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Glamour Women’s Month Series: Getting to know Tlalane Ntuli

In an ode to the great women of Africa, we’ve amplified the stories of more than 15 remarkable women from across the continent in the third instalment of the #GlamourWomensMonthSeries.

As we round up the series, we are telling the story of yet another phenomenal woman, Tlalane Ntuli, who is one of the leading executives in South Africa.

Ntuli is a seasoned professional who has held several executive positions in the sales, marketing and distribution disciplines in the insurance sector.

She co-founder insuretech Start-up Yalu Financial Services in 2017 where she served as the COO for 3 years. Within its first year of existence the Yalu brand became synonymous with the Credit Life Insurance.

She holds a Human Resource Management Degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management both from the University of Cape Town and has completed various executive development programmes with UCT: GSB, GIBS and Henley.

Prior to heading Yalu, Ntuli was the Head of Growth on the FNB Life Executive Committee. Her responsibilities included sales and the marketing of all FNB Life products.

Her leadership saw FNB’s funeral offering grow from 600 000 to 1 million in-force policies; thereby becoming the fastest growing category product in the country

Tlalane was previously Senior Marketing Manager: Product and distribution support at Old Mutual’s Mass Foundation Cluster, where she successfully launched various products.

She was also GM for Brand and Marketing at Glenrand MIB, where she relaunched the dwindling brand to become one of South Africa’s top 9 business insurance brands in the Sunday Times Top Brands survey at the time.

In the below Q&A, we are in conversation Tlalane Ntuli, we are chatting about her life, career, and many accolades in an industry previously dominated by men.

Tell us a little bit about your professional life's journey?

I started my career at Nedbank Lesotho straight after having studied at the university of Cape Town.

My time in Lesotho gave the opportunity to learn and build at the same time by helping to start the marketing department there. A few years later I moved to Johannesburg and joined the south African corporate landscape.

I have worked for various financial services brands starting out in very junior roles and working my way up which has helped hone my skills and develop deep understanding of my craft.

One of my most notable role was GM: Brand and Marketing at Glenrand MIB where I got the opportunity to relaunch the brand and moved it from being relatively unknown to being rated in the top 10 most recognized brands in the commercial short term insurance sector.

Following this I joined Old Mutual as a senior marketing manager within the Retail Mass business where I was responsible for positioning and promoting products in this market.

After 4 years at Old Mutual I moved to FNB where I became the Head of Growth (sales and marketing) at FNB Life.

In this role, I was responsible not only for the marketing of the products but also for the take up, it was in this role that I was exposed to and learned of the operations of a long-term insurance organization, and the key drivers of its success.

After having struggled emotionally and mentally with feelings of inadequacy, I decided to leave and start Yalu Financial Services with Nkazi Sokhulu who was a colleague of mine at FNB Life.

This decision was propelled by my need to create a legacy for myself that my children would be proud of, one that made a true difference to the end consumers of financial services products and in particular of credit life insurance, which is a sub section of long-term insurance that was truly ripe of disruption at the time.

After 3 difficult but deeply rewarding years of working on Yalu, we made the very difficult decision to close down the company at the beginning of 2021.

I am now back in full time employment as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Metropolitan life, an opportunity that I believe only comes along once in a life time and one that I grabbed with both hands.

What or who inspired you into this journey and how did that person/s do it?

I have drawn my inspiration from different people at different stages of my life. It is not so much what people have achieved as it is who they are that has inspired me. Notably however, cliché as it may sound my mother has been a constant and consistent role model for me.

As a wife, mother of 4, a career woman, a community leader and an entrepreneur in her own right, my mother never short changed any of the roles she played but at the same time remained very true to herself and her devotion and commitment to God.

As an entrepreneur I found Sara Blakely’s (founder of Spanx) story, extremely compelling. Not only did she identify a very real need and solve for it, she shaped and influenced how women saw and related to their bodies.

Organisations have a role not only to make a real difference in consumers lives but also to create shifts at an industry level that compel competitors and the rest of the industry to view and solve for consumers differently.

If you understand the Spanx story, you will understand how something even as seemingly insignificant as underwear shapers completely changed how people feel about themselves.

What do you love most about your job and industry?

What I love most about my job is that I am at the helm of shaping the future of a financial services brand that has been part of the lives of many South Africans for over a100 years.

The responsibility of ensuring that Metropolitan not only remains relevant but creates a true and positive impact in our customers lives is not lost on me.

