Cuba describes herself as a hands-on leader who’s constantly learning, tech-savvy and fearless in her decision-making — qualities that have served her well.
Having travelled an already admirable career path, Yolanda Cuba now has a role that’s cemented her as one of South Africa’s most important and formidable businesspeople. On choosing to stay in the telecommunications industry after her tenure as chief executive of Vodafone Ghana, she says the decision came naturally, as she’s found her sweet spot. At MTN, her role is to assist with the strategic expansion of the network’s financial services and digital transformation.
“My role is around specifically driving the digital operator,” she says. “How we drive MTN to more of a platform business, as can be seen by us building a mobile money platform that is open to all networks, not limited to MTN customers, and building Africa’s super app in Ayoba, which is also an open platform.”
Cuba describes herself as a hands-on leader who’s constantly learning, tech-savvy and fearless in her decision-making — qualities that have served her well, especially when she was asked to become chief executive at the age of 29. “My biggest lesson as a leader is that it doesn’t matter how good you think you are; real progress and success depend on working in teams,” she says. “Your biggest asset is your people, and they choose to come to work for you every day. Treat them as such, so that they can choose you every day.”
Her education — she has a bachelor of commerce in statistics from the University of Cape Town and an honours degree in accounting from the University of KwaZulu-Natal — gave her the perfect foundation for her beginnings in the fast-moving consumer goods field.
Cuba is passionate about improving the state of telecommunications in South Africa. She loves the field, as it provides the lifeline that emerging markets need to leapfrog their economic and social development. “With so many people in Africa still not connected, the telecommunications market still has a lot to do,” says Cuba. “My job, every day, is to ensure that people are connected to the people and the things they love and that they’re able to transact, educate, entertain and improve their economic position. That job doesn’t stop, but evolves as we get more and more people connected. I’m excited by the prospect of being part of the 4IR journey and being key in driving it for the continent.”
Her vision for Africa as a whole is to have digital and financial inclusion, with every child adequately educated so they are able to innovate and take full advantage of the digital world.
“My dream is to see every African connected and to have regulations and policies that are progressive, to enable innovation and not hamper it. I want to enable small and medium-size businesses by making it easier for them to connect to their customers and even see them go beyond connectivity through open application programming interfaces, digital marketplaces, easy-to-consume clouds and AI-enabled business tools. Ultimately, we need to increase productivity and the economic outcomes for Africa, improve education outcomes and reduce unemployment and the under-employment of our youth.”