She dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but she did not qualify. After doing a voice-over for an advert at MBC, the public radio officials were impressed and asked her to apply for a job as a junior presenter. She is now station manager for Channel For All Nations (CAN) radio in Lilongwe. Soon, her dream to head both radio and television stations under one roof would be realised. She is Jennifer Mmodzi-Tseka. Albert Sharra traces her journey.
Who is Jennifer?
I was born in Nkhata Bay in 1978. I am a fifth born. We were eight in our family, three girls and five boys [having lost my brother and sister]. My father was a policeman and my mother, Efrida, was a house wife but she was running a small business. I did part of my primary education here in Malawi and finished it in Zimbabwe. I also did part of my secondary education in Zimbabwe where my father was sent on a diplomatic mission. We later moved to Ethiopia until my late secondary school days. I learnt to appreciate different cultures in these foreign countries.
Tell us about your immediate family.
I am happily married to Richard Tseka, who is an accountant. Together, we have four children, namely: Chiku, Allan, Dave and Wilson. They are a great team.
As a mother, how do you manage to balance family and work?
I have learnt over the years to separate work and home life. Although for a woman you are constantly battling against one thing or the other, whether at work, shopping or at church, you are bound to have your motherly feelings overcome you. In my years of work I have learned that at some point work needs to slow down and family gets attention. Weekends are for my family and church activities. I try to prepare meals for my family every now and again. I try to keep in constant touch with the needs of my family. My husband is supportive of my work.
Did you have big dreams as a child?
I wanted to become a lawyer. But I found myself in the media industry, although by chance. At 19, I joined the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Radio 2 FM as a junior presenter. I went to do voice-overs for adverts but ended up applying for a job. I underwent interviews and did well. I am grateful to my parents. They always encouraged us to work hard in school and always be prayerful. We grew up knowing that it was possible for both boys and girls to attain their dreams in life and here I am.
Take us through your professional journey.
After I joined MBC, I rose through the system up to the position of senior assistant announcer. Then I resigned in 2004 and joined a newly licensed CAN Community Radio as an assistant station manager. I had little managerial background but I was bold, courageous and had the confidence that my parents instilled in me as a child. I led a team of four people at the time and have seen the radio grow to a national broadcaster with seven permanent staff and over 10 volunteers. Most of my team members are men. Where others would fear, I take it as a positive challenge.
Did you face any struggles to adjust yourself to the needs of a Christian radio?
After working in a secular system for a while, I somehow struggled to adjust. Whereas it was business and entertainment at MBC, here it is about counting every minute as a time that a soul would be saved and transformed. From a background of being the best entertainer and remaining commercial, I had to look beyond entertainment but at the same time being able to garner business to stay afloat as a business.
You are now the station manager; are you satisfied?
Yes, I am grateful to God for having brought me this far. I am also thankful to the wonderful team that I have worked with, but there is more. I am pursuing more studies. I want one day to be an employer. I look forward to running my own media house specialising in discovering and nurturing talent. I want to form a platform where young celebrities can be mentored to help them realise more out of life as celebrities. I feel a lot of young celebrities fall in traps of alcohol, drug abuse and other misfortunes because no one is there to help them handle issues that come with fame at any level.
What do you think makes you stand out?
One would think being a leader who is a woman simply makes me stand out. But I think it’s my level of perseverance and seeing beyond today. I was one of the pioneers of Radio 2 FM; I am one of the pioneers of CAN Radio and now CAN TV. The going has been tough but I have weathered the storms and come this far when others gave up. I like to see things through, difficult as the journey may seem.
Any plans for CAN?
It has been over seven years, but we are yet to get to our destination. I would like to see CAN Radio and TV sustain itself in every aspect, including financially. I would like to see it employ the best and be the best employee. But above all, I would like to see CAN have the best quality signal and have its presence consistently all over Malawi. It has been an achievement to have been broadcasting this long but there is still a lot of work to be done.
What are the challenges that you have faced or are still facing?
Most of the challenges have been in breaking through the market. I feel we have a great listenership but have not marketed ourselves that’s why we have struggled financially. But we have put in measures to counteract this. One of them is the ZIKOMO promotion we recently ran.
Do you have any awards on your table?
Not awards as such. But while working in the media I am proud to have been the only woman selected into the taskforce assigned to resuscitate the then defunct Media Council of Malawi in September 2005 at Ku Chawe. I worked with the likes of Al Osman, Patrick Semphere and Alfred Ntonga among others. We worked together and even went on a 10 day study tour to Tanzania, all in trying to revive the Media Council of Malawi, which was resuscitated in 2007.
I was also privileged to co-host the then Entertainers of the Year organised annually by MBC. I was very young but people seemed to recognise the talent in me.
What have you learnt from life’s journey?
I have learnt to remain calm in difficult situations. Leadership is not kids play. You always have to have solutions to challenges that come daily. I have learned to trust God more. I have learned to value people and relationships. Losing my sister, brother and parents way before they could see the fruit of their labour was a dark moment for me. I have learned to love and invest in people a little more; you will not always have them around.
What is it that you do when you get some alone time’?
I read the Bible, novels, and a lot of books and articles on leadership. I am a fan of John Maxwell’s writings. I also enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and hope that maybe one day we will open a family restaurant. I enjoy nature.