The only areas Siza Mzimela has not been responsible for at South African Airways are flight operations and technical support. “Almost everything else has been within my portfolio at some time,” she says.
In two stints at the state-owned flag-carrier, spanning a total of 11 years, she has spent time working on route analysis, market development, alliances, global passenger services and sales. Her experience means she has hands-on insight into most aspects of the business for which she now has overall responsibility. “That can be good and bad,” she admits.
Mzimela, a graduate in economics, began her career with the Standard Bank of South Africa in 1991 in the small business and retail division, before moving to oil firm Total as a corporate planning analyst. Her impressive track record in various SAA departments led to her appointment in 2003 at crisis-riven SA Express, SAA’s regional airline partner, where she implemented a successful turnaround strategy.
She represented a safe, and clean, pair of hands following the 2009 ousting by the board of previous SAA chief executive, Khaya Ngqula, following allegations of conflicts with his other business interests. She replaced interim chief executive Chris Smyth, who had stepped in when Ngqula left.
Like most airline chiefs, she travels intensely – and will even more now that she is a member of IATA’s board of directors. She avoids hotel stays when she can, opting for overnight flights on her airline. “I can vouch for the comfort of our lie-flat seats,” she says.