Interview: Sumitra Nydoo

SA Times catches up with SA business journalist Sumitra Nydoo.

By Susan Miller

Top South African business journalist Sumitra Nydoo is a hard act to imitate.

For most of us any of the following jobs would be enough – presenting the business news from 5am on Radio 702, tutoring business people on TV appearances, writing for Forbes Africa, presenting for China Central TV – but Sumitra has also started an MBA.

I asked the mother of two where she got her energy from?

“I like everything that I do. We do try and get away on short holidays. That helps. The pressure can feel overwhelming...”

The Durban-born presenter and journalist started on P4 radio in KZN before heading to Johannesburg to join the short-lived Business Day Radio. She moved to television after being offered an audition by the head of Summit TV Vernon Matzopoulos.

“I had no ambition to be on TV, I wanted to be a magazine reporter but they said they wanted to use me.”

What particular pressures do you face as a TV journalist?

“All the stuff I did was live television - that in itself is a big challenge.” In those early days Sumitra needed a trainer who told her to ‘loosen her face a little bit and smile’ because she was ‘coming across so stiff’.

Other pressures included ‘learning how to use an earpiece and being able to read the autocue”.

Reporting live from the JSE was daunting but after a while she was hooked.

“It gave me such an adrenaline rush. I love interacting with the board, speaking to the camera and talking about the markets.

“It’s nerve-wracking, it’s live and there’s no was crazy sometimes.

While Sumitra has become one of South Africa’s most respected financial journalists, she didn’t start off intending to move into business reporting.

“At the start I felt a bit like ‘ooh God, this is hard’ but really early I felt like I clicked... but I had to do a lot of learning on my own.

“I also had really good editors along the way and I got a bit of formal training.”

This included a spot on the financial journalism course at the Sanlam-sponsored Winter School as part of a prize and later heading to Wits Business School to study basic economic literacy, which formalised much of what she had already picked up. Now of course it’s onto her MBA.

I asked Sumitra about the perception that business, the markets and even financial journalism are male-dominated.

“It is still very male-dominated. I get job offers all the time and I don’t think it’s just because I am really great – there is a lack of female business journalists. “On 702 they wanted a black woman to come on and do business to break up the show – they had too many men and they battled to find somebody. There is a gap and a huge opportunity and more females should be trained from an earlier age to get into it because it is such an exciting field.”

After her years reporting from the JSE does she play the markets?

“I don’t think I ever had enough money. When the opportunity arose I did buy shares, in the last couple of years there have been a lot of empowerment deals – opening up shares to non-white South Africans so that was a cheaper option and I did buy them. But I would love to get into it because there are shares that I picked years ago and some of them are doing very well...”

Would you advise people to get into the markets?

“I think the market is a gamble and it’s not for everybody. I always say you have to determine where you are in life – if you’re not a risk-taker then you will be devastated if you lose your money.”

How do you think South Africa is doing considering the world’s economic problems?

“Pretty good but we can’t actually escape what’s happening internationally especially as Europe is our largest trading partner. But I think our Finance Ministry is doing a brilliant job.”

Are there any things you would change?

“I think we have too much regulation and get bogged down. Starting a small business is hard in this country. There’s so much paperwork and if you want to get funding it’s very hard – I’ve been there –no-body wanted to give me a loan. I was under 30 and I didn’t have much of a credit history.... it feels like if you want to get financing you have to prove that you don’t need the money in order to get the money.

“We need to loosen up a whole lot of policy about small business because it’s really important in creating jobs and uplifting the economy.

So at the moment you’re getting up at 3.45am for the breakfast show, writing, training and presenting for CCTV Africa?

Yes, they launched last year and built studios in Kenya, every evening they pass to me for South African business. I like doing TV a lot.

Chinese investment in South Africa is a whole ‘nother story?

“Yes, somebody told me the other day ‘they’ve bought you too... (laughs)’