Sinenhlanhla Magagula

Chief Human Resources Officer, Tiger Brands

People Success Insight

Creating a culture of belonging and winning together

Talk for a few minutes with Sinenhlanhla Magagula, who goes by S’ne, Chief Human Resources Officer at Tiger Brands, and you quickly sense her passion. As she says, “I love igniting potential in others and inspiring them to bring their A game to whatever goal they want to achieve.”

After an early career shift from social work to HR, she landed a generalist business partnering HR role in the manufacturing unit of Haggie Rand, a producer of steel ropes used in mining and shipping. “I was one of two HR people in the Durban division and needed to learn quickly, handling everything from talent sourcing, learning and development, rewards, job evaluations to union negotiations. There’s no teacher better than hands-on experience.”

When S’ne joined a joint venture oil refinery owned by Shell and BP, SAPREF a year later as their Talent and Resourcing Manager, she was excited by the prospect of making a difference in a much bigger organization. The role exposed her to global best practices for sourcing and developing talent as well as building a foundation for human capital systems. She also was involved in framing SAPREF’s diversity and inclusion approach and the execution of a comprehensive culture transformation programme focussed on enabling the refinery to transform from delivering good to great performance. “That experience lit a fire in me about what a difference HR can make to business performance,” she says. “It was the start of my love affair with this calling and passion.”

S’ne’s move to Shell honed her craft in business partnering and business strategy via several roles she held at Shell Southern Africa,  Shell Oil Products Africa, and Shell headquarters in the Netherlands. During her time there, she also studied towards her MBA on a part time basis to broaden her knowledge of business leadership.

Her expertise and experience almost ten years later drew the attention of Sasol, an integrated energy and chemicals company based in South Africa. She joined Sasol’s Mining division becoming the first woman on the executive leadership team in the division’s 50 years of mining coal. The leadership team was tasked with leading a significant business performance turn-around programme combining an improvement in operations excellence with an of overhaul of the people agenda and culture. “I was really curious about the challenge and was even more encouraged by the fact that the managing director was passionate about putting people at the centre of the strategy to improve business performance of the division,” she says.

“It’s easy to attract diverse talent. But it’s hard to retain that talent if the organisation’s culture doesn’t support them and they don’t feel a sense of belonging.”

Her proudest achievement at Sasol Mining? “We treated our people with care and holistically as human beings. We purposefully sought to improve their living conditions as much as we partnered relentlessly with them to improve their working conditions,” she says “Doing so not only uplifted our people, it improved our relationships with the union partners because they saw we truly cared about our people and their development.”

From Sasol, S’ne joined Tiger Brands, a large, fast-moving consumer food company with presence in South Africa and the rest of the African continent, shortly after the company went through a reputational crisis in 2018. “We are leading a significant cultural transformation, refocusing the organisation on our purpose and people,” she says. “We’ve made significant progress in shaping and implementing a robust people strategy focusing on TALENT, LEADERSHIP and GREAT PLACE TO WORK. We’ve also refined our employee value proposition, repositioned our employer brand and established our well-being program, THRIVE. It’s been a fantastic challenge and a real test of my ability to lead the igniting of others’ true potential across our organisation.”

In her current role at Tiger Brands, diversity and inclusion are imperative as part of the talent agenda she and the executive leadership team are driving. Tiger’s key consumers come from the diverse tapestry of men and women who make up communities in which Tiger Brands operates across South Africa and the rest of Africa, so it’s essential that the company is well represented from a race, gender and skills perspective to drive the right product innovation.

As part of the company’s culture transformation journey, S’ne is also spearheading an initiative on addressing unconscious biases that may form barriers to team performance. “It’s easy to attract diverse talent,” she says. “But it’s hard to retain that talent if the organization’s culture doesn’t support them and they don’t feel a sense of belonging.”

To that end, S’ne and her team have created a platform for people to address their unconscious bias barriers head-on. “We’ve integrated this into one of our leadership programs – GAME CHANGER. Through the program, we enable our teams to check their biases and solicit open conversations with teams to identify barriers, as well as equip them with tools to address them so that every team member can contribute to winning performance,” she says.

Though S’ne has never been tempted to leave HR, she’s often asked what she would do if she had all the time and money in the world. “I’d still focus on developing potential in others and lighting a fire in their souls to live out their purpose and dreams,” she says. “I’d probably continue working in HR or on something very close. I’d love to create a scholarship to get young girls out of disadvantaged schooling environments into a more nurturing environment, like a boarding school, that gives them a better opportunity to learn and get closer to achieving their purpose and true potential.”

Discover our
People-Driven Leaders