In the 1990s, Delphine Traoré Maïdou earned $4.25 an hour shoveling snow outside the Cathedral of Learning. Now, the 1996 Pitt business and accounting graduate is logging substantial travel miles as an executive for Allianz Africa, a subsidiary of the global Fortune 100 financial services corporation that focuses on insurance and asset management.
“There is really no such thing as a typical day,” said Maïdou while in the midst of a two-week business trip that took her from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Casablanca, Morocco, by way of Dubai.
She travels regularly across 17 African countries where Allianz has offices, as well as to its global headquarters in Munich, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe to advise corporate executives. Working across multiple time zones, there is no fixed beginning or end of the day, either.
“Let’s say, the only consistent thing in my day is that it’s a 12-hour shift minimum,” she said.
Maïdou’s international scope of responsibility results from her role as chief operating officer for Allianz Africa. She has been credited with turning around Allianz’s reputation in South Africa after the company left the country in 2000 and re-entered in 2010.
“Delphine has done a sterling job in restoring trust that brokers and clients need,” the African Reinsurance Corporation said in a statement earlier this year when it recognized Maïdou as Insurance CEO of the Year. The award was given for “demonstrating sound management and leadership through the promotion of professionalism and best practices,” according to Allianz.
Maïdou also received the Africa Economy Builders CEO of the Year award for significant contributions she made to Africa’s economy as the result of Allianz’s hiring and broad insurance offering in the region.
And Maïdou credits Pitt with helping to put her on the path to success.
She grew up in Burkina Faso in West Africa, the oldest of four children. At age 11, her father, an engineer with the United Nations, accepted a position in Chad, a war-torn country south of Libya, because it offered better pay so that he could send his children to university.
“It had always been my dream to study abroad,” she said. The French-speaking Maïdou wanted to become a translator, and her father recommended school in the United States.
After choosing Pitt, 18-year-old Maïdou and her father traveled to the U.S. She arrived on campus speaking barely any English. Her father stayed with her for about a week before heading back to Africa.
“I think one of the turning points in my life was when he left — I was in a country of 300 million people, I spoke not a word of the language and knew not a soul,” Maïdou said. She took language classes, and after four months, she spoke English well enough to enroll as a first-year student.
At one point, she struggled academically in a finance course, but instead of dropping the class, she was determined to stick with it.
“The academic team at the University helped build in me the courage to believe that you can do and be anything you want,” she said.
While her father was able to help to pay tuition and book expenses, Maïdou took jobs at Pitt, which allowed her “to earn a bit of pocket money and help my parents.”
She worked part-time with the grounds crew working around the Cathedral of Learning for her first two years making minimum wage. During her two final years, she did clerical work.
“I mastered the copy machine,” she said smiling.
Upon graduation, Maïdou had four job offers and chose a position as an insurance underwriter with Ohio Casualty, although it wasn’t her first choice of profession.
“My Pitt adviser had to explain what an underwriter was,” she said.
While working for Ohio Casualty, she earned a Master of Business Administration at Boston University in 2005. She then took an underwriter job with Allianz North America and eventually led the company’s marketing in Canada. In 2012, she went to Johannesburg, South Africa, to open an Allianz office. Now, she’s in charge of structuring and aligning operations of the various Allianz companies in 17 countries across Africa.
Maïdou also feels a responsibility to guide young black women in the business world.
“You are given a certain level of authority and influence to be able to pave the way for others,” she said. “If not, your influence and authority mean absolutely nothing.”
According to a 2016 report, 5 percent of CEOs in Africa are women. The global average is 4 percent. Maïdou was elected in 2015 as the first black female president in the 117-year history of the Insurance Institute of South Africa. In a statement at the time, the institute’s chief executive officer David Harpur recognized Maïdou’s “passion for transformation, education and skills development within the insurance industry.”
“There are a lot of young women who remind me of myself 10 to 20 years ago because I see the hunger to learn and the drive to succeed,” Maidou said in a 2016 interview with BBC Africa. “This is also an opportunity to build other people like me so I don’t end up sitting alone in the C-suite as a woman and as a black person.”
It’s her duty, she said, “to make sure young women who have the potential to grow in the company or in the industry get access to the right people.”
She added: “As far as I’m concerned, that’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”