Capitec’s Rizwana Butler can’t think of a more exciting place to be than in HR

The group executive of HR says the profession is a fascinating combination of art and science.

Rizwana Butler is loving being back in South Africa, having taken on the role of Capitec’s group executive of human resources last year.

“It’s been exactly 12 months for me. It’s a huge responsibility which I do not take lightly. When I look back, I can say it’s been a year of learning, integrating back into SA and understanding the business. This was all amidst the pandemic and the unrest so it’s been a year unlike any other,” she says.

This period has also reinforced the need to be agile and respond to the environment.

“You can have a plan and that plan can change, so you have to be truly resilient and take people along on the journey. It’s about learning, unlearning and relearning,” she adds.

Rizwana’s mindset, of seeing opportunity in every challenge, is central to her understanding of where HR as a profession is today.

“In the short term, it’s really about how we as HR leaders manoeuvre in post-pandemic era. We are learning to how to live with the pandemic now and the focus is on getting people back to the office.
For me, however, it’s about how we get back to being social beings, to connect, collaborate, think creatively together and reboot our economy,” she says.

It is therefore not just about coming back to an office environment, but predicated on the fundamental belief that the place of work is best determined by the work itself and where that can be best served.

“I’m a real advocate of bringing people together for the right reasons and allowing flexibility in where people work. It’s about getting that balance right,” she adds.

South African skills
Rizwana also highlights the reality of South Africa facing a significant shortage of skills, specifically in the data, digital, tech disciplines.

“South Africa is losing a lot of data, digital and tech skills to European markets where these skills are in high demand. There is a significant shortage of these skills across the globe. We need to look at this challenge differently – rather than ‘fishing in the same pond’, we need to build these skills from within. Every business must do its bit. We are also noticing a critical need to develop softer skills, like judgement, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. That comes down to real hands-on learning and experience,” she says.

Within this context, Rizwana believes that there is a need to start to build companies that are strong from a financial perspective while creating a positive social impact.

“There are ways to drive strong financial performance while uplifting the country. It is one of the main reasons that I joined Capitec,” she says.

Such integration requires a rethink of the workplace, taking changing needs into account, including different generations in the workplace, with youth and women at the centre. Consequently, the way in which workplaces are built has to be more progressive and more forward thinking to allow for a balance in personal lives and driving a career.

“We can also use this as an opportunity to attract and retain individuals, by offering a holistic environment where people can give of their best selves and have their voices heard. The next generation is looking for spaces where they can express who they are,” she says.

She adds, “Business strategy and technology can be copied. But you cannot copy and paste employees and a company culture, this is why people remain a company’s most competitive advantage.”

And this is why Rizwana remains enamoured with the profession, which she says is a fascinating combination of art and science, “Twenty years down the line, I can't think of a more exciting place to be.”

Rizwana knew at a young age that wanted to be part of a big organisation, which is one of the reasons she majored in economics at tertiary level.

She landed in HR by default, joining JCI Mining as a graduate trainee on a mine about 50km outside of Witbank, before she embraced the fantastic opportunity of joining FMCG giant Unilever

Rizwana spent four years at the multinational’s factory in Boksburg, which was also the site of her first management role in HR. She then moved to the Unilever head office in Durban to oversee graduate recruitment.

“I was responsible for the graduate programme, which at the time meant recruiting over a 100 graduates a year. It was a high profile role and I was in my mid-twenties, so it was a dream job travelling across the country, seeing new places and convincing young graduates at university campuses to join Unilever,” she says.

The next opportunity for Rizwana was a secondment to the UK to help build the Unilever Research and Development Academy. She then returned to South Africa to head HR for marketing before taking on the HR responsibility for both marketing and research and development across Africa, Middle East and Turkey.

It was in 2013 that Rizwana took on her first global role involving a global HR systems implementation project across 106 countries, which was completed within 15 months.

“It was an incredible learning experience, which included a large payroll implementation project in North America – a stretching challenge but also a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she says.

Once that project was completed, Rizwana was given the opportunity to head up HR for the Unilever Nordics division, based in Sweden.

“Heading HR for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland was truly incredible. At the time, I relocated to Stockholm and my husband chose to remain in SA, so it was a big decision. However, it also paved the way for me to lead the HR division for Unilever Eastern Europe,” she says.

The incredible experiences outside the country did not detract Rizwana from her core belief that she would return to her country of birth.

“My heart was always in South Africa and when Capitec approached me to lead their group HR division and become the first female executive on the group executive committee, I knew it was the right thing to do,” she says. “It’s been an absolute privilege to be appointed into the role, to be part of South Africa’s number-one fastest growing bank, to be a part of the Capitec family and co-create what the next 20 years of this incredible business could look like.”