Florence Sempebwa-Makada’s mother was one of 13 children at a time when girls had predetermined futures – that didn’t involve careers or higher education. When Florence and her sister were born, two girls among six brothers, Mrs. Sempebwa-Makaba was determined they would have the life she could never have.
“My mother never put limits on the things that my sister and I could do,” the Managing Director of Motorcare in Uganda remembers. She and her sister rode bicycles and motorbikes, while her mother taught them all – boys and girls – to cook and do the housework.
When it came to education, Sempebwa-Makada was sent to the finest girls’ school in the country, Gayaza High School, after attending a co-ed primary school. When she finished, she was handpicked to take part in the East African university exchange programme, being sent to Dar-es-Salaam University in Tanzania, where she was in the first group of students to study a BSc degree in Computer Science and Statistics. Finishing top of her class, she was asked to stay on in Tanzania but returned home where she joined Motorcare after a brief stint at a bank as network administrator and Accounts Assistant.
“I’ve always had two titles at Motorcare,” she says, “it’s because I’ve always offered to help. Running the network saw me helping out in finance. I don’t do things to finish, but to have a positive impact.”
She was worried that she didn’t know enough so she went back to study, completing a degree in applied accounting from Oxford Brookes in the UK, and qualifying as a chartered accountant of UK, too. From there she became Finance Manager, combined with Human Resources Manager, or people manager, as she prefers.
Then it was finance and business planning, setting targets for the different departments, measuring results and coming up with action plans for the variances together with the Heads of departments. While in Finance, she sold four vehicles to an NGO, leading the company to design a specific department that would service Aid and Development agencies. She even helped out in the After Sales Department, putting in structures that would see it crush old production records and set new ones.
Six years ago, Motorcare appointed her MD, the first Ugandan and first woman to hold the position. She’s still the only woman today in the country. She ascribes her success to meticulous preparation and thorough knowledge of what she is speaking about.
“I succeeded,” she says, “not because I was technical, but because I know processes and I know what to ask and how to guide the technical experts.”
“I was the only woman in a boardroom full of men, but when I spoke people respected me because they knew I was on the ground. Every time I contributed, my ideas made sense because they were based on experience.”
When she became managing director, she made sure she led by example.
“My leadership style is instead of saying ‘do this’ and then doing the opposite, I walk the talk. When you do that you gain their respect.”
The same comes for setting standards: “I’m always the first to get to the office and most of the time the last to leave. You can’t have a disciplined workforce if you aren’t disciplined yourself.”
On Sunday, 31st July, 2022, the continent celebrated African Women’s Day. For Sempebwa-Makaba, the message to young women is simple: “Be knowledgeable, be prepared to help and to learn.”
She sees a future where women will take their rightful place in the boardroom, but they have to work at it.
“Truth be told, we can do anything that men can do. The days of women not being in the boardroom are fading away. Women are very dependable and very focused – they have to be able to do their jobs and balance their careers with being mothers and carers.”
She speaks from experience – and not just of her own career. “I’m results-orientated and I’ve got super results from women in Motorcare.”
When she started as MD, women comprised 10 percent of the company, now their numbers are 40 percent.
“We’ve put the structures in place to help them excel but in the end, it’s up to them.”
But she has a word of warning too.
“We have families and we have careers. We have to learn to balance them; otherwise, one or both will fail. But if we do learn to balance, we will have more and more women at the top.”