Fintechie. Inventor. Entrepreneur. Digital veteran. International Speaker. Priya Thakoor has earned her ‘techie’ stripes as a female outlier in the digital space. She recently joined The Coca-Cola Company in Johannesburg as the business unit’s Digital Transformation Director.

Having successfully built e-commerce businesses across Africa and the United States and profitably sold technology start-ups, Priya Thakoor is one of a small percentage of global women who have successfully straddled the entrepreneurial game and made it in the corporate world.

As though developing strategies in boardrooms with CEOs and delivering integrated digital functions for sales, service and operations wasn’t enough, Priya has spent time giving back through fundraising for tech entrepreneurs and assisting NGOs with digital financial solutions for the underbanked.

“Success is not a destination you arrive at when you’ve accomplished a set number of goals, but a journey of constant learning,” says Priya. “In the tech space, the learning never stops because tech and the digital world change so much and so quickly you must always be learning, whether it’s soft or tech skills, you always need to invest in your skills.”

Priya started shattering glass ceilings of limitation as a young girl who loved to fix toasters, irons, fans and change plugs with her grandfather in Lenasia, southwest of Johannesburg. She has kept some of their tools as a souvenir of her favourite childhood memory.

“I went to school in the early 1990s and I grew up in a sheltered community in Lenasia, but I was always very anti-gender stereotyping. I loved subjects like maths, science and engineering, and took computer science in high school,” she explains.

Priya’s father, an entrepreneur and businessman, bought his daughter a computer while she was still in primary school. Needless to say, she was instantly hooked and even learned basic coding.

Despite Priya’s natural affinity for all things technical, there were challenging circumstances that threatened her pursuit of a career in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) field at several junctures. In 1998, political unrest in South Africa meant that Priya’s school in Lenasia didn’t have any science teachers. She orchestrated to move schools to stay on track for a career in either engineering or chartered accounting, but still had to study three years of science in three months when applying to study at an American university post-matric.

Socially aware of both her environment’s limitations and what was required to be a tech entrepreneur, Priya found crevices of possibility that she broke wide open. After successfully applying to study in America, she received a 50% bursary. She set off, hungry for exposure to the big wide world and a determination to make it, sometimes working three jobs to finance her international university education.

By the time Priya graduated from her four-year engineering degree at Mercer University in Georgia, Atlanta, she had been part of setting up three start-ups. “It was a big learning curve and lots and lots of fun,” she reminisces.

As a mom of two busy boys aged 6 and 4, Priya has ensured that she has a strong network to support her family when she’s not around so that she can focus at a job that demands long hours and high levels of concentration. She loves playing lego with her boys and can’t wait until the day she can do computer programming with them.

“I’m not that perfect mom that bakes and is always around, but I don’t feel guilty. I believe what I do sets the tone and example for my children, because they can see that women are not one dimensional. There is a balance, but I don’t believe in sacrificing my career because we don’t have enough women CEOs and entrepreneurs at the top. The more of us are up there, the more we can bring others along.”

Despite Priya’s ambitions, she has always been fair and principled, making a point of uplifting those around her, especially other women.

“I also say, ‘Don’t forget the women that need support, mentoring and guidance’. Women can’t be battling other women in the workplace. That really gets to me because we’ve got to help each other and yes, we can have constructive and productive debates, but don’t sabotage each other.”

“As a woman, you know that you are never a one man show – your team, your peers, your leadership style – these are the most important parts of your career as you progress through your work journey,” Priya concludes.