Mary Mahuma is helping transform Philip Morris International’s core operating model

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The CIO is guiding Philip Morris Southern Africa towards delivering a smoke-free future and becoming a legacy-free organisation.

“What I enjoy the most about my role is the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the job,” says Mary Mahuma, CIO at Philip Morris Southern Africa (PMSA).” Technology is constantly advancing, and the digital landscape is continuously changing. This environment provides me with exciting challenges and opportunities to innovate and drive meaningful transformations within the organisation.”

Mary notes that being at the bleeding edge of technology allows her to investigate cutting-edge solutions, use data-driven insights, and adopt tactics that can significantly impact the company's success.

“It is immensely satisfying to witness the positive outcomes of our digital initiatives, whether it’s streamlining operations, enhancing customer experiences, or contributing to overall business growth,” she adds.

Giving back and getting creative

As CIO, Mary is responsible for overseeing the affiliate’s information technology and digital strategies. “I am responsible for leading a team of IT professionals to ensure the effective and efficient management of the organisation’s technological resources and initiatives,” she says.

That’s what makes Mary tick on a daily basis. However, there’s also a creative side to Mary. She enjoys pottery and painting in her spare time.

“I find solace and joy in engaging with pottery and painting, but I also enjoy expressing myself through salsa dancing,” she says. She’s also a Marvel comics enthusiast – she enjoys collecting comic books with her two daughters – something that’s great for quality time and which helps to keep them connected.

However, as an legal practitioner (advocate) by training, Mary also keeps abreast of all things law, by following the most recent courtroom drama. “Alongside my artistic interests, my passion for the cybersecurity and information technology law persists, fuelled by a keen interest in following high-profile cases, in addition to my professional pursuits.”

It doesn’t end there, because there is also an altruistic side to Mary – giving back to her immediate community, and in other communities of need. Mary is the chairperson of the homeowner’s association in her area. “I am deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of others through my involvement in the activities of the Tharollo Orphanage Home, situated in Mokopane, Tshamahansi, Limpopo.”

Mary was born in Ga-Rankuwa, a township north of Pretoria. From a young age, she was intrigued by technology and its ability to drive positive change and innovation, in addition to her passion for education, and being a top achiever.

“I was eager to pursue my interest and passion in business after I completed matric. So, I enrolled at the Bryntirion Computer College and completed both diplomas in A+ Ready and N+,I further pursued certifications with the information systems examination board, HDI, AWS, Microsoft and EXIN. In parallel I enrolled at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and graduated with a Baccalaureus Administrationis,” she explains.

“As my interest in the business aspects grew, I furthered my studies and obtained my bachelor of commerce with honours. My interest further grew and on top of my passion for business, I then developed an interest in technology and law, as a result, I decided to pursue a LLB degree, which I completed at the same institution.”

Mary decided to further her leadership and management abilities by pursuing a master’s degree in business administration essential at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. It was a qualification that came in handy, she adds, because it gave her the capacity to effectively connect technology goals with business objectives, and it marked the start of Mary’s IT adventure.

“My academic achievements, combined with my passion for business, IT and law, eventually led me to my current role. The opportunity to contribute to the company’s digital transformation journey aligns perfectly with my vision for leveraging technology to drive meaningful change in the business landscape,” she adds.

Collective wisdom and guidance

Mary acknowledges that she has never had to travel alone. In fact, she has been fortunate to have had various mentors who have played critical roles in defining her leadership style throughout her professional career.

She credits her mentors with providing direction, sharing useful ideas, and imparting wisdom, which has significantly shaped her approach to leadership and management.

“One of my early mentors was a seasoned IT executive who had a wealth of experience in leading large-scale technology transformations,” she reflects. “Under their guidance, I learned the importance of strategic thinking, the value of aligning technology initiatives with business goals, and the significance of fostering a collaborative and inclusive work environment.”

According to Mary, Philip Morris has created a culture of fostering talent development and promoting cross-functional collaboration, which has allowed her to gain insights from leaders in various domains, ranging from supply chain management to marketing and customer experience. As a result, Mary had the privilege of learning from diverse leaders there during her tenure.

A smoke-and-legacy-free organisation

PMSA has already started transforming its core operating model, according to Mary, that goes beyond tobacco manufacturing. The company has also set itself an ambitious target of delivering a smoke-free future. However, for that to happen, Mary says, “we must embed IT within every aspect of the business. The strategy is grounded in digital transformation, reshaping the IT organisation and making the business more consumer-centric as Philip Morris is now a multi-category and multi-product business.

“The priority is digital transformation and transitioning from legacy IT to a future-geared infrastructure and platform-based ecosystem, while maintaining minimal disruption.”

Mary intends on doing so by harnessing existing skills, reskilling as required. Attracting and retaining talent are other priorities.

She says that Philip Morris has already started experimenting with Generative AI, looking at different MVPs as a means to transform the business such as complementing existing work like Microsoft Copilot 365, automating tasks like IT end-user support and automating content creation and improving the current thinking, protecting its IP from the public domain.

“Technology enablement plays a pivotal role in data-driven decision-making at Philip Morris Southern Africa. Through digitisation, the company harnesses vast amounts of data related to sales, customer preferences, and market trends,” she explains. “By adopting cutting-edge technologies, such as Gen AI, Philip Morris Southern Africa gains a competitive edge in the market, leading to enhanced operational efficiency and improved customer experiences.”

With all her desire and ambition to push her organisation to new heights, Mary will, of course, require some source of inspiration to see it through. She draws on her eclectic experience, which includes a passion for technology, legal skills, family and personal beliefs, and community involvement to stay grounded.

“Most importantly, I will need to rely on collaboration – collaborating with talented and diverse teams to achieve common goals,” she notes. “Witnessing the collective efforts of our team result in successful IT initiatives and positive outcomes for the organisation further motivates me to foster a collaborative and innovative work environment.”

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