Meet Chipo Sachikonye, a formidable Lawyer and Partner at DMH Legal Practitioners, one of the largest commercial law firms in Zimbabwe. Chipo has negotiated and advised on multi-million dollar deals! To her, success is no accident, but a well-planned and intentional process. Read below as she takes us through what she believes are the key principles that have helped her climb the ladder of success…
Full name: Chipo Chengetai Sachikonye
Current title/company: Partner, Commercial and Financial Services Unit, Dube, Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners. I also Head up the Internship and Training programs at the firm.
Educational background: Cambridge O & A Level – Chisipite Senior School, LLB (Hons) University of Cape Town, South Africa, LLM (Specializing in Company Law and International Trade ) University of Cape Town, South Africa, Master of Law and Business (MLB), Bucerius Law School and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management, Hamburg & Vallendar, Germany. I do not think I have done enough, this list should be longer and will include a PhD soon.
Current city: Harare, Zimbabwe
Chipo, at present you are a partner at one of Zimbabwe’s leading firm’s with vast experience in Cross Boarder Financial Transactions, Commercial Advisory work (which we see plastered in our local newspapers often), Litigation, Mediation and Arbitration. You have been part of a team that have been advisors on key national projects such as the US$206m investment into the rehabilitation and tolling of the Harare-Bulawayo-Plumtree and Harare – Mutare Highways, one of the biggest acquisitions recorded on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in 2013 in the seed industry, the Diaspora Bond, being a key bond issue in Zimbabwe to date among other key mandates. Take us through the journey of what brought you to your present role?
It was a planned out process, nothing about it was accidental. From high school I would have long conversations with my father about a career in law, where to study, where to work when I was done with my studies etc. So I can say I (or rather the family and I) made very intentional choices from my O’ levels onwards. I have incredible parents, who instilled in me an incredible work ethic and a respect for my craft, so with that kind of foundation, it was near impossible to fail.
I also very make high demands on myself so I never have a lukewarm approach to anything. This mindset has been critical in seeing me accomplish my goals.
You are at the edge of the game. You have negotiated mega cross-border deals and advised various international entities including but not limited to, African Export Import Bank (commonly known as Afreximbank), Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), Industrial Development Bank of Southern Africa (IDC), to name a few, on significant transactions and investments in Zimbabwe, what have been your biggest obstacles in this role and how have you overcome them?
The first is a perception-based obstacle. Clients, both local and international, can be very skeptical when they see you walk into the room and advise them you are the lawyer giving them advice, but the Head of our Unit, Mr. Edwin Manikai, has been wonderful in opening doors, and repeating certain mantras to me regarding my abilities and that I am a force to be reckoned with. It gives me the impetus and confidence I need to get the job done. I find being thoroughly prepared, having a teachable spirit on every mandate and paying attention to detail is important to ensure you deliver world-class work. On every mandate, I ensure I give the client the kind of service they would get anywhere else in the world. Third world is only a state of mind as far as I am concerned, and I work hard to destroy that perception on every mandate.
As someone who became a partner at a young age, what major tips do you have for young women intent on climbing the corporate ladder? Having clear goals is important. In our industry it is a known fact that making partner can take 3-5 or even more years. I was determined to make partner in record time. In setting this goal, I put requirements on myself in terms of the time I would invest in mastering my area of law, the quality of work I would produce, nurturing relationships within the firm and with clients. The hard work paid off. You cannot afford to live life accidentally – it may work for some, but for the rest of us, living with intent on a daily basis is a non-negotiable.
You are known amongst your peers as someone who is assertive, confident and aggressive in a society that constantly reminds women to be submissive, timid and agreeable. What advice would you give to women who are too afraid to lean in and not lean back at the decision making table?
I cannot think of a single influential female force in my life who is not assertive, confident, aggressive but respectful, intelligent, empowering, encouraging etc. We often think of assertiveness, confidence as something bad when associated with a woman, and that is the lie men in my clan and my mentors have ensured I refuse to be force fed. I come from a generation of fierce women who speak their mind but are also the most incredibly generous, kind, loving, positive people I know. These attributes can co-exist positively and beautifully, if you treat them with respect.
It is important to be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table; but I emphasize here, that what you bring to the table must as a pre-requisite include a mastery of your craft – in my case your mandate and the law pertaining to it, whether it be for a five minute teleconference with a client, or a long meeting with a team of lawyers.
