Leanne Williams was appointed as new CEO of the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market (Joburg Market) in May this year. She is the second woman to run a market of this size and the first woman of colour to do so.
“Accepting this opportunity has created a historic narrative,” says Leanne, who is driven by her passion for succeeding both personally and professionally. “Being the first coloured woman to be CEO of the Joburg Market allows me to empower other women. I live by the motto, ‘If you climb, lift others’, and by others I refer specifically to other women.”
Leanne has extensive experience in the financial services sector, including banking, insurance and wealth and asset management.
“The Joburg Market is a completely new industry and an opportunity not to be missed as agriculture is the future of Africa,” she says. “I plan to utilise my skills to harness better business models to overcome the shortcomings of the past and address current Joburg Market challenges.”
A fresh perspective
Although the position has been known to be challenging, it does not deter this dynamic young businesswoman. “I am innovative in my approach by optimising processes, rationalising operations, aligning information technology, managing risks and capturing the economic benefits in an ever-evolving competitive and regulatory landscape.”
As part of her new role, Leanne is tasked with developing a new turnaround strategy for Joburg Market, which will culminate in what is deemed as a smart market – an efficient operation underpinned by innovative technology that enhances the entire value chain. “History is a good indicator and starting point for reflection, but strategically you always need to look ahead.”
She is also looking forward to paying attention to Joburg Market’s core business. Here she refers to a market that maintains a safe, clean environment that is spatially optimised, and she is particularly excited about the market’s potential to become a one-stop shop for the entire value chain, from the producer to the consumer.
Up to the challenge
Having been appointed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leanne has faced some unique challenges during her first few months as CEO. She has taken these in her stride.
Commenting on starting this new journey during the pandemic, she says: “This reminds me of 1 Peter 1:7, which reads: ‘Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure’. To me, the significance of this quote is that some people perish in the flames. However, in such conditions, I become the flame.”
“Other challenges we now face include enhancing the current spatial modality of the market and setting up incubation hubs for emerging farmers and agents.”
Although it has only been a few months, she has thoroughly enjoyed the challenges presented thus far, admits Leanne. And while she enjoys coming up with stopgap solutions, she prides herself on ultimately finding and implementing sustainable solutions. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit