MTN Group Chief Legal Counsel Lele Modise’s experience in Pan African legal matters has put her on a sound footing in a telecommunications company with stakes in 21 countries jurisdictions, which include Africa and the Middle East. Tania Broughton chatted to her.
Modise says while she is a “newbie” in the telecoms industry, having been appointed in August last year, she was able to hit the ground running.
As a former partner in law firm Bowmans, she started and ran her own private equity practice and was involved in various complex private equity acquisitions, disposals, restructurings, and fund establishments.
This work usually involved large financial institutions as investors in funds or funders, and multi-jurisdictional investments, mainly in Africa. It exposed her to legal considerations and nuances in different countries and to projects which made a difference in the development and growth story of Africa.
She was also General Counsel Corporate Investment Banking, and for two years, overlapped as General Counsel for Wealth Investment Management and Insurance, at Absa Group, previously Barclays Africa Group.
She says she likes to push herself, and that there are “always elegant solutions” to be found. This makes her a fixer. She pays attention to detail and is committed to efficiency in her approach, something she learned the hard way through the “tough love” of her Bowman’s mentor who, for her first few months, threw her memos into the bin because they contained typos or other mistakes.
“I mentor a lot of women and I always tell this story. It’s important to know that you must pay your dues to be able to sit around the table. You must put in the hard work, roll with it and learn from it. It also important that when you are at the table you use your voice.”
Private practice is vastly different from being an inhouse counsel, Modise says.
“In private practice you are meeting a financial target, you service clients at your pace and you don’t necessarily have to lead a team. In most cases, as external counsel you are asked to give advice in respect of a specific issue or deal, as opposed to being part of a continuum in corporate solutioning.
“In a corporate you have one corporate client, albeit with several divisions who become your internal clients, you also deal with all relating to the corporate as partner, advisor and risk manager. As internal counsel we have a duty to ensure that a company achieves its corporate ambitions, in the right ways.
She describes her leadership style as “transformative leadership” because she seeks to always edify and leave people and organisation’s better than how she found them.
In joining MTN, Modise had considered the strategic growth ambitions of MTN, which she found exciting, the widely spread footprint of MTN which present a growth opportunity from both a sectoral and jurisdictional perspective.
Modise says being an accessible leader is important, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, and she regularly has virtual meetings (without make-up) with the legal team in all the regions, to create an opportunity for “collective solutioning” while also providing support.
Asked about her biggest career achievement, she says: “I haven’t had it yet. I am always looking to grow as a mother (she is a single mom of two daughters), a lawyer and a leader, to make a difference and to inspire others to also pay it forward and make a difference where they can”.
“Beyond being a lawyer, I believe I can evolve into any other leadership role.”
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