Negative talk and attempts to down-play your contributions (“note I call them attempts”) come with the territory. A strong sense of self and an ability to encourage yourself is important. One of the partners in the firm sent me an excerpt for a text entitled “You are not for everyone” recently. This line is true in work life as it is in your personal life, so you may as well tune out the high volume, low value chatter you get from nay-sayers and listen only to the voices that speak to you from a place of pure love even if they are disciplining or correcting you.
The reality is that the Zimbabwe economy looks bleak at the moment. Many young women are struggling to find employment – while some are fortunate and land their dream jobs soon after University, others graduate from university and struggle to get their foot in the door. Consequently, repeatedly telling young women that in order to be successful they must work hard is not necessarily adequate advice. What tips would you give to women who already know that they must work hard and are hardworking who find themselves stuck in situations where money is tied to more persons/family members other than themselves, yet wish to build their savings and wealth?
I head the internship program at the firm, and the recruitment process is rigorous. Whilst I am proud to say more often than not we end up recruiting female interns because on paper, in terms of their grades and in person they stand out, I often find that there is not much thought put into life after university. What they want to do and why? How they will get there etc. They all seem to parrot the same lines, they heard or read somewhere without much interrogation into what they are saying and whether it applies to their reality.
Whilst the environment is limiting, it is important to not carry over those limitations into our personal lives. Young women ought to be interning at law firms earlier and throughout the life of their studies. Time spent during internships can be incredible opportunities to show your capabilities to the firm, and while you may not end up working at that particular firm, you can get recommendations for posts in other firms or companies. It is also a way to earn an income, albeit small, whilst you are studying. I find that the students that flourish and make something out of their time interning at the firm are those who are willing to push boundaries, lean in, make themselves available to opportunities and sometimes even being bold enough as to ask for them.
As a partner at a leading law firm, what does a typical work day look like for you?
Practice at DMH is not for the lazy, I can tell you that. I wake up at 6am, pray, work out, then head in. More often than not, by around 7:30am, I am already taking calls from clients and getting messages from fellow partners or associates in the firm about meetings and must do items, which are over and above what I would have diarized for the day. I do not do much court work now, so from 8am to 6:30pm I am working on mandates (advisory work), carrying out research, attending meetings, teleconference calls with clients etc. I used to work late into the night, but now it is mandatory for me to leave the office at 6:30pm for gym or to just take a break.
I am learning to work from home now otherwise I usually go in after gym to work ahead, research and ensure I am on top of my game every day.
Advice for young female lawyers aspiring to make partner at their respective law firms?
The quality of your work catapults you to partnership. You therefore cannot run away from putting in the time and effort that is needed to grow as a lawyer. Building good relationships within the firm is also key. Partnership is entering into a work covenant with a group of like-minded people. Fostering good relationships and working well as a team member with the professionals in the firm ranks high. Lastly always remember you are a brand. So how you present and package yourself is important, and positioning yourself in the firm as something other than a fee generator increases your weight in gold. Beyond being a partner, I am a great administrator, encourager and facilitator. I have channeled all that in the internship and training program at the firm.
How do you manage to juggle your highly demanding career and your personal life?
The short answer is you don’t. It is a learning process. You learn the hard way the value of balance, putting yourself first, the importance of resting and spending time with loved ones. I have an incredible small circle I call the “A team”. I get no reproach when I have to disappear for days or weeks to get a project done, just incredible support, prayers and unconditional love.
Morning or night? Night. I am a night owl of note.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order? Christine Lagarde. My sister Jay has gotten me on this trend of Champagne with every important meal, so landing dinner with Christine would definitely call for champagne. As for the meal, given we would be at a Michelin Star restaurant, I would go with whatever they would recommend.
I wish I knew how to… do my hair. Watching YouTube videos of girls who look like they just walked out of Toni & Guy daily gets me so frustrated, because I am terrible at hair and make-up. Put me in the kitchen however… Aunt Jemima has nothing on me.
African women are… an underutilized power that is often downgraded unjustifiably.
Zimbabwe is… a country with great potential.
Worst spending habit… perfume.
Best investment…my small circle of confidants. I get dividends daily from tapping into these key relationships.
Motivation in 3 words…Impossible is nothing!