Bringing business sense to the world of technology

05 Mar 2019

Devina Maharaj leads the Investec Digital team in South Africa. She talks to us about women in the tech world, her challenges, and what drives her forward.

Education

B. Acc (University of KZN), MBA (Wits) 

Current position

Head of digital, Investec South Africa

Joined Investec

2000

After completing her accounting degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Devina began her career at Investec as an Operational Risk Consultant. 10 years later she left the private banking space to join the Investec Digital team in 2012. While at Investec, she’s also studied for her MBA, and is raising two daughters, now aged nine and six.
 

What do you do at Investec?

 
Officially I look after the Digital team that are responsible for the Digital Channel for the Bank. In real life I like to think my job is to help people live their best versions of their lives.
 

What most excites you about the digital world?

 
Technology is what is driving the human race forward. But the digital world expands far beyond banking alone. People want to think about what they’re doing with their lives, how they’re going to spend their time, and how they’re going to reduce stress and live more healthily. I think technology is helping us do that in every aspect.
 

Investec Digital has a high-tech, high-touch strategy. What does this mean?  

 
Investec’s roots are all about relationships, and about placing the human at the heart of everything we do. So, even though we manage a channel based on technology, the people aspects and relationships that drive business forward matter. In our team, instead of hiring a traditional business analyst, I will often hire someone from our banking team, who has experience dealing with clients. I believe that something like client empathy is a harder skill to acquire than business analysis skills, which you can learn in a book.
 

You lead a team that’s predominantly male, and you’re from a non-tech background. What challenges do you face because of this?

 
As well as coming from a financial rather than technical background, I’m also not a digital native – and I hate change! But I’m starting to realise that while we’ve always thought of technology and business as two distinct functions, they actually coexist, with one enabling the other. You’re not either a business person or a techie, you can be both at the same time. The business leaders of the future are going to be those that understand both worlds, and are able to see the opportunities of how technology can influence business in a big way.
Devina Maharaj
"The business leaders of the future are going to be those that understand both worlds, and are able to see the opportunities of how technology can influence business in a big way."

Devina Maharaj, Head of Digital

How have you developed your leadership skills?

 
I’ve evolved into most roles I’ve had; I’ve never just been parachuted into a leadership role. I’ve always been part of the team first, with people on the ground, and I think that makes all the difference. The best leaders also surround themselves with people who are better than them and I firmly believe that that is what I have in my team.
 
I also think you have to earn your stripes at Investec: even though I’ve been here 16 years, and headed up other frontline businesses, coming into digital and leading the tech team felt like I was in Grade 1 again. If you approach it that way, people respect you for it and you will build their trust.

 

What do women leaders bring to the boardroom table?

 
People often say female leaders need to lead like men but I’m proud to say that I’ve burst into tears in meetings, and I wear my heart on my sleeve most days – which shows others that it’s ok to be your real self. I don’t shout the loudest or aim to be the most aggressive, but I still hold my ground. I also often purposefully wear a dress when I go into an important meeting because I want people to remember that I’m a woman, and that’s a powerful thing.
 
I also try not to confine myself to only women as inspirational figures, because I think men play a huge role in championing and sponsoring women in the workplace.
 

Who are your mentors?

 
My mom never had the opportunity to work,  although she had a dream of becoming a teacher. But she raised her children so well, and that inspires me. I come from a family of strong women, two older sisters, one a cancer survivor who I truly admire and the other a police detective. They make my day job look easy.
 
I also try not to confine myself to only women as inspirational figures, because I think men play a huge role in championing and sponsoring women in the workplace. I certainly know that without mentors like my husband Garth, Lyndon Subroyen [Global Head: Digital, Investec], Stuart Spencer [COO, Investec Bank Ltd], Malcolm Laing [Investec Group CIO] and team members like Wayne Summers [Head of Digital IT, Investec], I probably wouldn’t be where I am today, because they believed in me and pushed me forward.
 

Women on the rise

Read more inspirational stories from Investec women in business.