Chearyp Mkandawire-Sokoni (MBA 2006) delivered this year’s Jubilee Lecture as part of the Global Challenges for Business course for first year undergraduates. Interviewed by Tara Morrison, Deputy Director of Undergraduate Programmes, Chearyp reflected on her career to date including her current role as CFO at the Industrial Development Corporation in Zambia, the recent changes in Zambia due to the change in government, as well as sharing advice for current students.

Chearyp Mkandawire-Sokoni

An accountant by training, Chearyp initially worked for KPMG where she had the opportunity to audit companies in a range of sectors. She admitted that this background honed her into someone focused on rules and regulations, standards and numbers.

In 2004, she was keen to broaden her experience beyond this and therefore looked for a university to help her do this. Chearyp began by telling us what attracted her to Edinburgh.

"I was looking for a university of international standing and recognition, and one that had a curriculum that would address my aspirations. I also wanted to find a diverse student population where I would have the chance to work in a multicultural environment as well as a great location. So, the University of Edinburgh Business School definitely ticked all those four boxes for me.

"In choosing a degree, I was looking to transition from just an accountant to general management. I particularly liked the Edinburgh MBA as it offered corporate finance subjects such as Mergers and Acquisitions, Portfolio and Investment Management as well as Strategy. And for my dissertation, I researched the market efficiency of three stock exchange markets in Southern Africa, namely the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE) and Lusaka Securities Exchange (LuSE).

"As a result, I felt I was positioned as a more rounded manager and upon my return to Zambia after graduation, I began to look for a role where I could utilise the knowledge that I had gained from my Edinburgh experience."

Post-MBA career

Initially working for one of the public universities in Zambia and then an international manufacturing company where she was both finance manager and company secretary, Chearyp joined the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in Lusaka in 2017. Coming in at manager level, she was promoted to Chief Finance Officer two years later. Chearyp told the students about the role of IDC.

"IDC is an investment arm of the Government of the Republic of Zambia, responsible for managing the investment interests of companies that are incorporated under the Companies Act and the Banking and Financial Services Act. IDC manages a portfolio of 36 companies across 12 economic sectors all of which are priority sectors of our Zambian economy including energy, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, transport and communication, aviation, tourism, insurance and banking."

"Ultimately our role is to improve the livelihood of Zambians. We have a dual mandate to do this; firstly, we catalyse industrialisation including creating employment for the people of Zambia, especially the rural community and, secondly, our role is to transform the already existing state-owned enterprises, making them more profitable so that they are sustainable to contribute to the National Treasury.

"My role as Chief Finance Officer is to look after the finances of our company and group at large. I am also in charge of reporting, the control environment (compliance), taxation, as well as finance operations, not just for the holding company, but also provide support to our subsidiaries. This role of supporting the subsidiaries further extends to providing support to the Group Chief Executive Officer who is the Group Controlling Officer, as regards his appearances before the Parliamentary Committee on Parastatal Bodies to answer to how we are ensuring the controls in our group are sound."

Zambia today

This led Tara to ask Chearyp more about the Republic of Zambia and the changes as a result of the new government who came into power in August 2021.

"The focus is to revamp the economy by trying to stimulate growth whilst improving the livelihood of Zambians", said Chearyp. "Having successfully reached an agreement for Extended Credit Facility (ECF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we are seeing appreciation of the local currency—and a lot of positive sentiment resulting in international investor confidence.

"Other areas of focus include: free education for all which becomes a key resource in growing our economy; focus on ESG with emphasis on the green economy to ensure sustainability of our natural resources and businesses going forwards; the planned setting-up of an electric car battery manufacturing to ensure we are using cleaner energy; as well as ensuring good governance practices."

With the Jubilee lecture being part of the Global Challenges for Business course where the students learn about digital, human and environmental disruptions, Chearyp talked more about three disruptions in particular (Covid-19; the current geo-political situation; and the impact of their debt situation before the IMF deal) and how Zambia has responded.

Advice for students

To finish the session, Tara then asked Chearyp to share advice for students just embarking on their university experience. Chearyp’s top tips were:

  • Work hard—get your assignments done on time
  • Utilise resources you have within your student year group as well as the brilliant minds of your professors
  • Enjoy your stay in Edinburgh—as hard as you work, make sure you have time for play, and form enduring relationships as these will be useful future networks

Finally, encouraging the students to think ahead to when they will be applying for roles, Tara asked Chearyp to share what key skills she would be looking for in graduate trainees.

"Given that under the IDC Graduate Trainee Programme, only 10 graduates are recruited each year from an average of 500 applications, we look for high performers", said Chearyp.

"That said, being proficient in the area you are trained in is obviously important but we not only look for aptitude but also for attitude, in particular, how applicants relate to others."

"So just like at university when you need to be able to work in groups, we are looking for these skills as across IDC, we form multi-disciplinary groups for many projects. Social skills are key."

About the Jubilee lecture

The annual Jubilee Lecture celebrates the connections between the University of Edinburgh and the world of business. The first student to study business entered the University of Edinburgh in 1919 and the Jubilee Lecture was created in the late 1960s to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary. It takes place in the Global Challenges for Business course, attended by first year business undergraduates at a time where they have just transitioned from high school to university.