Leaning in isn’t only about pursuing career goals, it’s also about honing in on your aspirational goals in life, as Uleesha Moodley shares.
If you want to get somewhere, you need to envision where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. And then never give up until you reach your destination. These two lines sum up Uleesha Moodley’s career journey. While studying for her Honours in Bachelor of Commerce (Investment and Corporate Finance), she discovered a role in leveraged finance/structured lending was where she wanted her career to go. But like most journeys, she had to navigate the labyrinth across a few other roles to gain the experience that would prepare her for the role she wanted.
Uleesha is an investment banking professional with 17 years’ experience in the banking sector. Prior to joining Sasfin Bank, she was a Principal at Nedbank Corporate Investment Banking division implementing transactions across the debt spectrum. This included extending senior debt to facilitate funding for general corporate purposes, acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, management buyouts and balance sheet restructurings. Uleesha has gained extensive experience dealing with both JSE-listed and unlisted entities across various industries, sectors and jurisdictions.
Working in a male-dominated environment, where she is sometimes the only woman in the room, has meant she has had to learn how to make herself heard.
“By nature, I can come across as a bit passive, and in a leveraged finance space, which is largely male-dominated, there are a lot of strong voices. The biggest thing for me was to remain true to myself, as I am amicable by nature, but I’ve learned the skill of assertiveness and apply it when necessary.”
Uleesha wasn’t actively looking to change jobs when she was presented with a role at Sasfin Bank, but when it came up, she knew she had to grab the opportunity.
“It was quite exciting because I had all this experience in this space. It was a relatively new team and a growing organisation. I liked the fact that Sasfin Bank is very innovative and entrepreneurial in nature. I also wanted to join a team where I felt I could bring all my skills and experience to make an impact in the mid-market space in South Africa.” It’s a space she believes is underserviced and is vital for the growth of the country. It is those small clients that grow into medium-sized clients and into large clients. “As a bank, I think we are very niche in the part that we play in the markets that we service.”
She’s been at Sasfin Bank for a year, working as Senior Transactor within the Specialised Lending in Business and Commercial Banking segment. The Specialised Lending division provides structured debt, mezzanine finance and quasi equity funding solutions for a comprehensive range of transactions across various industries nationally. Sasfin Bank is one of only a few banks in South Africa specifically geared towards servicing privately owned mid-market businesses.
One aspect of her role she loves is the client side – getting to know and understand people, building and sustaining relationships. “We adopt a hands-on approach to structuring innovative funding solutions to our clients, which goes beyond the role of a traditional funder.”
When it comes to sustaining client relationships, Uleesha says honesty is critical.
“Having authentic conversations that guide clients and provide advice, as opposed to promising something and you can't deliver. In addition, knowing what your mandate is and what you can and can't do is key in providing the right solutions for them.”
As is getting to know both the clients and their businesses: “They get really excited if you take a keen interest in what they're doing and how they're doing it. It’s walking the path with them and building a connected relationship.”
She loves that Sasfin cares about its people and the impact it has on society at large.
“It's not just lip service. You can see it in their actions and in the way they communicate with staff. They live the value system that they put out.”
In addition, she says, they acknowledge that although they work in the financial sector with the focus on the bottom line, a bigger focus is the impact on the markets and society in which they operate. “That aligns with my value system. It's not just about making money, it's also about how you impact the rest of society so that everybody can grow, everybody can benefit, and we develop a country that we are all proud of.”
“It's not just about making money, it's also about how you impact the rest of society so that everybody can grow, everybody can benefit and we develop a country that we are all proud of.”
Throughout her career, Uleesha has been both formally and informally mentored. Her mentor, Philna Munnik, was part of a formal 12-month mentorship programme that involved hourly sessions every two weeks – an experience she calls phenomenal. In 2018, she did a personal leadership course through Conscious Leadership, which helped her navigate her career by focusing inwards on introspection, self-development and understanding how to deal with people and resolve conflict. Informally, she’s found mentors in colleagues and managers who have provided her with insights.
