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Rudo Melissa Zhanda: An inspiring journey of leadership

  • Oct 22 2019
  • Tags Alumni, Journey, Leadership, Learnings, MBA

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Rudo Melissa Zhanda is a qualified Project Management Professional (PMP) and Professional Quantity Surveyor (PrQS). She has been working as a Cost and Contract Management professional and Commercial Advisor for over 13 years and has attained the highest level in this field as a Fellow (FRICS). Furthermore, she has attained an MSc in Business and Management Research from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom and graduated with distinctions (cum laude). She holds an MBA from USB and is currently pursuing a Doctorate (DBA) at Henley Business School. Her technical, managerial and advisory prowess has led to the successful delivery of major construction and strategic projects in Africa and the Middle East.

Here she tells her story:

Childhood

I was born in 1984 in Harare, Zimbabwe as the last of four children to Hudson, a successful businessman, and Irene, a Registered Nurse. Together they worked hard to ensure that we had the best of everything and did not lack anything including the opportunity to attend excellent private schools. My parents instilled the value of education to us at an early age.

In the late 90s, the declining economic situation in Zimbabwe led to my mother making the hard decision to leave the country and work in the UK to supplement the family finances. She believed that her children’s education and wellbeing were of the utmost importance and in order for us to continue to receive the best education, this was a sacrifice she had to make. Despite her physical absence, my mother remained the pillar of the family and the glue that kept our family unit together.

Value of education

In Zimbabwe the value of education is held in the highest regard and I believe parents showcase the success of their parenthood through their children’s academic achievements. Therefore, it was expected that after high school I would automatically attend University. My oldest brother Tafadzwa was studying a Bachelor’s degree in Law at Rhodes University and my other brother Tendai was also studying a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems at the University of Cape Town (UCT). I wanted to study at the same university as either of my brothers, so I chose to enrol at the UCT which was offering the Quantity Surveying degree.

I successfully completed a BSc Construction Studies degree in 2005 and a BSc (Honours) in Quantity Surveying degree in 2006 at UCT. I started my career as a Project Quantity Surveyor in 2007 working at a relatively small PQs firm in Cape Town called Narker and Associates. The first project I sunk my teeth into was a low-rise residential apartment development called Crimson Square in Woodstock. I gained extensive experience working on this project as I was solely responsible for the all commercial aspects of the project from inception to closing. I was thrown into the deep end right from the start and was attending site meetings, presenting cost reports to the Client, dealing with an aggressive Contractor and working in coordination with the Architect and Engineers. I had to quickly learn how to survive an older-male-dominated construction industry as a young African female. Lessons which would prove to be useful throughout my career.

In 2008, I moved to a larger international firm, Davis Langdon (now AECOM). I worked hard to build up a notable portfolio of projects which led to my success in attaining the designation of a Professional Quantity Surveyor with two highly reputable Quantity Surveying Professional Bodies: the South African Council for the Quantity Surveying Profession in 2011 and the Royal Institute of Charted Surveyors (RICS) in 2012.

Continuous learning – USB’s MBA

In 2010, a friend who had been a classmate at UCT was undertaking an MBA at USB and recommended that I enroll. I will always be grateful to her for showing me that age should never be a limitation to follow your dreams. I was completely in awe of the prospect of doing an MBA, as I always had a passion for business and leadership. So I applied and was fortunate to be accepted for the 2011 MBA Modular programme, which proved to be an intense journey of self-discovery.

“The decision to embark on the USB MBA journey was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

The strength of the Leadership Development module was evident through the acceleration of my personal and professional growth over the four-year period. The decision to embark on the USB MBA journey was one of the best decisions I ever made. It opened my eyes to “big picture” thinking and afforded me the opportunity to engage with highly intellectual cohorts and faculty members. I was fortunate to achieve a number of distinctions for the coursework, namely for Leadership, Strategic Management, Project Management and Research Methodology to name a few.

At the commencement of the MBA programme, the client on a project I was working on, saw something special in me and recommended me for a position as a Project Manager and Quantity Surveyor for a small consulting firm called AMF Project Planning and Design Services in 2011.  Under the auspices of AMF, I was seconded to the Western Cape Government from 2011 to 2013.

The experience and exposure was invaluable as I engaged with highly experienced, creative and driven colleagues who formed part of a multi-disciplinary team of consultants and together we developed a strategy and vision for the programme. I worked hard and always aimed to positively affect and motivate others around me and was blessed that my efforts did not go unnoticed and as a result was awarded Employee of the Month in November 2011.

As I was embarking on the final year of my MBA, I was approached by a recruiter for an opportunity to work in Qatar. Despite some concerns as a single, Christian female moving to the Middle East alone, my family were 100% supportive. So I left the city I regarded as my ‘second home’ and moved to Qatar.

I successfully completed the MBA in December 2014 and in December 2015 successfully completed the Professional Project Management (PMP) certification. I was subsequently promoted to the Project Manager for the section in January 2016. Further responsibilities included planning and implementing Departmental strategic initiatives and developing Ashghal policy. In January 2017, I was awarded Employee of the Month and it was a momentous achievement to be recognised within the organisation for my efforts.

In October 2016, I was appointed as a Board Member for the RICS Qatar National Board to participate in the governance of the professional and ethical standards in land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. I was assigned as the Chair of the Membership Subcommittee and was overseeing a group of members to accomplish various RICS strategic initiatives. I was responsible for creating the collaborative opportunity between RICS and Ashghal, which involved fee earning advice, promotion and advocacy of professional standards and training opportunities. In August 2017, I was awarded the Fellowship status by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS) for achieving excellence in Construction Cost and Contract Management.

“I believe giving back is a true measure of success so I aim to share my knowledge and mentor those aspiring to follow in the same footsteps.”

I believe giving back is a true measure of success so I aim to share my knowledge and mentor those aspiring to follow in the same footsteps. It is to this end that I elected to be an RICS APC Councillor and Fellowship Councillor mentoring candidates to achieve Chartership. Furthermore, I accepted the role of being an RICS Senior Professional Assessor and Fellowship Assessor and sit on a panel of assessors to evaluate candidates aiming to achieve Chartership.

In May 2018, I was promoted to Project Manager and Commercial Advisor in the EBD Manager’s Office. I currently provide Commercial counsel to the Manager for high profile construction claims and disputes which include the $50million Al Karanaa and Umm Birka Treatment Plants.

In September 2019, I was awarded an MSc in Business and Management Research from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom and graduated with distinctions (cum laude). God has blessed me with a gift and passion for education, therefore in order to fulfil my highest potential in this regard, I am currently embarking on a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Henley Business School and anticipate graduating in 2021.

I am grateful to God for my parents and the sacrifices they made to give me the best possible upbringing and education. Furthermore, I would like to thank my siblings Tafadzwa, Tendai and Kuda Zhanda and my close friends for their continued love and support. As a young African woman working in the construction industry, I have faced many adversities and trials and I believe God has used those situations to build my character and to shape me to be the person I am today. With God nothing is impossible, so the road ahead may be tough but I am confident that my faith and continued hard work will be a winning combination to excel.

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