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A purpose-driven mission

With an innate passion for aligning people and purpose, Genine Jacobs, Standard Bank’s executive head of People and Culture in Personal and Private Banking South Africa, works to empower individuals to enhance every aspect of their lives. She does this with an energy, focus, and belief that underscores her deep passion for the work she does.

Building on her BA Honours in Psychology degree, Jacobs has spent her 20-year career at Standard Bank progressing up the corporate ladder, while still finding time to continuously upskill herself, including achieving an MBA qualification through MANCOSA. ‘The organisation has really invested in me, and in a personal capacity,’ she says. ‘Whether it’s completing functional or technical learning or leadership programmes, the many programmes I have done over the years have not only helped me to remain relevant, but also prepared me for the increasingly complex work I’ve been exposed to in my career.’

Jacobs explains that not only has this exposure helped her to grow as a person, ‘but these learning journeys and programmes have also helped me to be more open-minded and to see possibilities that, if I hadn't gone through them, I wouldn't have seen before’. In her view, such programmes not only allow people to acquire new knowledge, skills, and competencies, but also to build priceless networks and relationships that can only enhance their careers. Jacobs particularly benefitted from work immersions in locations such as Kenya, Ghana, and China. ‘When I came back and I needed something, I knew who to call, which continues to make me a lot more effective in my job.’

As such, Jacobs is full of praise for the immersive learning experiences that Henley Business School Africa offers. ‘If you think about adult learning, it’s not just about the classroom and the theory, but this immersive, practical, application-based learning that Henley Business School Africa does really well.’

Walking the journey together

Standard Bank established a partnership with Henley Business School Africa in 2018, recognising their shared focus on equipping employees of all levels with the skills and competencies needed for the future world of work. According to Jacobs, ‘At Standard Bank, we have a deep sense of purpose, which is really to make an impact on this continent and to move Africa forward. So, in 2018, when we started what we call our capability-building journeys, we were looking for partners that could walk a journey with us to realise our people promise.’ Standard Bank connected with Henley Business School Africa because the institution did not just provide qualifications, but resonated with this shared purpose.

‘Henley Business School Africa is one of our amazing partners on this path where we are ensuring that our people remain relevant as the world of work continues to evolve,’ Jacobs reveals. ‘They build the people that build the businesses. We believe it is those partnerships that can drive this continent forward. Henley Business School Africa is invested in the journey, they’re invested in our people, and they’re absolutely invested in our purpose.’

As of 2023, Standard Bank has put close to 750 graduates across several levels and business segments through a variety of the business school’s programmes. This is a significant investment in ensuring that the financial institution not only future-proofs its organisation, but also builds longevity for its people.

The bank’s culture heavily centres on creating learning journeys for every member of the organisation – each day, each person is learning something new – which is critical considering the rapid pace of the changing world of work. ‘We focus on role-based learning – ensuring that you have the skills and the capability and competence to deliver in your role,’ Jacobs continues. ‘We also believe that, with the history of South Africa, not everybody had the opportunity to study and gain qualifications. We therefore invest in our people and our people partner with us. Today, there’s a hunger to learn and people understand the power of learning and how it helps them show up differently and remain relevant.’

The leadership journey

On a personal level, Jacobs believes in servant leadership. As such, she empowers and coaches her people. ‘I believe in setting a strategic vision and direction and putting goals together as a team and making sure that we co-create a journey,’ she says. She backs up this vision by empowering individuals and teams to own these journeys, coaching them, and removing obstacles along the way, thereby giving them the freedom to excel.

‘What is always top of mind for me is: am I creating an environment of meaningful work for my teams? Do they feel that their personal purpose is connected to our goals and purpose? And more often than not, I think because we are in such a purpose-led organisation, you find that people are deeply connected to the work that we do and the purpose that we’re driving.’

Speaking frankly about the challenges she has faced through her career, Jacobs particularly recalls times when she felt self-doubt or what is commonly known as imposter syndrome. These personal experiences now enable her to help others navigate similar obstacles.

‘There’s this questioning of your abilities and whether you have the capabilities to do it, which leads to this overachieving,’ Jacob explains. ‘I’ve found myself in that space quite a few times, especially when I’ve made transitions in my career where I’d be working excessively hard in setting these high standards – not set by anyone else but me, driven by my fear of failure. I think it’s more these personal challenges that one often needs to overcome.’

She managed to achieve this by acknowledging her feelings and reframing her negative thoughts about herself. ‘I had to seek support. I believe in mentoring and coaching – I think they both add value – just making sure that you reach out for help and set realistic goals,’ shares Jacobs. ‘I’ve had multiple mentors and multiple coaches at different phases and seasons of my career both within and outside of the organisation.’ She explains that mentees learn from their mentors’ mistakes and successes, and these individuals then become a valuable sounding board when it comes to making critical decisions. Meanwhile, coaches can help build specific capabilities along one’s journey.

Negotiating challenges is also about tapping into your support system, whether it is made up of friends or colleagues. ‘When I speak to females in my circle, we somehow seem to struggle with similar challenges,’ Jacobs says. ‘Our discussions are around how we support each other and hold each other’s hands through this.’

Personal trials drive professional purpose

While there have been many career-defining moments and great successes in her career, Jacob reveals she has been most impacted by the personal tests she has faced. ‘In 2010, I almost lost my husband and, in 2016, I almost lost my youngest daughter. It was at these two really painful points that I resolved in my heart that we have to live purposeful-led lives, because life is very fragile and tomorrow is never guaranteed.’

As a result, feeling purpose in and passion for her work is essential. ‘I’m not in this profession by accident. I’m passionate about people and the people that I serve,’ explains Jacobs, who takes great pride in knowing that the work she does today will make a difference in the future.

‘In Personal and Private Banking, where my work is focused, we have a vision statement that says each generation has to be better than the previous one. So, whatever we’re going to do, whether it’s for our clients or for our people, we have to make sure that through this generation we set up the next one for even greater success.’

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