Breaking four-wheel barriers

JEÁNNE ESTERHUIZEN – PRESIDENT OF RMI

Born in Barkley East, Jeánne Esterhuizen has always had a passion and love for beautiful cars and bikes. She and her business partner opened Technicolour in 1994 as a small micro enterprise. In the space of just 15 years it has grown into a large company and is currently rated as the best overall Motor Body Repairer in the Free State.

Frustrated with onerous legislation she soon realised she needed to expand her influence from a small business space into the larger industry where she could influence and impact policy. As National President of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation, Free State and National Chairperson of the RMI, Chairperson of the RMI National Training Committee, National and Regional Chairperson of SAMBRA as well as her membership and representation on a number of other Boards, she is integrally involved in policy, transformation, sustainability, wage negotiations and a number of other key Human Resource issues impacting the industry and its employees.

Esterhuizen is a powerhouse to be reckoned with, bringing in a refreshing and dynamic perspective to an industry still largely dominated by men.

You describe yourself as a conscious capitalist

For those that don’t know the “Conscious Capitalist Credo” it is founded on the belief that business is good because it creates value; it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange; it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more. I really believe in that and feel we can all do more to uplift the people and communities around us. I have seen what we have been able to achieve in our own small community. It was only much later the realisation came that through my broader involvement in the industry, the industry could inadvertently provide a platform to grow and to share my business experience as a means of giving back to industry.

How important is a formal degree?

When I first started I could not study full time so I had to study part-time. Unfortunately, I could not finish any one degree due to personal tragedies experienced at different points in my career. Fortunately, I was blessed with incredible mentors who taught me everything I needed to know to be successful in business while I was working.

Most of the knowledge I have, which is topic specific, I acquired on my own. I used to import books from Barnes and Noble from a young age. Nowadays I acquire audible books regularly to assist me to cope with the demands of business and to perform to my utmost potential. So, my advice to young people is don’t think it is the end of the road if you can’t finish a degree. You must, however, be an avid consumer of information – have a voracious appetite for detail. I have read fact and fiction from the very young age of four and have never stopped. Also try and complete as many courses you can in your chosen field of work to add to your overall understanding.

How important are mentors?

They are everything. I have been blessed with having so many people, academics and authors who have helped me along the way. In particular, however, there are two gentlemen I have to mention. One was a Chartered Accountant and the other an IR Specialist. The Chartered Accountant is no longer alive but the IR specialist is a successful businessman in a completely different field and he lives in Australia currently. We are still in contact.

I must also acknowledge Merseta, RMI and MISA who have supported me in my personal development and thirst for knowledge. Equally, without the success of my own business it would not have been possible to spend so much time giving back to industry and society in general. I have a generous business partner and fantastic dynamic management team and employees to thank for the success of our company. My son runs the business in my absence. He is an absolute joy. He is a progressively successful entrepreneur who is an inspiration to both young and old.

What is the biggest challenge in the industry?

Training and skills development. I am a firm believer that skills development and training are key drivers to stimulate economic growth in South Africa and create sustainable jobs. Small businesses fail mainly due to a lack of skill to manage and grow their business.

We work closely with training institutions in Bloemfontein to train artisans, not only to meet our own needs, but also to provide to industry as our trades fall in the category of scarce and critical skills. We are currently diversifying into new areas of business and embarked on an exciting journey to implement a niche digital marketing strategy to position ourselves a notch above the rest for generations to come.

How important is passion?

It is the key to success. I have always loved beautiful cars and bikes. I was very young when I made up my mind that I would drive a Mercedes Benz when I was grown up. Besides cars over the years I have driven off-road bikes, progressed to superbikes and eventually settled down with a dual-purpose BMW 800 GS. This I eventually sold and now I like performance, yet comfortable cars. I couldn’t be in a better industry if I tried.

As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated environment what are your biggest challenges?

Sexism is, I am afraid, alive and well in our male-dominated environment, but definitely not only confined to the motor industry. It affects women and girls as it often leads to gender discrimination. The belief that men are intrinsically superior to women is still clearly defined in terms of workplace inequality. This inequality is prevalent in the decision-making process of some companies and/or in their pay practices. It is my experience when a woman stands firm on her principles in the boardroom or workplace and refuses to capitulate, male pride is sometimes compromised and this can cloud good judgement and lead to conflict.

I was brought up to believe only in the ability entrusted to me so I have no pride when I walk into a boardroom and that has helped me a great deal to function optimally.

Why do you feel women can do well in this industry or any business for that matter?

A number of studies have shown women work harder than men, are more precise in execution of tasks, easily adapt to change and are more socially conscious. These qualities are needed in business, specifically in relation to the types of challenges any modern-day business faces.

What advice can you give other women wanting to enter the industry?

If you love technology and commerce and are interested to know how beautiful and powerful vehicles and motorcycles are designed, built, maintained and repaired, then this is the industry for you. It is also an industry in which you can do well. We actually have four women on our RMI board which is good for any industry. A large majority of our member associations also employee women to engage with customers, handle the administration and human resource functions as well as the ordering of supplies and so on. Many of these businesses start as family-owned businesses so mothers, wives and daughters all get involved.

What are your four most important life lessons?

* You need a social conscience. You need to be part of the bigger picture and must share your knowledge and successes.

* No person is ever an island. Mentors, friends and colleagues play a significant part in one’s own personal development and growth.

* Never compromise your values.

* Always learn more than you need to – superficial knowledge is dangerous.

* Be dynamic, willing to buy into life-long learning and work and enjoy finding solutions to complex problems.

Biggest disappointments?

None. Life is precious and every disappointment has a lesson hidden in it. Best to search until you find what it is to prevent it from reoccurring.

What two attributes do you think are the most important for success? Innovative thinking and a fundamental belief that you are unique and have a specific purpose in this life.

Best advice to other business owners

* Always grow your business in relation to what it can handle. Don’t be overwhelmed by other people’s success. Learn to differentiate yourself from others.

* Live at the doorstep of experts and learn.

* Share life experiences so others can learn and benefit from them.

* Never look at your success in isolation. Understand the place and value of acquired knowledge.

* Only surround yourself with good people and worthy causes.

* Add value wherever you go and you will have the ability to give back to society.

* Be motivated by watching your own efforts translating into success for other businesses.

Greatest business achievements

* Honorary Fellowship: awarded March 2017 by The Institute of the Motor Industry, a global Professional Body based in the UK. To date I am the only woman outside of the UK to be awarded this prestigious acknowledgement of my efforts in the area of Skills Development and Training both locally and internationally.

* Acknowledgement from the previous Minister of Higher Education and Training for my contribution to developing the skills of the workforce in SA.

* Automobile Person of the Year in 2011.

Greatest personal achievements/hobbies

Raising a child to be proud of.

Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and landing a large Tiger Fish in Zambia while a crocodile was trying to grab it.

Favourite saying

Live every day as if it is your last.