by MTHOKOZISI DUBE
DAR ES SALAAM, (CAJ News) – THE word impossible does not exist in Barbara Gonzalez’s vocabulary.
In her world, “I can” certainly sounds better than “I can’t.”
It is such attributes that have seen her, at the age of 30, emerge as the first female chief executive officer (CEO) at Tanzania glamour club, Simba, and the entire top flight.
Her turning point came exactly a year ago as she prepared to go home after a normal working day in the commercial capital – Dar es Salaam.
Then, Gonzalez’s boss brusquely asked her to arrange a meeting with visiting President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
The Ugandan President was in town for the Uganda-Tanzania Business Summit to meet captains of industry and explore opportunity in the neighbouring East African country.
Arranging a meeting with any head of state is never easy. There is protocol and diplomatic etiquette to be observed and even the best laid plans can die at the stroke of one bureaucrat’s pen.
There is also the small issue of a visiting head of state’s generally large and menacing security entourage, which is understandably resistant to anyone getting even a sniff of the prized asset they are paid to protect.
One does not simply ambush a visiting head of state with hopes of getting a chance meeting. Doing so is suicidal.
Not to Gonzalez, who had to pull off the impossible.
A graduate of Manhattanville College, where she had graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honors) in Economics and Political Science she certainly had not learnt how to “steal” a president.
Neither had she learnt is at the hallowed hallways of the London School of Economics where she bagged a Master of Science in Development Management.
“I remember this one time when President Museveni was in Tanzania, my boss demanded to meet Museveni’. I had to make it happen,” said Gonzalez, who participated in the 2008 and 2004 Olympics as a gymnast.
Barely 24 hours after he demanded that meeting, the boss, Mohammed Dewji, was smiling as he shook hands with Museveni.
Cameras snapped all around them at Serena Hotel, a five-star facility overlooking the Indian Ocean. The over 2 000 people who pressed like on that picture on Twitter had no idea how it had come about.
It was all thanks to Gonzalez.
Estimated to be worth $1,5 billion by Forbes magazine, Dewji is Africa’s youngest billionaire. He is a man who has done the impossible and so, quite obviously, also expects the impossible from his lieutenants.
Dewji had put faith in Gonzalez and she had delivered.
Now, less than a year later, he has done it again.
This time, he has asked Gonzalez to be the CEO of the 20-time Tanzania Premier League champions.
Interestingly, it is a role that Gonzalez turned down only a year ago.
“At that stage I felt I’d not ticked all the boxes; I didn’t think I was ready,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in Masaki under the Kinondoni district.
To make up for that, she went out of her way to interview candidates for the job.
South African, Senzo Mbatha, landed the job.
“I was adamant on not taking the role at that point,” she added.
If there is a role that the youthful leader was born for, it is this one. Growing up under the roof of a football-mad father, the beautiful game runs in her veins.
In fact, she played football during her teenage years at school, starting off as a left back before switching to right back.
“My dad was a huge Arsenal fan,” Gonzalez said.
“I grew up in the era of Arsenal’s Invincibles,” she recalled.
The Invincibles was a name given to the Arsenal team that won the 2003-04 English Premier League (EPL) after going 38 matches unbeaten.
They won 26 games and drew 12.
Even when she moved to London, after a spell in the US, she remained passionate about Arsenal ahead of the other teams in the capital, London.
“I never had interest in going to a Chelsea or Tottenham game,” she said.
Her brother, Jose-Luis Gonzalez, remembers their early years that nurtured his sister as a football fanatic and leader.
“From a young age she has always been extremely determined to succeed. She always trusted her own abilities to succeed. She is very organized and respected in the community. She is going to be a fantastic CEO for Simba,” the brother said.
“I always knew she’d become CEO someday, but never thought it would be in football. When she started getting involved at Simba, I realized she was onto something. She’d tell me she’s talking to Arsenal and then FIFA and I knew she was destined from something great,” Jose-Luis said.
Their father instilled a sense of discipline and drive in his children.
“My parents made sure sport was a part of us, they believed it promoted discipline. It shaped us. I was also on the swimming team,” Gonzalez said.
Her late father, she said, was an all-round mentor, guiding her in personal, professional, and spiritual matters.
“He helped me make all my major life decisions. He was an extremely structured and disciplined man,” she says.
It is that drive, that passion, that discipline that the Kariakoo-based Simba, famously known as “Wekundu wa msimbazi”, now wants to harness.
After three consecutive championship triumphs, their dominance on the pitch is unquestionable. If they are to be as successful beyond Tanzania’s borders, they are aware of the need to be equally dominant in the boardroom as well.
“My task is to increase revenue, create efficiencies, build a brand outside the country – and make a lot of positive noise outside the country. The club also needs results on the pitch. I want to do well,” Gonzalez said.
For the past four years Gonzalez has been a board member at Simba, cultivating links with such global giants as with Arsenal, Liverpool and Juventus.
Now that she is at the helm, the club expects more of the same and even more.
“She has the capacity to do a very great job,” Simba official, Mulamu Nghambi, said.
“She has been a board member for the past four years, pioneering the transformation of Simba. We wanted someone who has the kind of experience she has,” Nghambi said.
With the backing of a board that boasts many years of combined experience in football, he believes Gonzalez’s job will be easier.
“We are here to guide her and ensure things are happening in the right direction,” Nghambi said.
He is hopeful she will guide the team to the League and Cup Double as well as regional and continental championships.
“We have a young CEO and a young team. We are confident they’ll manage to move the club to the next level,” Nghambi said.
In addition to her undoubted educational qualities, her CV is nothing to sneeze at either.
She is the Head of the Mo Dewji Foundation and has worked as a consultant and analyst at Deloitte Consulting Limited.
She has interned at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime and Peace Women: Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom.
However, she knows that she will still need to impress some tough-to-please football fanatics.
“There have been people who have always been naysayers but I know I’m 120 percent capable. What people don’t know is that I’ve been working behind the scenes and I’ve delivered beyond my team’s expectations,” she says.
Anita Kundy, a former workmate and friend, the ascension of Gonzalez is not surprising.
They met six years ago at Deloitte.
“When I had to get someone to speak at my wedding, it couldn’t be anyone else other than her. Her speech was quite moving,” Kundy said.
“It came as no surprise when she was appointed Simba CEO, she has great leadership qualities and is the right person for the job. She has been working tirelessly behind the scenes and finally her work is being recognised. So, I’ve no doubt she will excel,” she said.
As the football world watches in eager anticipation, a calm Gonzalez looks poised to, once again, accomplish the seemingly impossible.
However, history would prove Zimbabwean female, Henrietta Rushwaya, was the first women in Africa to become football administrator.
Rushwaya was the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) while South Africa’s Mato Madlala is the current Premier Soccer League CEO.
– CAJ News