One way to describe what kind of person Mandy Muchnick is would be to tell what drives her. Mandy loves investing in people. This is at the centre of her investment philosophy at her work as a transactor in the private equity industry as well as in her role as the Africa Chair for One Young World.
Mandy Muchnick feels strongly about identifying and nurturing talent in others, believing that maximising individual growth is not only core to a meaningful life but also critical to solving the world’s main challenges. By the same token, she is frustrated by situations where people do not have access to opportunity, as it is a hindrance to both the former and the latter. This explains much of her work to date and remains a driving force in what she is looking to put her energy into going forward.
Mandy grew up in Parys, a small town in the Free State, and tells how her parents sacrificed to ensure that she and her brother received the best-quality education possible, which has undoubtedly given them the ability to succeed in life.
‘I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my parents truly made me feel that with the right work ethic, I could be, and do, anything I set my mind to,’ says Mandy. But you never get places on your own. She knows first-hand how powerful mentorship and sponsorship can be. Growing up, she played competitive tennis and shares how her coaches and mentors played a vital role in moulding her into the person she is today. It drives her to play that kind of role for others.
‘I believe that hard work and consistency beats pure talent almost every time and I am driven by seeking out people who possess those characteristics and carry a desire to achieve something while also having an impact in the world,’ says Mandy.
While Mandy is a full-time professional in the private equity industry, she also spends a significant amount of time investing in the future of South Africa through her non-profit called imagine.nation and her role as the Africa Chair for One Young World. After attending One Young World in 2015 for the first time, Mandy realised that incorporating the SDGs in your business model is not a nice-to-have but rather an absolute must. Apart from it being the right thing to do, businesses cannot thrive in failing societies. She explains how inextricably linked the SDGs are to one another and that our future ultimately hangs in the balance of combating the effects of climate change. She believes climate action should be on everyone’s agenda in both their personal and professional lives.
As the Africa Chair for One Young World, she has the perfect platform to do what she does best. Her role is to seek out organisations and individuals across the continent who share the values of One Young World to assist them in guiding their talent to the annual summit and beyond into solving the goals as set out by the SDGs from within their companies.
Mandy has played an integral part in launching #FinBiz2030 initiative in South Africa and establishing a task force that is committed to tackling South Africa’s most pressing issues and achieving the long-term goals as set out by the SDGs.
She emphasises that ‘you do not need to quit your job to make a difference. In fact, working in a big corporate provides you with a very strong platform and set of resources from which to effect change. The finance and business community need to be at the table in addressing the SDGs.’
In her personal capacity, together with her family and a group of friends, she established a non-profit in 2014 called imagine.nation with a focus on social entrepreneurship and formative year education.
‘We build pre-primary schools, assist them with curriculum support and ultimately help them run their school as a sustainable business. We have reached 100 children annually through the schools built which we are actively involved in and approximately 20 000 children in neighbouring communities who have received support from drives such as our annual Winter Warmer and Mandela Day food bags,’ says Mandy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, through imagine.nation the team have been actively fundraising and supporting the community in which their schools are built with monthly food and essentials parcels, as well as educational home kits and toys going to each of the children and their families. Throughout the country, they have also distributed 6 000 blankets in 2020 through their annual Winter Warmer initiative.
‘If COVID-19 has taught us anything so far, it is that we do not live in isolated pockets of the world. We live in a highly connected global society and in the long run we all sink or swim together.’
As a woman, Mandy has felt that one of the biggest challenges to overcome is that of homophily − that is, the tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves or with whom they share many common interests. ‘In a male-dominated industry, that is a difficult thing to break through and be truly included. It took a lot of hard work and time finding ways to connect with people on an individual level and seeking similarities in value systems rather than weekend pastimes that helped me build solid relationships. Having the right mentor and sponsor has also played an invaluable role in both my personal and professional development,’ she says.
Mandy says that one should treat junior employees like you would treat your children – you would spend time investing in them equally, regardless of their gender.
And what is Mandy doing to keep herself positive during this overwhelming time? ‘We will forever be judged as a generation on what we did during this time. Being part of those who are responding and seeing how many people are committed to doing whatever they can, keeps me positive. When you are focused on a goal, and particularly one that involves helping others, you will be surprised by your own strength and resilience,’ she explains.
‘The pandemic has certainly taught us to slow down and I realised that there are elements that I won’t want to change when the world “resumes”. Almost every day now, I videocall my parents in the morning and my husband, son and I take a sunset walk in the evening and talk about our day. It is ironic that in a highly connected world it has taken us disconnecting to feel more connected to the people and things that matter most,’ says Mandy.
Mandi’s advice for women
First, there are not many things you only get one shot at in life, but your reputation is one of them. So, take your personal brand very seriously.
Second, the first five to seven years of your career are more important than you can ever realise. Whether we like to admit it or not, if you want a family there will come a time when you have to take your foot off the gas to some extent for a period of time, regardless of how committed your partner is, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You need to put in as much time as possible to build your skill set, be as technically sound as possible and have your brand known for excellence. Those are characteristics that no one can ever take away from you. My mentor told me in the early days of my career that the thing I should focus most on in the first few years is my ‘skills NAV’. What he meant was that you should not strive to rise fast but rather strive to use every day to collect the tools you will need to deliver when given the big opportunities.
Lastly, there is no finite pie of success, so rise while lifting and supporting others with you