the oversight of critical aspects within the South African business. Specifically, she is dedicated to ensuring the plant operates efficiently and effectively meets customer needs. In addition to taking charge of financial decisions and eliminating any roadblocks related to security of supply, she plays a pivotal role in future-proofing the business.

 “My biggest responsibility is guaranteeing the safety of my team, fostering their development, and implementing strategies for rewarding and recognising their contributions,” she adds emphatically. “Across all our operations, we are passionate about accelerating sustainability, industry-leading waste management and effective resource efficiency - all while investing in appropriate alternative energy solutions, including solar.”

Peeling back challenges

When it comes to obstacles, Pumeza possesses her own secret recipe for success. "Every day, I craft a list pinpointing the victories I aim to achieve, all while anticipating and overcoming any unexpected hurdles that may cross my path."

The biggest challenge she has faced? “Making strategic, yet sometimes difficult decisions. This is, of course, an essential part of leadership but is not always the easiest. My focus throughout my tenure has, and always will be, winning with people.” Pumeza, a wife and mother, also emphasises the importance of balancing work and personal life. Her intentional presence in her family's life reflects the requirement for all companies to understand and facilitate the holistic well-being of their employees.

Lift as you rise...

Pumeza’s growth at McCain has been nurtured by a network of mentors - from senior leaders to global executives, accessibility and mentorship are key elements of McCain's culture.

Throughout her career, Pumeza has also been committed to paying it forward by serving as a coach. “My aspiration is to inspire those I mentor to follow suit and contribute to the growth of others,” she explains. “In my experience, many women in manufacturing hesitate due to the misconception that it's a male-dominated field. I've actively made it my mission to identify and support talented women, boosting their confidence and challenging stereotypes. Today, I aim to change the narrative and empower women in manufacturing to reach heights beyond traditional roles, dispelling the notion that their potential is limited to clerical or operator positions.”

“On a personal level, I would really like to fully own my greatness, or the greatness that is within me, and also not be fearful of my capability.”

"I embraced my role carrying the dreams of the sisterhood, recognising that my success wasn't just about being the first and only one there. It was about creating a path for other women to follow. Having a seat at the table meant making room for more chairs, so I worked tirelessly to ensure not only my success but the success of those who would come after me. This commitment led to my transition to a larger plant, and now, we proudly have four women as plant managers. My hope is to see a double-digit increase in the number of women taking up these positions, filling the spaces we've worked hard to create."

Looking ahead, Pumeza envisions herself taking on more significant responsibilities within McCain, and perhaps tapping into the company’s global manufacturing network. The legacy she will leave one day? Collaboration across divisions, and a working environment where leadership is a service, titles are secondary, and success is intertwined with the success of others.