Absa Group impact story - IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Innovation

Daring to dream has been transformative for Absa Group’s Siphamandla Ntombela

IMD alumni Siphamandla Ntombela is making a name for himself as an innovator who is not afraid to think out of the box at pan-African organization Absa Group.
March 2024

Siphamandla Ntombela has spent the last 20 years in the banking and insurance sector in South Africa. In the last two years, he has won the bank’s 2023 National Excellence Award for Innovation and been promoted twice. He credits his participation in the IMD Innovation in Action program for giving him the confidence he needed to succeed. 

The program gives participants practical opportunities to put innovative thinking into action through visits to the likes of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and a leading Swiss hotel school.  

“Innovation in Action challenges you to play a role as a leader amongst leaders and ultimately makes you question how you can use innovation in the space you are in to make a meaningful impact on business and on society,” explains Ntombela.  

The program attracts participants from all over the world, with half coming from the world of sport and entertainment and the other half from across industry.

“Being exposed to such diversity was impactful and really helped me to open my mind. One of the biggest challenges we have as human beings is the fear of rejection.”

“What this program made me realize is that feelings of inferiority can hamper us from thinking out of the box,” he says.  

When Ntombela returned to work, he was far more open to presenting his ideas and to being comfortable with the rejection that could follow.  

“If someone likes your idea, they like it. If they don’t, it’s okay; you can move on to the next door. You don’t have to walk away with rejection written all over your face,” he reflects.  

How a simple idea can have a significant impact

Ntombela’s first promotion saw him take on the role of VP-Manager of Direct Customer Sales for Home Loans in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. In this role, Ntombela soon made a name for himself when he launched “Homie Wednesdays,” a campaign aimed at driving awareness of the bank’s home loan offering in the province’s 70 branches.  

“The reality is that home loans are more complicated to understand than other offerings like vehicle finance, and our branch staff’s knowledge of this product was not where it needed to be to get the kind of new bond registrations in the province that we were hoping for,” says Ntombela.  

He challenged himself to find a way to make home loans more accessible and less intimidating. That’s where “Homie Wednesdays” came about. 

“In South Africa, when you say ‘Hey homie,’ it’s like saying ‘Hey, my buddy’,” explains Ntombela. “It’s an informal and friendly way to greet someone, and that’s the tone I wanted to set so that more staff would feel comfortable talking about this product offering.”  

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Ntombela created a series of “Homie Wednesday” WhatsApp GIFs and encouraged staff to start their Wednesdays by sharing them to make home loans top of mind. It proved so popular, and the increase in new home loan registrations was so noticeable that it was implemented across the country and led to him winning the bank’s 2023 National Excellence Award for Innovation. 

“Yes, it’s a simple idea, and I am sure there are many people asking why they didn’t think of it. But in a big organization, it takes courage to bring your ideas to the boardroom table,” says Ntombela.  

A newfound confidence to take on even bigger challenges

For Ntombela, another key takeaway of the program was just how much is possible if we put our minds to it.  

“As part of the program, we visited a company that recycles anything and everything. I came away with a newfound appreciation of what can be achieved if we just allow ourselves to think bigger,” says Ntombela.  

“This is why, when I was approached for a new role just 16 months after moving into home loans, I was able to overcome the fears I may have previously had about the unknown and embrace the opportunity,” he explains.  

Ntombela’s new role as a relationship banker specializing in the manufacturing, renewables, transport, and logistics sectors will see him move away from retail and into business banking for the first time.  

“Yes, it is a completely different side of the business, and the loan amounts are exponentially larger than in retail, but I feel more confident to go out and face my fears because my mind has been opened to a ‘dare-to-dream’ way of thinking.”