Not a lot of people get the chance to leave their personal footprint in the stories of formidable brands and yet here I am.

I challenge myself every day to never forget what a big responsibility that is, I am committed to ensuring that I leave the Metropolitan brand better off than I found it so that the people that come after me, can proudly take over the baton from where I left off.

Although Insurance is considered to be a grudge purchase from a consumer perspective, it is an industry that forms part of the backbone of our economy one that transforms people’s lives be it through the product solutions we offer, the role we play in uplifting communities or the employment opportunities we provide - that is what I love about this industry.

You have set yourself targets, would you please tell us what these were and how you have managed to achieve them

For the longest time all I wanted was to earn the coveted title of “Head of marketing”. I worked tirelessly to give everything I could to earn this, I found this part of my career journey to be the most difficult – I pushed myself hard because I believed that once I got to this position, I would have “arrived”.

Once I finally got this title, I found that I felt no different about myself than what I did before. I was not more fulfilled, I did not feel more accomplished or accepting of myself, if anything I was less satisfied with who I am.

It was at this point that I realized that setting career driven targets for myself was not what was going to help me reach the point self-actualization, in fact quite the contrary – every time I achieved these targets, I was left felling emptier than before.

So, I stopped setting targets but focused on finding fulfilment in whatever form it came. What I know now for sure, is that setting targets is not what Is going to help you reach your pinnacle, in fact if anything it places such unreasonable pressure on you that by the time you are done, you don’t even recognise yourself in the mirror.

As an influential woman do you think we’ve managed to achieve women’s equality? (Please do elaborate on your answer and where possible give examples)

Firstly, I am not sure I can be considered an influential woman, am I a woman with an interesting career story? sure, has it received some media coverage?

Absolutely, but is this what someone reads and decide to make fundamental life decisions? I am not convinced. Having said that, I fundamentally do not believe that we have achieved Women’s equality – not just in South Africa but the world over.

I think as long as woman try to define themselves and their life successes through the lens of the patriarchal society we live in, then it is unlikely we will ever reach equality.

For me equality is achieved when as individuals we achieve our deepest level of fulfilment based on who we are not on someone else’s idea of success.

So should there be more female leaders in corporations, absolutely but only if that is what they want for themselves not because someone else says it should be so.

I have heard of many women who after obtaining high paying and highly influential executive roles decide to leave corporate all together to pursue other interests because they realize that the hype is not all it’s cracked up to be.

What has been your most unforgettable moment as a successful woman and how has this impacted your life?

Being a mother to my children Owethu and Langalethu, and wife to my husband Sibusiso, despite the career choices I have made, this is something I marvel at every day.

This is not because I don’t appreciate what I have been able to achieve in my career but because the most difficult part of being career focused is the compromises and sacrifices one needs to make.

Having said that in 2019 I was selected as one of 19 women internationally to join the “women leaders for the world” network.

I got to engage with women who were doing amazing work in their communities and countries, women who for example travelled 100s of kilometres in the most rural parts of their countries to ensure that young ladies had sanitary products, women, who lead the inclusivity of women in the mining industries of their countries or challenged entire education systems.

The impact of this achievement was in the validation of my work at Yalu and by extension the choice I had made to step out of corporate and chart my own direction.

The impact was also in realizing that I am but one link in a much bigger circle of life.

What are the 3 most important things to you right now?

My Husband, Children and the rest of my family (I come from a very close-knit family).

My current role as CMO of Metropolitan and all the responsibility that comes with it.

How people experience me – making sure I leave people better than I found them.

Mention 3 things you’d like to do in a post pandemic world?

spending time with my eldest sister, my brother-in-law and my nieces who are all in Lesotho, I haven’t seen them in over a year and I miss them all terribly.

Taking my children on a well-deserved family holiday – they have sacrificed so much having to share me with my work.

And finally, dressing up to go to work – for the 3 years I was at Yalu I lived in jeans and sneakers, while it was fun at the time, it’s only now I realize how much I miss dressing up.

Name three books you’d recommend to a younger version of yourself?

The Bible.

The Choice by Edith Edger.

The four winds – Kristin Hannah.

Name three movies or series you’d likely have recommend for people this woman’s month?

The devil wears Prada – don’t be that woman that makes other women feel undeserving and inadequate.

Because I said so – selfless motherhood.

The bold type – how you show up for other women in the workplace.

Lastly, give us 3 words that you live by?

Choose yourself, always.

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