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MEET THE BOSS: Khosi Sanni, HMD SA marketing trailblazer with a knack for building loved brands

Makhosaza 'Khosi' Sanni is a seasoned brand marketing professional with over 10 years experience in retail marketing, having managed some of SA's most-loved FMCG and tech brands. The doting married mother of 2 gives NOWinSA the lowdown on her illustrious 7-year tenure as the marketing manager, HMD Global (South Africa), which has seen the company successfully charts new territory as the custodian of Nokia's grand revival in the local smartphone market.

  • Makhosaza ‘Khosi’ Sanni brings with her over 10 years of illustrious brand-marketing track record across FMCG and technology industries, having managed some of SA’s most-loved brands such as Cadbury Bubbly Chocolate, Oreo, and Microsoft Lumia, including Nokia.
  • She has a bachelor of business administration degree (BBA) from Pine Manor College (US)
  • Although she started her career at an advertising agency in 2010, her passion for harnessing the business aspects of brands saw her climb the corporate ladder, eventually taking over the ropes as marketing manager for HMD Global, Southern Africa in 2014.
  • As part of the fabulous 4 HMD SA marketing team, her role entails coordinating and bringing to life marketing campaigns that drive business results and ultimately build a brand that customers love.
  • If not spending time with family and friends over good food and great conversations, the doting married mother of 2 enjoys travelling, looking for authentic and unforgettable experiences that ignite her soul, she says.
Meet The Boss: The journey so far!

A mere mentioned of the name Nokia conjures up fond memories for everyday consumers whose lives have been monumentally transformed by mobile technology from as the early as the 1980s.

We are talking here about a consumer electronic brand that has helped pioneer mobile technology in ways never imagined, with the creation of the first mass-produced GSM phone, the Nokia 1011 in 1992, followed respectively by 5110 (1998), 8210 (1999) and the famed 3310 and 3350 in 2000 .

And while it seemed like Nokia’s rich history was about to become yesterday’s news for good following the company’s decision to exit the mobile phone market in 2013 as it faced enormous competition from the likes of Samsung and Apple (resulting in the subsequent takeover by Microsoft), the company surprisingly made a grand return to the mobile market in 2017. It did so with not 1 but 4 Android-powered smartphones (including a throwback 3310 global rollout) – under the baton of fellow Finnish firm HMD Global as its manufacturing partner. 

Faced with the enormous task of charting the next chapter of Nokia’s mobile phone story, HMD (voted the 10th most loved brand in a Middle East and Africa in a Brand Love Story report by Talkwater), is continuing the tech giant’s tradition of producing reliable and super affordable smartphones, rated by consumers as the easiest to use, along with their signature lasting battery.

HMD has big plans for South Africa for 2021, including the rollout of its first 5G phone, the Nokia 8.3 smartphone, which sells for R13,999 at selected distributors countrywide.

Back in South Africa, the rich legacy of Nokia is nowhere near dissipating, thanks to a dedicated team of professionals who are working tirelessly to ensure that the world renowned phone brand holds its own on the Southern African soil.

One such is HMD SA marketing manager Makhosaza ‘Khosi’ Sanni, whose passion for creating strong brands that people love has undoubtedly helped propel Nokia to greater heights, what with Nokia being voted Africa’s most-loved brand for 2016/2017, the same year she charged with overseeing the Nokia brand at HMD Global.

NOWinSA/Meet The Boss exclusive: Khosi Xaba

Tell us about your career journey to your current role at HMD?

I started my career working at an advertising agency,  but I soon realised the importance of harnessing the business aspects of brand building and not just the story-telling. I then joined Kraft Foods (Mondelez International) as a brand manager, overseeing several brands such as Cadbury Bubbly Chocolate and Oreo biscuit. In 2014, I joined HMD Global, the home of Nokia phones as retail marketing manager, and have had the pleasure of working on a global brand that has brought us iconic phones such as the Nokia 3310.

Why HMD Global. What particularly attracted you to this position?

Working on an iconic global brand, steeped in heritage, especially within South Africa. I also wanted to take up the challenge of working in a typically male dominated tech industry.

In your current role, you talk about the need to be agile and staying ahead of the curve. How do you do this?

In an ever-changing environment, one needs to easily adapt to change and pivot in order to meet growing and demanding consumer needs.

