Rogani Moodley: Paving the Way for a Food-Secure Future

Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders to Follow in 2024

Rogani Moodley is the “resilient” Vice President of Legal, Risk & Compliance at Foskor, responsible for ensuring that the organisation complies with all applicable legislation in its areas of operation. An agile decision-maker, she minimises the detrimental effects of potential risks that may affect Foskor’s strategic objectives and provides pragmatic legal advice to enable the business. Most importantly, she balances the technical aspects with commercial acumen, enabling strategic business decisions that maximise stakeholder benefit from Foskor’s value chain.

As part of the executive management team, she shares and believes in a common Foskor vision of enabling food security for South Africa and the world. She works with the CEO and the rest of the executives paving the way to create a national flagship that instills hope in the hearts of the people of South Africa. They aim to lead by example, make a difference, and contribute positively to the land they call home and want their children to call home for years to come.

At Foskor, Rogani’s journey has been a “high-speed, exhilarating” one, deeply embedded in national pride. It has stretched her capability and forced her to be openly brave about things she didn’t understand. It has also required her to think on her feet to find “fit for purpose” solutions to business issues. “The milestone of producing the best financial results in the history of the company – which has been in existence since the 1950s – bears testament to this journey,” Rogani says.

Life before Foskor

At the start of her career, Rogani worked as a legal researcher at the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD) and as a judge’s clerk at the Labour Appeal Court. She then spent a few years in the private sector, practicing commercial law, before joining the DOJ&CD again – this time she served in the State Attorney’s Office. She subsequently worked as a corporate lawyer for 13 years at a blue-chip petrochemicals and mining company listed on both the Johannesburg and New York Stock Exchanges. Rogani spent the latter part of her tenure in the petrochemical industry in the M&A and Projects space, where she managed multimillion-dollar global transactions across the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Australia, North America, South America, and Mozambique. “Doing business globally was an awesome experience in terms of observing how business cultures vary across different countries,” Rogani recalls.

For fun, she also did a short stint at the Detroit College of Law, attending Law School Forums in the United States.

Dealing with Challenges

Rogani’s path to success has been strewn with challenges. The most significant one is resistance from people. As the adage goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” culture can undermine even the most well-designed strategic plan. “It adversely affects team performance and, ultimately, the productivity of an organization,” Rogani points out. This roadblock taught her to take the time to understand the operating environment, the company history, and how to engage people to motivate them to bring their best selves to the workplace.

“I’ve learned that cultivating strategic relationships of influence are important and using appropriate mechanisms, such as team buildings, to dissolve barriers between people, swing the pendulum towards high-performance teams, and get the job done,” she says.

Rogani encountered another roadblock because of being a technical specialist. Due to this challenge, she learned how crucial adaptability is for earning a seat at the table with the operations team. “I’ve seen how transitioning from a technical advisory role to strategic leadership, underpinned by both technical and commercial narratives, facilitates an environment that values diversity and promotes inclusion,” points out Rogani.

Greatest Achievements

Rogani has many achievements to her credit. However, she considers her greatest achievements to be her authenticity and a moral compass being her North Star – notwithstanding the situation. She highlights that the “wonderful unintended consequence” of her ethical leadership is the cultivation of her brand. Insulated with trust and credibility, her brand attracts people who collectively want to walk the same path. She also possesses a powerful characteristic – the courage to walk away from instances that are not congruent with her belief system.

Rogani is a South African with a South Asian heritage. Her mantra growing up was strong family values of honesty and respect, with education, hard work, and the importance of always doing your best. “This was what we were taught growing up, to be the way out of the cycle of indentured labour of our ancestors who arrived in South Africa in the 1860s,” Rogani points out.

She draws her inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi. “With a powerful purpose, and in his own way, he was able to rally an entire nation to challenge inequality,” she says. What really stands out to her is that Mahatma Gandhi believed in something, had a very clear vision of what he wanted to do, had a plan, and had his own signature way of executing his plan.

“The words that I associate with Gandhi are ‘unwavering belief’ and ‘steadfast passion’,” Rogani says. “He was authentic, led by example, and I am so grateful to have been exposed to his leadership ethos.”

Success Is Like an Onion

Rogani likens success to an onion, comprising many layers. “The core being passion and belief, enveloped by multiple layers centred around focus, consistency, and concentration,” she explains. “Teamwork and cooperation are like the sunlight, water, and nourishment that culminate in success.”

When discussing success in Foskor’s context, Rogani notes that there have been many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that have made their journey an inordinately interesting one. According to her, the secret to their success lies in the grit and determination of their people to dig deep, especially when they have their backs against the wall, and persevere against all odds.

Personally, Rogani believes that success is having the grit and ability to persevere in the face of adversity. She adds, “A quote from Michael Jordan that resonates very personally and sums it up aptly: ‘I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Brief Introduction to Foskor

Foskor, headquartered in South Africa, is a producer and distributor of phosphate rock, phosphate-based fertilisers, sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, and magnetite, both locally and internationally. Beyond serving the local market and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional markets, it supplies phosphoric acid to international markets – Brazil, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, and France.

