Compuscan Women in Business – Part 1/4

Annelene Dippenaar joined Compuscan to establish the organisation’s legal, compliance, and risk function across southern Africa and Southeast Asia. Specialising in commercial law, data privacy, and the law of credit, she was appointed Chief Legal, Compliance and Risk Officer in 2015. In addition to her primary role, Annelene serves as the company secretary. Prior to joining Compuscan, Annelene gained vast experience as a practising attorney and lecturer in commercial and insolvency law at both Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape.

As a successful woman in business, we caught up with Annelene to discuss her journey.

During childhood, there are often clues to a person’s adult character and interests. Tell us a little about your background.

Q: What type of family did you have?

A: I am the eldest child; my youngest sister is 5 years my junior. My father left school early to help his parents on their farm and ultimately served in the South African Police Force. This is where he met my mother. I am very fortunate my parents encouraged us and worked very hard to ensure we received a good education.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: We stayed in Wolseley, a small town close to Ceres, until I was about 5. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents stayed there as well. I have fond memories of making koeksisters (a sweet syrupy deep-fried dough) with my kwaai ouma (“Strict grandmother”). I loved reading Liewe Heksie (“Beloved Little Witch”) and role-playing the book in a big sand pit with my other granny. I grew up loving books and I spent most of my time reading. We then moved to Alexander Bay – another small town, but on the border between South Africa and Namibia. After several years, we moved down to Cape Town.

Q: What did you want to become when you grew up?

A: I wanted to become either a photo journalist, psychologist or a lawyer – I have always wanted to help people.

Q: Describe your academic career and why you chose to study in this field?

A: I went to school in Paarl where I stayed in the hostel – I absolutely loved it. In Grade 11, I attended a court case where a man was charged with murder after he helped euthanise his father, who was dying of cancer. He was found guilty but only received a sentence of one night in jail. It was then that I realised that law would be a way to help people.

After high school, I attended in Stellenbosch Uni. I studied a BA (Law), LLB and then a LLM, specialising in Corporate Governance. In my first year, I had a wonderful lecturer, and I decided I wanted to do law of surrogacy. In my final year, I had the privilege of being lectured by a brilliant professor and I fell in love with company law – specifically corporate governance. I decided not to do articles and rather did Master’s with this professor.

Q: What was your very first job? What did you learn from it?

A: I eventually completed my articles at a small firm in Techno Park, Stellenbosch. I was 24 when I started my first job. I learned that to be a lawyer you need to be extremely organised and efficient.

Q: Describe your career path from that job to now?

A: Compuscan was a client of my previous firm. They contacted my previous firm to ask if they could second me for a few mornings a week. I was extremely upset with my firm for even considering this. A few weeks later, a friend told me she saw an advert; Compuscan was looking for a full-time legal person. I applied for the position and I have been here for about 8 years.

Q: Have you ever found it challenging to be a woman in the corporate world?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. While the environment at Compuscan is very inclusive to woman and there is no discrimination, we do miss out on some of the more informal talks that take place when the guys go fishing or hunting. I am bewildered by the need of “woman in the corporate world” type groups or associations. Despite most players in our industry being male, I am fortunate that I have not experienced the stereotypical behaviours associated with a male-dominated environment.

Q: Who is your female role model, and why?

A: Malala Yousafzai – she stood up for female education. She’s an activist who is trying to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn. Despite being very young woman in a patriarchal environment and society, she stood up for something she believed in. I believe that if we address the issues surrounding education, many of our world’s problems can be addressed.

Q: You have succeeded in reaching a position of great responsibility in this company. What are your thoughts on this?

A: My responsibilities sometimes seem a bit scary – I often think I am not equipped to do this job. There is a saying about being like a duck: Calm on the surface, but paddling like mad under the water – that is me most of the time.

Q: What advice do you have for other women who hope to attain the kind of success that you have?

A: While I am unsure whether that which I have achieved is “success”, the advice I can offer originates from two great quotes that I live by:

“Put your head down and work” – if you work hard, opportunities tend to present themselves.

“Grab every opportunity” – even if you are not sure you can do it, there is a 99% chance that you will learn how to do it as you go along.