BY : Denise Norris | Ronnies Motors | Marketing & CRM Manager
Established in 1948, Ronnies Motors have not only grown in reputation and technology, but also in their staff complement, and empowering women in the workplace. Men have traditionally dominated the automotive industry, but times are most definitely changing and Ronnies Motors has embraced the change with appointing and growing female managers, sales executives and technicians to help their business continue to be the success it is today. Here are a few of the ladies on what it takes to survive and flourish in this once male-dominated industry.
CHARLENE BIRKHOLTZ – SERVICE MANAGER, PASSENGER VEHICLES
Charlene has been in the automotive industry for 16 years. She has a vast experience in the aftersales department and was appointed as admin manager in 2007 after working abroad at Mercedes-Benz in London and got promoted to Service Manager at Ronnies in 2014.
How do you cope daily, overseeing a service department with such a large complement of staff and processes?
With the support of a fantastic team and an open chain of communication between both frontline and workshop staff so that we can focus on areas together as a team to ensure the overall success of the department.
Have you experienced any difficulties as a female manager in the industry?
Yes, customers have shown astonishment when introduced to me as the service manager and generally assumes it would be a male. Being a certified Mercedes-Benz manager and the various extensive training offered to me by the company has helped me grow in my position and confidence in how I run my department. I also feel that the department and clients appreciate the ‘soft skills’ I bring to the workshop environment.
SIVUYISWE MKONDWENI – 3RD YEAR APPRENTICE
Sivu is currently on her 3rd year apprenticeship level and hoping to qualify as a Mercedes-Benz technician in 2020. The engineering field has always been her passion and she grew up around cars watching her dad do repairs as her dad was a technician as well.
Do you find it difficult being one of a few female technicians in the workshop?
It is challenging yes, there will always be assumptions made that you do not have the skills and knowledge that others might have, customers often get surprised when I go up to them and they see that I am one of the technicians who worked on their vehicle, but they have always given me positive responses. I enjoy working with the guys in the workshop and have great support and guidance from my journeyman, which has given me the confidence I need.
Do you have any advice for young girls pursuing this career?
This is not for the faint-hearted, you must have a passion for the automotive industry and the dedication to pursue this career. There will be tough times, but the satisfaction and skills you will learn over your apprenticeship years, will all be worth it. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.
TRACY DASS – SERVICE MANAGER, COMMERCIAL VEHICLES
Tracy has been part of the Ronnies family for 13 years. She has worked in the warranty department and as a service advisor and was appointed as the Commercial Service Manager in 2016.
How do you cope daily, overseeing a service department, dealing with heavy-duty vehicles with such a large complement of staff and processes?
I have a great support structure under me and the team dynamics work well between the frontline and workshop staff. My workshop manager is a qualified Mercedes-Benz diagnostic technician which is a great help from a technical point when dealing with a query. Having worked in the department in various functions has given me a great understanding of every workshop process and I have also qualified as a certified Mercedes-Benz manager which has given me an added advantage in my field.
Have you experienced any difficulty as a female manager in the industry?
Yes, customers are often in awe finding me behind the service manager desk. I am however fully confident and qualified in my position which immediately puts customers at ease. I have a passion for the trucking industry which comes across in the way I handle any situation I am faced with.
DENISE NORRIS – MARKETING AND CRM MANAGER
Denise has been in the automotive industry for 7 years, she started her career at Ronnies in the service department and was appointed as Marketing and CRM Manager in 2017.
Have you experienced any difficulties as a female manager in the industry?
Yes, in my role, I deal with both passenger and commercial, as well as the aftersales divisions for both. I have had the experience where I felt that some assume that cars/trucks/parts and service department dynamics is not a place for a female and that promoting these products best would be better suited for a male, but I have shown my passion for the industry over the years and ensure that I am constantly up to date with new developments. Our management team trusts that I will market their divisions in the best way to benefit their business.
What do you enjoy most about your role and what advice would you give to young aspiring woman who would like to get into the industry?
My job entails interacting with every department and every brand and it is exciting to be one of the first to witness new vehicles and technologies that come out. I have had the opportunity to build relationships with all departments and have been fortunate to be exposed to every aspect of our business. It is also important to build strong relationships with external suppliers to ensure you get the best service from them. You need to have a passion for the automotive industry and be 100% committed if you want to succeed.
ZIKHONA NGXATA – MERCEDES-BENZ SALES EXECUTIVE
Zikhona has been with Ronnies Motors for 10 years and is one of the top sales executives. Her then sales manager, now Dealer Principal, Mr Russell Grigg gave a young lady an opportunity and she has never looked back.
Do you think you face more challenges as a woman in the vehicle sales industry?
I have faced several gender-based challenges in the industry, I would approach clients and they will say: ‘young lady, what do you know about vehicles?’ With the support from management over the years and extensive training, I have grown from strength to strength and I have managed to prove to not only clients but to myself that I stand as an equal with the rest which has helped me succeed.
What advice do you have for young females considering this career?
This job takes a lot of resilience and emotional intelligence. I love my job and interacting with different people from all walks of life. You need people skills and most importantly, you always need to have a positive attitude. Anyone can be trained, but your attitude will determine how far you can go in the industry.
MICHELLE MORTLOCK – MITSUBISHI SALES MANAGER & F&I BUSINESS MANAGER
Michelle’s experience in the motor trade stems back 19 years and she joined the Ronnies family in 2016 after relocating from Welkom.
Do you think that you face more challenges as a woman in the vehicle sales industry?
Although it is a male-dominated industry, woman, however, brings a uniquely different service offering and methodology to the trade. It may be in terms of a more structured and organised approach to admin and even a more open mindset in terms of meeting the client’s requirements. I started as an F & I Business Manager and then took on the position of Sales Manager as well. This has enabled me to grow as an individual and to add value to the customer and the organisation.
PAMELLA LAWU – PASSENGER PARTS WAREHOUSE MANAGER
Pam joined Ronnies 14 years ago in one of our busiest departments and was promoted to Parts Warehouse manager in 2017.
Have you experienced any difficulties as a female in your position and what are the most important aspects of your job?
It has been challenging at times working in a warehouse environment which is mainly male-dominated, but I have proven myself to the rest of my team and they respect my position. It also helps of course that females are known for multitasking which is a much-needed skill in a busy parts warehouse. You need to have great organisational skills and understanding of the receiving and dispatching process. It is important for me to build relationships and teach others around me so that they can also grow in their positions and move up in their position.