Nonkuleleko Nyembezi-Heita is Forbes’s 97th most powerful woman in the world. Since 2008, she has been CEO of a subsidiary of ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, owned by the Mittal family of India.
Nyembezi-Heita was born in Pietermaritzburg and grew up in Clermont, a township near Durban. She excelled at school and was awarded a prestigious scholarship from Anglo American that allowed her to study a BSc in electrical engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom. She got her master’s degree at the California Institute of Technology, where she was valedictorian.
She began her career in 1984 with IBM in the United States and South Africa. IBM groomed her for leadership. She headed its Windhoek division till 1998, when she became CEO of Alliance Capital Management. She then joined Vodacom as head of its mergers and acquisition division.
During Nyembezi-Heita’s time at ArcelorMittal, the economic situation changed drastically as recession hit. The construction sector was particularly affected by the economic downturn and bought less steel, so Nyembezi-Heita has been steering her firm through tough times. She has faced these challenges with characteristic determination, with a thorough cost-cutting review. She has emphasized the need for the company to expand on its wider obligations in environmental, social responsibility and health arenas. She is the 2011 winner of the WBS Management Excellence Award.