There’s a conversation I had with a good friend recently on why it’s important to never put individuals on pedestals because it only leads to you treating them like they’re superhuman, which they aren’t. “We’re all human after all”, he argued. I agreed. And then I had my conversation with the powerhouse that is Emilia Chisango. And now I ask that you allow me to put forward an exception to the ‘rule’. I submit to you the story of the rise and rise of Emilia Chisango as round one of the exceptional criteria application.
The corporate world had their first experience of Emilia in November 1994 when she joined KPMG straight from University as an articled clerk. She quickly blazed her trail to the top, becoming partner in September 2001, and at 27, becoming KPMG’s youngest ever and first black female partner. Starting off in external audit, she later diversified into the Risk Advisory Unit comprising Forensic Audit, Internal and Compliance Audit and Anti-Money Laundering services; a department she was heading at the time of her departure from KPMG in 2015. During her tenure at KPMG, Emilia sealed her position as an incomparable pacesetter, becoming ICAZ’s first female President in the institute’s then 90 year old history and at just 36, doubling up as ICAZ’s youngest ever President.
In 2015, Emilia joined the Econet Group as its Chief Finance Officer and just over a year on, was selected to represent Zimbabwe in the Department Fortune500 Women Mentorship Program where she spent a month at IBM understudying IBM’s Vice President Outsourced Services. This was (before Covid) an annual competitive selection process where one business executive would be selected from several applications to represent the country. And in October 2018, Emilia sealed her power status with her appointment to Cassava Smartech, and when the entity was listed on the stock exchange two months later, two guesses as to who was leading the charge in the Finance Director’s role…
Born into a family of 4 boys and 4 girls, Emilia’s mother made sure to treat all of her children the same when they were growing up. “I was born into a family of 8 and grew up in rural Bikita, under Masvingo Province. My father, who was a teacher, was largely absent in my childhood, thus my mother shaped the bulk of who I am today. With no formal job and very little to no financial support from her husband, my mother managed to send all 8 of her children to school, getting all of us into boarding school at High School level. I guess it goes without saying who my mother is and always was;
The Chief Hustler!!!”
And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. For some, entrepreneurship is taught in school, but for others, like Emilia, it is thrust upon them. Growing up with her “Chief Hustler mother” instilled in her a mentality to always look for business opportunities in the environment around her. “From the age of 8, my mother would give us whatever was in season for sale to carry to school and sell during break and lunch time. She always threw in extras which one was free to consume or sell and pocket the proceeds. I was trained on choices quite early on in life. When I went to boarding school at 12, I quickly realized that the pocket money my mother gave me was not only very little compared to the average kid but was way too little to take me through the term. Armed with the entrepreneurial skills garnered in primary school, at the beginning of the second term in boarding school, I decided to order sweets with my pocket money for resale to other students at school. This cycle continued for my 7 years there and this is how I managed to have a fairly decent life then.’’
On completing High School in 1991, Emilia took a momentary detour from entrepreneurship in pursuit of her corporate exploits, but true to form, she found her way back in 2009, this time to pursue a passion driven venture when she set-up her Sports Retail and Clothing Manufacturing Businesses. She followed these up with a Recreational Business in 2019, and on 28 February 2021, took the final leap, saying goodbye to Cassava and the ‘corporate world’ to wholly concentrate on the family businesses. Businesses which now comprised sports and fitness equipment retail, clothing manufacturing, a recreational centre and an Agrobusiness, all under the Hempac trademark.
On the inception and expansion of the various entities of the business, Emilia says, “The sports retail business was born out of the identification of fitness as a key necessity in modern life with a number of people being office bound and hence not ordinarily active. Our business offers all forms of indoor fitness equipment, from small weights to big machines. The clothing manufacturing enterprise focuses on producing school uniforms and corporate wear. From handling the school uniforms business, we identified a gap in recreational and decent sports facilities for school children and the youths in Harare South and this led to us setting up a fairly elaborate recreational centre mainly for children, but also suitable for adults. In the heart of Southlea Park you will find a massive children’s play centre, swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, volley ball courts and lovely gardens for functions. The Agribusiness has been an ongoing venture borne out of passion and we are quickly turning it into a significant commercial venture in line with the Agricultural Revolution hitting the country right now.’’ Never one to do well when going small, Emilia is determined, as always, to do it all in a big way or not at all.
Outside her many hustles, the trailblazing Chief Hustler still finds time to be a mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and wife. Married to her husband Fortune, with 5 children, 2 daughters-in-law and one grandson, Emilia consciously sets aside time for each one of them for either an in depth call or just to check up on them. “My life revolves around family, spiritual and career matters. I am a Christian and I’m actively involved in youth and music ministries mainly. I sing Soprano and am also a choir director at my church. I love singing!’’Emilia is a firm believer in networking, both as a business and empowerment tool. “I particularly advocate for women networking as most women shuttle between their crazy work and home schedules without finding time to wind out with like minded Divas. I have found that in networking, regardless of level, if I get myself deeply into it, I gain as much as I give out.” Heavily involved in matters involving the youth, the girl child and women in general through individual and group mentoring programs, Emilia is regularly seen giving key note speeches and specific lectures at various girls and women’s forums. Also of keen interest to her? Fitness! Apart from building a business of it, Emilia is a fitness enthusiast and dedicated athlete and has made fitness a way of life. A jog or a walk at least 5 days a week and golf at least once a week keep her refreshed.
Known for her trademark smile which she always seems to have on, one can’t help but wonder (and envy her) for always having something to smile about. “I feel so blessed. When I look at where I’m coming from my heart is full of gratitude for I see God’s unfailing love and abundant Grace. Whenever things don’t go the way I want, I always look at the number of times God has gone above and exceedingly beyond my expectations and I get encouraged that better things are coming. Being positive is my only option! When I look at my journey, I am reminded of Philippians 4:12-13 : “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Yes, I have been raised and taught well and I work really hard, but the greater credit goes to God. I have achieved the most unexpected feats if background and circumstances were anything to go by; I have gone through life’s most painful experiences and have smiled through some of life’s harshest realities. It is these that make me just look back, smile and say “I KNOW THAT WAS YOU GOD”. I am grateful for my very humble beginnings, they have taught me to understand those that are in the position I was in many years ago. I look back with pride and appreciation. I am grateful to be in a position of relative excess, it allows me to give back and pay it forward for those that helped us up when we were down. Above all I keep dreaming bigger for I know that I can do all things through him who gives me strength”
By: Cheu Pswarayi