What are some of the exciting initiatives we can expect to see from HMD Global in the next six months?

HMD Global was one of the first brands to launch a global roaming 5G device and with our key partners, we are continuing to make significant steps towards lowering the barriers of entry for 5G. In so doing, we are bringing more premium experiences to consumers at even more accessible price points.

From successfully opening doors in 2016 and establishing 50 offices around the world in the first 11 months to having now established a strong foothold in the global mobile phone market, HMD Global has made great strides in its 5 years of existence. What has been some of the most poignant moments for HMD SA in this regard?

We place a lot of emphasis on trust because consumers put their trust in the Nokia brand. We’ve received 16 consumer awards around trust from around the world and have been voted the most admired brand in Africa.

As global tech brand committed to making modern mobile technology accessible to all, how urgent is this – given the challenges posed by Covid-19?

Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, we’ve seen more and more companies adopting a work from home model. And with technology being an integral part of this, we are continuously bringing innovation and premium experiences across our entire device range, thus making remote working efficient and accessible to all.

Khosi Sanni, marketing manager, South Africa at MDH Global says it’s important for young women to see themselves represented in every sector of business.

What are the challenges Nokia is facing and what are you – in your role as the marketing manager – doing to overcome them?

Coronavirus has forced us to shift our focus from doing face-to face-engagements with our consumers. Where we would previously have engaged them with mall activations, we now need to leverage digital to drive those meaningful conversations. For an example, earlier in the year we ran a ‘48 hours of Change Challenge‘ on our social media platforms where we asked our fans and influencers to use a Nokia device to capture and showcase, the good or change that they are bringing to their community, within a 48-hour period. With this challenge we leveraged technology to tell authentic human stories. 

How has mobile technology changed the way we experience and engage with the world? 

It has brought us closer, made us more connected, for an example the WhatsApp video calls with loved ones or brainstorming sessions with colleagues via Microsoft Teams.

Take us through how Covid-19 has affected you and some of the valuable lessons it has taught you both a family woman and corporate professional?

We’ve been fortunate enough that the devastating impact of Covid-19 hasn’t hit close to home, however my heart goes out to families that have experienced tremendous difficulties and loss.

In terms of the most valuable lesson I’ve learned through this trying times, that would have to the importance of human connections. Although we couldn’t physically be with our loved ones, technology was a great enabler in maintaining those social connections. The weekly catch-up video calls with my friends were a great source of support. Just knowing that you are not alone during this time of crisis helped eased anxiety and stress level.

What advice would you give to young women considering a career in technology?

Although we are underrepresented in this sector, women have an important role to play in driving this change. Diversity in the workplace fosters an environment where multiple viewpoints can thrive, which in turn drives productivity and overall business performance.

What are some of the challenges you had to learn to navigate in becoming the woman you are today?

The importance of women-to women mentorships. At every step in my career, I have been lucky enough to be guided by a number of women who’ve helped me navigate through challenges in the workplace, championed and facilitated my career progression. They were the perfect examples of the notion that “your world is indeed your oyster”.

Furthermore, it is important for young women to see themselves represented in every sector and at all levels to know that it is possible and that every dream is valid.

Who inspires you – be it professionally or personally?

Personally, my 6 year old niece. Seeing life through the lens of a child is always inspiring. There are great lessons that I can adopt in my daily life. She’s fearless and is always ready to try new things, has quickly adapted to homeschooling with no issues, and her dreams and imagination know no bounds. She is Princess Elsa today and a teacher the next day, and she quickly moves on from disappointment, or things that she deems trivial with a renewed sense of adventure and hope.

A ‘ Brand Love Story 200’ by analytics company, Talkwalker, named HMD Global as the Most Loved Brand in the Middle East and Africa!
Tankiso Komane
Tankiso Komane
A Tshwane University of Technology journalism graduate, Tankiso Komane has a vast experience in print & broadcast media business and has worked for some of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, including The Sowetan, The Citizen, The Times, and The New Age. Through her varied work as a journalist, notably as a copywriter for SABC1 (On-Air promotions) and as a publicist for Onyx Communications, she has developed an in-depth understanding of the nature of the media business and how to use it for the purpose of exposure. Her expertise in journalism across various disciplines, coupled with a good reputation, has laid the foundation of a new kind "trust in Journalism" as the media ecosystem continues to digitally evolve.
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