One of Uleesha’s aspirational goals is to also give back and continue to mentor other young women in this space. Recently she had the opportunity to mentor a university student who aspires to get into investment banking space after completing her degree.
Like most mentor relationships, Uleesha has also learned from her mentee. “She makes me self-reflect a lot more by just sharing what she’s doing and her goals.”
Uleesha is a mother of two and her children, together with her family, are her biggest cheerleaders. She balances a demanding career and home life by planning. “Time management is a big thing for me. I need to understand what everybody is doing in the week ahead so I can plan. It’s how I manage everything.” A solid support structure is also key to having a successful career. “It allows you to maintain a level of balance, which is very important to me. Realising that you don’t have to do everything, you can share the responsibility with others.”
Balance is something that Uleesha has had to learn the hard way and she like the time she sets aside for herself to the advice given on aeroplanes:
“You need to put your own oxygen mask on first, because if you can't take care of yourself, you can't help others.” She continues: “As a woman, you want to be doing everything at 150% and you fail to realise that you actually need to take care of yourself first.”
For Uleesha, these self-care practices include yoga and meditation, and they’re priorities to her. “I'm very religious about that and the kids know mom’s not available because she's restoring herself.”
“You need to put your oxygen mask on first, because if you can't take care of yourself, you can't help others.”
Time to restore is crucial to avoiding burnout, something Uleesha is familiar with. “If you are burnt out and you don't have the energy, it compromises your immune system. It's very likely that you are going to get sick and then you can't take care of anybody else. I've seen it happen with friends, colleagues and even myself especially during COVID-19. You run yourself so thin that the work you need to put in to restore yourself is so much harder than if you just try to maintain a level of self-care consistently.”
When dealing with burnout, Uleesha says the first step is to gather information. “People may be aware of something, but it's only when you actually start gathering information and you put it down on paper and you actually see it [that it hits home].” Next you need to understand the information and seek guidance from experts, because you are more likely to be successful if you have somebody who can educate you and guide you. Lastly, she says, it is knowing that it is not something you do once, it’s a continuous journey. “It has to become a way of life. There are times where it's not going to go according to plan, but it's always about finding a way to reset, listing your priorities and knowing what the non-negotiables are in your life.”
For Uleesha, her morning routine is a priority. It’s her time to pray, journal and spend quality time with her kids on the ride to school. “I do the school run in the morning and it’s a highlight of my day. The kids are always the best in the morning; they're fresh and we have amazing funny conversations, which I really look forward to.”
When asked what she’s most proud of, Uleesha says it’s her courage. “I'm most proud of the times in my life where I stepped up for myself. She references the Brene Brown quote: “Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver,” saying that courage is contagious and seeing other people go after their dreams inspires you to do the same.
“Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”
It’s her mom who has been that person for her: “She was a single mother raising four children. She educated all four of us and started her own business, which she still runs today. She is financially free, living the life that she wants to live, and she does great things to help those around her. She puts her mind to something and there’s no stopping her.”
Uleesha is the same way, goal-driven and motivated to constantly learn and grow. “I have this philosophy that you have this one life, and in this one life, it's important to reach your greatest potential.” This doesn’t only apply to career goals, but also to what you want to achieve in your personal life.
“You have this one life, and in this one life, it's important to reach your greatest potential.”
Uleesha says it is possible to be successful in all aspects of your life, but you first need to understand what your aspirations are in each dimension of your life. “You need to be intentional in the pursuit of those aspirations. Given that we have a finite amount of time, energy and resources, you actually just need to plan to find a good way to balance the scales.” And then define what success looks like for you. For Uleesha, success is being happy and fulfilled, positively impacting those around her and achieving the goals she sets for herself.
Uleesha may have reached the place she wanted to be when she was starting out, but she’s not done just yet. She’s leaning into her personal and professional life in pursuit of reaching her greatest potential.