A global executive who leads from the heart

Johannesburg, 12 Aug 2020
Kholiwe Makhohliso
Kholiwe Makhohliso

In ‘a man’s world’ and predominantly male-dominated industry, Kholiwe Makhohliso has carved a name for herself as a diverse leader in the ICT sector as Country Manager and Vice-President of Software AG – a German-headquartered global software company.

Makhohliso’s experience spans over two decades with a career that has been meticulously nurtured in both public and private sectors. Her growth as a revered executive in the ICT industry is owed to her risk-taking nature, resilience and an unwavering belief in offering her clients the best solutions for their needs, while also ensuring that her teams thrive in a holistic world-class working environment.

“I have never taken it to heart that it’s a man’s world,” says Makhohliso. “I grew up with men, but I was never aggressive, some people believe I’m way too soft.”

Jacinda Arden, the now-famous Prime Minister of New Zealand, said something which summarises Makhohliso very well. Arden said: “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I rebel against that. I refuse to believe you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

In her role as the country manager for Software AG, Makhohliso has been at the forefront of driving change and transformation; however, she still believes more needs to be done to bring more women to the fold, especially in this sector.

Her strategy to leadership is to weld traits from an assortment of leaders across industries throughout her career, adopting what worked and also learn valuable lessons from the shortcomings of maverick leaders on how not to lead.

As a vociferous reader, Makhohliso has also drawn influences from inspirational writings on business and leadership while also consuming volumes of motivational and developmental books alongside biographies.

Launching her career

Makhohliso launched her career as an auditor, but after nine years she diverged into consulting, ICT and sales. She worked hard and diligently, and, as a result, she caught the eye of leaders in the workplace who recognised her talent and potential and groomed her for senior positions.

Makhohliso’s admiration for strong and fearless females led her to approach Gina Mostert as her first official career coach. They had worked together on a complex project with Mostert as the lead, and Makhohliso admired her stern nature and ample knowledge.

In 2011, she joined Oracle as a Senior Sales Manager charged with the Public Sector Applications portfolio. Her tenure at Oracle culminated with her being appointed as the Country MD South Africa. Makhohliso broke boundaries and defied the odds as one of the first women to lead a multinational ICT company in South Africa.

“I have had many challenging times in my career, but a lot of growth came out of those challenges,” says Makhohliso. “However, when I set a goal for myself, I refuse to let go until I achieve it. In my career, I have taken roles that many women and men avoid. My motto is to ‘be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire'.”

Family and education come first

As a single parent, Makhohliso has had to juggle high-pressured, work stress positions, often permeating her parenting duties. In 2017, she took a sabbatical to spend time with her children, complete her Harvard Program, and travel.

“I felt it was important to prioritise my family and nurture our relationship. It was equally important that my next company is a family-oriented organisation that would afford me the space to be fully present in my growing children’s lives while still executing my duties as an executive, and I believe I found a perfect match with Software AG,” says Makhohliso.

Makhohliso is an advocate for female empowerment and has opened doors for numerous other female executives. She is passionate about diversity in the workforce, and this passion has paid off. From being one of the very first MDs appointed to lead an ICT global company, Makhohliso is among great company as multinationals appoint influential women executives to head operations of these organisations successfully.

Philanthropy and building communities are as important to Makhohliso as building her career. She is also passionate about education and youth development and currently serves as the Chairperson of the Sparrow Trust, which equips young South Africans with learning challenges with educational and vocational skills. Through Software AG, an organisation that prides itself on driving transformation and is partly owned by a foundation, she is involved in various initiatives that uplift communities, upskill young talent and capacitate entrepreneurs.

A free spirit who also believes in facing her fears to build her character and strength, Makhohliso took up riding. This allowed her to meet new people and also get an adrenaline rush. She has taken her cruiser on intrepid journeys to some of the most far-flung parts of southern Africa and the world, from the majestic mountains of Lesotho to Europe and the United States, and in some cases, being courageous enough to embark on solo rides between Johannesburg, Durban and Margate.

Her most audacious journey was a 15-day ride on the US’s Route 66 from Chicago to LA in 2017, alongside a group of strangers with whom she formed solid friendships and networks. “My life and career have not been a bed of roses, but a journey with hardships and milestones,” concludes Makhohliso.

About Kholiwe Makhohliso

Kholiwe Makhohliso hails from the picturesque town of Mt Ayliff in the former Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape Province. She is one of seven siblings raised on core values of commitment, courage, hard work, integrity, fearlessness and respect. She studied accountancy and in 1995 she graduated with a BCompt in Accounting and Auditing. In 2012, she resumed her post-graduate studies with a 4Sight Executive Leadership Program at IESE Business School, in partnership with Cranfield School of Management, between 2012 and 2013. This was followed by a Global Executive Development (GEDP) at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in 2015 and then a Program for Leadership Development (PLD) at Harvard Business School between 2016 and 2017. She also completed several certificates, including Women on Corporate Boards through Harvard Business School. She has been appointed to serve on the Harvard Business School Alumni Board for three-year period ending 2023.

She is a non-Executive Director of Kagiso Tiso Holding (KTH), an investment holding company, and of Kagiso Media, a black-controlled subsidiary of KTH. Makhohliso currently serves as an Executive Director Board member of Software AG. While the CFO of the National Heritage Council, she was a member of the National Governing Council (NGC) of the South African Peer Review Mechanism, an initiative by the African Union to promote more effective governance and practices that lead to political stability and economic growth through sharing experience and reinforcement of successful and best practices.


Software AG

Software AG began its journey in 1969, the year that technology helped put a man on the moon, and the software industry was born. Today our platform makes a world of living connections possible. Every day, millions of lives around the world are connected by our technologies. A fluid flow of data fuels hybrid integration and the Industrial Internet of Things. By connecting applications on the ground and in the cloud, businesses, governments, and humanity can instantly see opportunities, make decisions, and act immediately. Software AG connects the world to keep it living and thriving.

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Lydia Luvhengo
Account Director (MSL Group)