How Lungile Mginqi's hard work led him to lead IT at a global chemicals company


Sasol group CIO Lungile Mginqi shares his incredible journey of starting on the back foot, tapping into his team for momentum, and turning his challenges into wins.

According to Lungile Mginqi, group CIO of Sasol, the energy industry is carbon intensive and there is a focus on becoming carbon neutral. To this end, Sasol IT has committed itself to playing an effective role in enablement and a self-help role in addressing the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) demands of the energy company.

“The self-help role is where IT directly decreases Sasol impact to the environment through decreasing the energy consumption by using a scaled public cloud environment,” Lungile explains. “IT also enables business by providing the systems that allow the business to track, monitor and report on emissions.”

From an enablement perspective, Sasol IT is laser focused on digital enablement, cyber safety and cost efficiency improvement initiatives. “We have commenced on the GenAI journey, completed a cross-section of use cases and established the policy to ensure safe and ethical usage,” he adds. “While the business continues to build the use cases, IT is building the GenAI playbook to ensure consistent governance with appropriate tools to ensure that GenAI can be scaled across the organisation.”

That covers the group CIO’s plans for the future, but it is equally as important to delve into where it all began: Lungile’s background, which moulded him into the leader he is today.

7,000 steps in the right direction

Lungile hails from humble beginnings, growing up in the rural parts of the country looking after family livestock and walking 5kms to school. He is no stranger to hard graft and believes that his start to life has fuelled this journey to where he is today.

After completing matric, Lungile set his sights on the field of engineering and pursued a BSc in geology and chemistry. Despite the immense effort Lungile put into his engineering studies, he opted for IT. However, his engineering exposure came in handy when he worked as a consultant at Accenture in 2009, focusing on mining, utilities and energy clients, making it easier to understand their business technology problems.

“Enabling business with technology has been the basis of my career that has spanned over two and a half decades,” he notes.

Lungile had a successful career as a technology consultant and quickly became a partner at Accenture. Consulting also allowed him to travel the world and that included a four-year stint in San Francisco, California.

“I must admit that the biggest challenge I encountered while working abroad was culture-fit,” he says. “I quickly realised that as strong as I want my authentic self to come up, there is something I need to continuously adjust to accommodate various environments at the time. It gave me a different appreciation for what diversity and what being a minority is all about.”

“I joined Sasol in 2017 and proactively pursued digital transformation and led IT digital transformation in my role as VP for global applications. I was later promoted to group CIO in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking its hold with the need to organise hybrid ways of work,” he explains.

The caretaker

As CIO of Sasol, Lungile is the custodian of IT assets and, more importantly, strategically applying these assets to support the Sasol business strategy. “The role itself is heavily involved in how IT and business should be configured to derive the best digital business outcomes of technologies. In addition, it is evolving to not only include IT, but also the broader IoT within the manufacturing space,” he explains.

According to Lungile, the prospect of what the next 24 hours may hold and having this diminishing time to make a difference is what makes the job most fulfilling.

“My door is always open” sums up Lungile’s leadership style. He has benefitted from open-door policies from his seniors and now wants to pay it forward to his team, directly or indirectly.

“There is no topic off the table, from personal to professional growth to even running tips,” he says. “As a leader I know my limitations, so I am able to get top talent around me that compliments my strengths, and I am able to challenge individuals within my team to operate close to full potential.”

That’s a strategy that’s worked very well for Lungile in getting talent to stay, but for bringing talent in, he has a different approach – relying on the organisation's brand power.

“Attracting and retaining talent in the IT space is a constant challenge and through our competency and training programmes we ensure that our talent is on top of technology topics with opportunities to train and build skills. We have, however, recognised that although IT talent wants to be rewarded, the top IT talent wants more interesting work to continue their association with the organisation,” he observes.

“Leveraging the organisation's brand power to attract top talent while ensuring that you sponsor top scholars to enable critical roles such as data science, data engineering and cloud engineering is also important,” he adds.

The biggest boost

From a career perspective, there are four major career achievements that stand out the most to Lungile, namely his fast progression to partner at a global consulting firm. Becoming CEO at Diebold Nixdorf to prevent devastating labour unrest, becoming the COO at his own startup company and most recently his current role as group CIO at Sasol – accountable for both IT and digital.

“Each part of my career has handed key nuggets that have allowed me to make an impactful contribution as the CIO of Sasol. The enthusiasm generated around me with people given opportunities to excel within the IT organisation, guiding, coaching them excites and gives me the biggest boost to get-up in the morning,” he says.

It is not an easy road to success but Lungile has some sound advice for CIOs-in-the-making.

“Understand what the business needs and what constitutes fit-for-purpose rather than providing services that are not required,” he says. “Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty to get an understanding of how IT works. Get involved in incident resolution and understand the customer service elements and what constitutes good and bad service.”

He adds that it’s okay not to know everything, but rather listen to what others have to say – and do not underestimate the importance of managing upwards and ensuring that the leaders are aligned. According to Lungile, nothing trumps the lessons and inspiration that can be drawn from challenges and flipping those into opportunities.

“There is the constant reminder that one foot always needs to be in the future while one foot remains grounded on the current realities. The world is changing fast and there is a need to block the noise and ensure that organisations and its people are equipped with the agility to change course when required. This is achieved by always respecting the information and experience you do not have rather than over-reliance on what you know,” he says.

There is little doubt that Lungile is agile both physically and mentally. He is an avid runner and cyclist. “I have discovered the enjoyment of running and cycling, it’s my way of keeping my mental wellness in check,” he concludes

This interview was originally published in the first edition of the 2024 CIO Magazine. Read it here.

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