How Palesa Matoli’s is impacting Bidvest Bank’s cultural evolution


Human capital trailblazer Palesa Matoli is driving the banks transformation and societal impact.

Beyond her impressive role as Bidvest Bank’s executive head of human capital and transformation, Palesa’s journey is a captivating narrative of personal growth, career evolution, and a commitment to making a positive impact on individuals and communities.

Palesa’s formative years, led by her single mother, laid the foundation for the resilience and determination that define her today.
She says, “I had four sisters. I am the third-born, but technically I have three sisters now. Unfortunately, my second sister passed away, but she had a daughter, which automatically made her the youngest in our family.”
Raised by a strict mother, Palesa initially found herself at odds with the qualities she despised in her mother. However, the passage of time has brought a deeper understanding. “It all makes sense now,” she reflects, acknowledging the inheritance of traits that once seemed contradictory.

Palesa credits her mother not only for instilling discipline in her, but also for a precious gift – the ability to read. “From a young age, I was determined to excel in this skill, so by the time I entered Grade 1, I was already fluent in reading,” she shares, highlighting the importance of literacy in her early development.

This early proficiency in reading not only set the stage for academic success, but also became the gateway to Palesa’s exploration of books beyond her age level. It was a pivotal factor that ignited her intellectual curiosity and laid the groundwork for a journey into the world of psychology.

After relocating to Pretoria, Palesa embarked on a psychology degree, driven by an innate curiosity about human behaviour. Yet, her academic journey took an unexpected turn when she discovered the intricate connection between industrial psychology and human resources. Palesa’s exploration of different avenues within psychology led her to the world of HR, where she found her calling.

“At Standard Bank, I began my journey through their graduate programme. What made this programme truly exceptional was the freedom to choose where I wanted to work upon completion. I could have easily opted for a role in accounting, but my heart was drawn to HR,” Palesa reflects on the pivotal moment that defined her career trajectory.

Navigating the HR landscape

Palesa’s early experiences as a recruiter at Standard Bank laid the foundation for her passion within HR. Unlike traditional recruitment agencies driven solely by sales, Palesa focused on meaningful conversations with individuals, guiding them towards fulfilling career choices. She recalls encountering many who were ‘DABs’ – dissatisfied and bored – in their current jobs, seeking change solely for financial gain.

“It was these experiences that solidified my desire to pursue a career in HR when I entered the leadership development programme – the ability to positively impact people’s lives,” Palesa says.

For the past year and a half, Palesa has been at the forefront of Bidvest Bank’s transformation efforts. As the executive head of human capital and transformation, her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities. Palesa spearheads the bank’s transformation scorecard, focusing on more than just employment equity.

“One of my goals was to oversee the development of young talent, particularly graduates, as I have a background in recruitment. As a result, I created a young talent framework and launched our first graduate programme, a Cohort of 52,” she shares, underscoring her commitment to nurturing the next generation of professionals.

What sets Bidvest Bank’s programme apart is its deliberate focus on graduates from rural areas, ensuring equal opportunities for those who may face challenges in more urbanised environments. Palesa’s dedication to inclusivity extends to offering opportunities to individuals who, like one participant in Cohort of 52, pursued education in their thirties after working at a casino. “We have offered him a junior credit manager role upon completion of the graduate programme,” Palesa reveals, showcasing the bank’s commitment to recognising potential beyond conventional timelines.

In addition to the graduate programme, Palesa has spearheaded the funding of scholarships for 25 students from non-metropolitan areas, covering all their expenses to ensure a diverse and talented workforce that contributes to the bank’s success.

Energising change: beyond banking

Responding to the energy crisis highlighted in the State of the Nation address, Bidvest Bank, under Palesa’s leadership, has partnered with Solana Energy to create opportunities in the electrical field. The bank identifies small businesses and trains them to become solar installers, simultaneously addressing unemployment and fostering entrepreneurship.

“We trained 25 young individuals and five SMME’s in Solar installations. The 25 youth were then absorbed into the companies.. We are funding their salaries for the first year until the entrepreneurs stabilise their businesses and can take over,” Palesa explains, emphasising the bank’s commitment to supporting black, predominantly female business owners and learners.

Another impactful partnership with Sorbet, known as Sorbet-preneur, addresses challenges faced by franchise store workers in obtaining unencumbered cashiers. Palesa, driven by her passion for solving problems for entrepreneurs and tackling unemployment, shares, “This demonstrates the power of having backing when starting a business.”

Palesa’s leadership philosophy is rooted in empathy, transparency, and a commitment to positive change. She acknowledges the challenges of implementing changes within an organisation and emphasises the importance of providing proper support. The bank’s EVP aligns with their goals, prioritising internal growth and development over external hires.

“Even at the executive level, we make it clear that we do not have fancy offices where you must act like an executive. Instead, we expect everyone to be willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle any challenges that arise,” Palesa states, highlighting the collaborative culture that defines Bidvest Bank’s approach to transformation.

In addressing concerns about the work environment, Palesa recognises the need to balance hard work with a healthy and sustainable workplace. “Although we still have a long way to go, as it has only been about 18 months, there are many aspects of the organisation that I need to establish and ensure they function properly,” she says.

Beyond the boardroom, Palesa’s adventurous spirit is evident in her love for travel. From exploring Japan or Disneyland with her children to a trip to Croatia with the bank’s top performers, she views travel as a source of inspiration and cultural enrichment. “The only continent I haven’t visited yet is Antarctica, and I hope to check it off soon,” Palesa shares, emphasising her commitment to embracing diverse experiences.

With a zest for life, Palesa also indulges in her passion for luxury cars. As she approaches her 40th birthday, her bucket list remains extensive, mirroring her ambitious and adventurous spirit.
As she continues to navigate the dynamic landscape of leadership, transformation and personal fulfilment, her journey stands as a testament to the power of resilience, purpose-driven leadership, and the enduring impact of positively transforming lives and communities.

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