Thuli Manyoha leaves you with the feeling that there’s something in the water at Old Mutual Insure. The 34-year-old FD of what used to be called Mutual & Federal is evidently enjoying herself.

"Old Mutual Insure is in such a good space," a vibrant Manyoha tells the FM.

"What we’re building is something we’ll be proud of for years."

Profit at Old Mutual’s short-term insurance unit has come under pressure in recent years, so much so that the business’s turnaround is one of group CEO Peter Moyo’s eight "battlegrounds": key focus areas to bolster Old Mutual’s market share and returns.

"Our target is to come off that list," Manyoha says with a laugh.

And she is confident that Old Mutual Insure’s overhauled executive team has what it takes. The changes afoot at the insurer have created a buzz in the industry that is helping it attract young, energetic talent, Manyoha says.

She is proof of this, joining Old Mutual Insure in January from MMI Holdings, where she was shareholder segment CFO and worked closely with former CFO Mary Vilakazi.

"I have grown to love this industry [insurance]," says Manyoha, who spent five years auditing banks at Deloitte. "One never looks at clouds the same way," she adds, making reference to the extreme weather risks that are the bane of short-term insurers’ lives.

Quite unrelated to insurance, Manyoha contemplated becoming a nun, a teacher or a lawyer while growing up. But on a trip to visit her sister, who was studying accounting at the University of Cape Town, a 15-year-old Manyoha discovered that finance was for her.

Outside of being the FD of one of the country’s largest short-term insurers, Manyoha and her husband, a tech entrepreneur, love the outdoors — in particular bush getaways where they are likely to be without cellphone reception.

They are also motorsport enthusiasts. On weekends, Manyoha can be spotted in a bright red Mini, which her husband spent a year restoring. The 1963 Mk1 Austin Mini comes complete with a white roof, tanned leather seats and an Instagram profile — @iamminimeza.

She may drive a racy red car on weekends, but Manyoha has her feet firmly on the ground. This is thanks in large part to her mother, her primary influencer, who worked two nursing jobs to pay for a private school education for Manyoha. "She is the epitome of hard work, resilience and success," Manyoha says.

A hard worker herself, Manyoha also has bucketloads of talent. But she is quick to acknowledge that individuals who took an interest in grooming her helped accelerate her career progress.

This probably explains why she is a huge proponent of transformation and is helping to drive it within Old Mutual Insure. "I am a product of transformation. It is not my talent alone that has brought me to where I am, I was groomed along the way," she tells the FM.

"I’m sure I would have become an FD eventually, but it would have taken longer. We need to be deliberate about transformation, it won’t happen by itself."

Her appointment at a white, male-dominated insurance company is a major step in the right direction.