Phuthuma Nhleko 2020


Phuthuma Nhleko, was born on 7 April 1960 in Gauteng. He completed his schooling at St Marks High School in Swaziland where he achieved his O levels.

After finishing school, he moved to the United States where he graduated with a BSc in civil engineering from Ohio State University in 1983 and thereafter, an MBA in finance from Atlanta University.

Before joining MTN where he made his mark as a hugely successful businessman, Nhleko was a senior member of the Standard Corporate & Merchant Bank corporate finance team. He also practised as a civil engineer in Ohio and South Dakota in the US. Nhleko was also a Senior Road Engineer at the Ministry of Works in Swaziland. On returning to South Africa he held the position of Project Manager at the Urban Foundation.

His arrival at the GSM cellular telephone networks giant, MTN, was marked by fundamental change in the company’s strategic vision and implementation plan. Nhleko was instrumental in leading the management leveraged buy-in to MTN in 2003.

Under Nhleko’s leadership, MTN’s mobile subscriber base grew to over 185 million users in 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East and earned over US$15 billion in annual revenue. During his tenure the company’s market capitalisation increased from US$6 billion in 1994 to over US$35billion.

MTN and its subsidiary companies won numerous awards and distinctions including a spot in the top 10 companies in the prestigious American Business Week Survey which identifies companies that show vision, growth and are global companies of the future.

Nhleko is also chairman and a founding member of Worldwide African Investment Holdings (WAIH), an investment holding company with interests in petroleum, mining, and cement production. WAIH has subsequently been renamed Phembani Group.

Phuthuma Nhleko has managed to enable the successful operation of industry in emerging markets. By applying talent and skill, he has shown that emerging markets can be a logical destination for investors and capital. His strategic executive leadership of from 2002 to 2011, led to the expansion of the mobile operator industry into the developing markets of Africa and the Middle East.

Through his work, he has also ensured that respect for the natural environment is visible as the mobile operator expanded its footprint globally.

Awards for Phuthuma Nhleko include South African Business Leader of Year Sunday Times award in 2009, a Financial Mail Lifetime Achievement Award and inclusion on the list of the top 50 Trailblazers globally.

Nhleko has previously served as a director at Old Mutual Life (SA), Nedcor Investment Bank, Anglo American Plc, BP Plc, Afrisam, Phembani Remgro Infrastructure Fund, GSM Board, Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital and Engen Limited. He returned to MTN as a Non-Executive Chairman during the period 2013 - 2019. He currently holds a Transformational Leadership Fellowship from the University of Oxford for 2019-20.

His leadership style of being team-oriented and decisive, objective-driven and his ability to listen before making a decision, are characteristics that align to the values of Nelson Mandela University.

As a dynamic and relevant role model who adds value to the engineering discipline through his own example of interdisciplinary work, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) on Phuthuma Freedom Nhleko.