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Embracing their feminine management traits and developing an authentic leadership style is what sets women leaders apart

For Matrona Filippou, Franchise Operations Director South East Europe at The Coca-Cola Company, succeeding in a leadership position at a global corporate has meant embracing her feminine management traits and developing her own, authentic leadership style.

“While it may be tempting to imitate male leaders, keeping your DNA as a female leader can make a huge difference to what you achieve in the workplace,” she says.  “For instance, women intuitively ask more questions and are natural listeners – both skills are needed today to encourage a more inclusive working environment more than ever before.”

Whether its empathy, good communication skills or successful multitasking, women bring a different skills set to the boardroom and Matrona aims to help women recognise this and develop more female leaders within the company.

“I really hope to make a difference in terms of the women agenda and build a strong pipeline of leaders,” she says.  “I’m not saying companies should only hire women, but focusing on informal mentoring, such as spending time and sharing stories with junior female employees in a way that resonates, can help grow them into great leaders.”

After studying a Bachelor of Accounting Science through the University of South Africa and successfully landing her first job after cold calling an auditing firm, Matrona today finds herself in a very different job than she thought she would set out to do.  Following the completion of her articles, she went for an informal interview with the human resources manager at The Coca-Cola Company that ended with the two talking for more than three hours.

“It only occurred to me at the end of the interview to ask what position I was actually interviewing for!” she said.  “It was for payroll, not something I really wanted to go into, but the HR manager convinced me to join The Coca-Cola Company for the other opportunities the global corporate could offer.”

The HR manager wasn’t wrong – Matrona found herself “peering over the fence at all the exciting things the marketing department was doing” and became a division analyst for a few years. She then took on the role of Global Customer Account Director for the Nando’s account which provided experience in managing a virtual team, from New Zealand to Washington DC.  “Bringing different cultures together and making it work was one of the most exciting times in my career,” she recalls.

In 2010, she left South Africa on the adventure of a lifetime, taking up a position as Executive Assistant to the Eurasia & Africa Group President based in Istanbul, where she lived with her family for three years.  Next stop was Nairobi, Kenya for another four years as Performance & Strategy Director and Stills General Manager for the Central, East and West Africa Business Unit and finally onto Nigeria as General Manager in charge of Stills, Ventures & Emerging Brands for the Coca-Cola West Africa Business Unit. In 2016, Matrona led the successful execution of the largest Juice and Dairy merger and acquisition for The Coca-Cola Company on the continent.

“Once the red soil of Africa has touched your bare feet, I think you always have this burning desire to return back to the continent,” she says. “What people often don’t’ realise is how entrepreneurial Africa is - something magical seems to happen on the continent every day.”

Earlier this year, she moved from Lagos to Athens and is enjoying exploring the 12 new markets in her portfolio – such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Greece and Romania.

Throughout her more than 22 years at The Coca Cola Company, she feels lucky to have had leaders who have been champions of driving women in leadership roles, although she admits that some of the toughest bosses having been those that pushed her perspectives and challenged her ways of thinking.

She says women tend to think they’re not ready for the next challenge and want to make sure they tick all the boxes when it comes to experience and skills. “But a man can feel 20 percent ready, and dive right in!” she adds.  “As women we need to have courage to speak up – you can’t sit by and expect others to take you along with them. You simply have to choose to go on the adventure and give it your all.”