“While our phosphate rock concentrate is primarily used in our phosphoric acid manufacturing plant, we also export additional valuable products to Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, the United States, and Japan,” Rogani informs. The premium quality phosphate rock produce by Foskor has become a much more coveted commodity in Europe after the European Commission in 2021 set new maximum levels for cadmium concentration in a range of food products, to protect public health.

Foskor as a business is an integrated value chain, comprising: a mining operation upstream, located in Ba-Phalaborwa, Limpopo, in the far northern part of South Africa; a chemicals manufacturing operation downstream, located in Richards Bay, Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, on the east coast of South Africa. Rogani points out that the interface between these operations includes a complex logistics component, which runs circa 600 km (372 miles) between these two sites and is heavily dependent on the rail infrastructure as well as trucking to transport the finished product.

Vision and Plan for the Future

Foskor’s vision is to enable food security in South Africa and across the globe. To achieve this, the company has various plans to gear for long-term growth, and at the same time, solidify and enhance core operational strengths.

Rogani shares that Foskor aspires to expand its global footprint to leverage off its globally sought-after, premium-grade phosphate rock, targeting applicable industries, and increasing revenue generation. She also views AI as a definite feature on many levels, ranging from risk management using predictive analytics to enhance fraud detection and mitigate financial risk to optimizing operations and improving preventative maintenance. She says that this will ultimately accelerate production and instill confidence in their business capabilities.

“Considering the nature of Foskor’s operations and its impact on the communities within which we operate, always central to our decision-making is how we reduce our environmental footprint within these communities in a mutually beneficial manner,” Rogani says. This aligns with a personal goal of hers – to support awareness of the Save Soil initiative to save the environment.

Rogani and her team recognize the importance of embracing technology when looking to the horizon, but they also understand that the value people bring is paramount. “The vision is to use these factors complementarily to maximise the mutual benefit for stakeholders and shareholders,” Rogani says.

Regular Day at Work Is Blistering

Foskor is a highly regulated, labour-intensive mining and chemicals manufacturing business, making the role of General Counsel held by Rogani complex. The logistics interface between the mining and chemicals plants – in a country with a fair amount of macroeconomic challenges – further complicates it. All these mean that Rogani’s typical day at work can be blistering. “It is because of the variety of matters that can and do arise,” she says. In addition, regulatory requirements not only increase the complexity but also the cost of doing business, which continues to rise exponentially.

As the head of risk and compliance, Rogani also manages regulatory risk. The cardinal rule that she adheres to in decision-making is urgency and importance to ensure stable operations. “And our value proposition is to ensure that we bring innovative ideas to reduce the cost of compliance and ultimately reduce the unit cost of production,” Rogani says.

Work-Life Balance & Motivation

Rogani feels it is “emotionally taxing” to maintain a balance between a high-paced corporate career and family life. It requires discipline, which is not always easy to get right, she says.

She explains that the awareness that whatever one does needs to be done well, means that one works extra hard on all fronts – whether it is being a leader within an organisation or being a present parent at home. She is able to preserve the best of both worlds because of the support her organisation provides in the form of a flexible work environment, and she also has a supportive family. “It means sharing precious family moments and milestones, and at the same time, bringing my best self to the office,” she says.

Rogani derives her motivation from the courage of her convictions. It empowers her to make tough decisions during challenging times. Her other source of motivation is her self-awareness: “not to react to situations, but to react by choice.” “‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Prof Steve Peters on this topic makes for awesome reading,” Rogani shares.

Additionally, family vacations and time spent in nature—breathing crisp, clean air, and walking barefoot on grass or sand—greatly contribute to recharging and reinvigorating her for professional commitments.

Women in Mining and Chemicals Industry

The mining and chemicals industry is traditionally male-dominated, posing a challenge for women leaders to thrive. Rogani acknowledges that fantastic progress has been made but also emphasizes that there is still room to do a lot more.

Personally, she believes in looking beyond gender. According to her, viewing an industry from a gender perspective is often a self-imposed stereotype. “It’s up to each one of us to shatter this misnomer,” she says.  “We have the right to earn a seat at the table and the privilege to truly celebrate ourselves when we earn it.”

Rogani wants to see a switch in gears, moving from past token progress, and the focus on substantive and ‘true’ empowerment. This, she says, will lead to the creation of a space where one sees board members and CEOs and not women in the boardroom and female CEOs. She believes that the way to make this meaningful impact happen is to block out the noise and get on with the tasks at hand.

She shares, “I’m currently reading a book called ‘The Art of Quiet Influence’ by Jocelyn Davis, and I’m thoroughly enjoying applying its principles to subtly influence decision-making while getting on with my job.”

“Quiet influence is a powerful tool…. to use it and observe people recognize the value I bring to discussions is empowering,” she adds. “The room automatically becomes more accepting, and the ‘woman factor’ fades away.”

Leading by example, Rogani asserts, will eventually usher in a cultural shift. However, this transformation will take time, and the incremental impacts of leaders, if consistent and committed, will make a meaningful difference over time, she points out. “As Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker and author, says, ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me!’”

Message to Aspiring Women Leaders in Industry

“Be brave, believe in yourself, be authentic, and always be passionate about whatever you choose as your vocation in life,” Rogani tells aspiring women leaders. “These factors feed self-motivation, and therefore, bring personal happiness squarely within your locus of control.”