The skills to succeed
Bonita Botha talks to Tank Storage Magazine about the importance of professionalism and passion
How many companies do you know of that are 100% owned and managed by women? And how many of those operate in the tank industry? Well, there is at least one – South Africa’s Orca Fuel Solutions.
Orca manufactures fuel storage solutions for the African market, for industries including mining, construction, aviation and fuel supplies. The company makes a self-bunded, or double-walled, fuel tank, and its engineering department designs equipment and solutions to transfer fuels for generators and other equipment at deployment sites.
South African Bonita Botha is the company’s general manager. Botha grew up in Durban, South Africa, and trained as an accountant before going to work for a company involved in the mining industry. She was transferred to Johannesburg and was eventually approached by a tank company.
‘I think the combination of being an accountant as well as drafting and technical capabilities was attractive to them, and they offered me the position. Since then, which is probably about 10 or 12 years ago, I’ve been in the tank industry,’ says Botha.
Around three years ago, she started working for Orca.
‘The company just evolved in the tank industry. It’s really interesting and empowering, and it’s appealing that we are a 100% women-owned and 100% women-managed business in such a male-dominated industry. I think that was also the attraction for me, to grow as a woman in a male industry and make an impact, which we definitely are.’
The desire to focus on women was partly driven by South Africa’s Black Empowerment regulations – Orca could attain a level 2 rating with 51% black women ownership – but also, out of a simple desire to help women succeed.
‘We just decided, why not? We have the skills, and the knowledge and the experience,’ says Botha. ‘I think it’s really important that we identify women in industry who can do the job well. I think they need the credibility.’
As well as identifying and promoting existing talent, Orca sponsors the education of a number of underprivileged young girls and women in South Africa, to help give them the opportunity to succeed.
It is important to note that Orca, while seeking to promote women, recognises talent regardless, and there are a number of men in senior roles at the company.
Orca is now Africa’s leading self-bunded tank supplier, and alongside managing director Jacky Shapiro, Botha has been instrumental to that success.
Day-to-day, Botha leads the management team at Orca, including finance, marketing, estimating, engineering and production.
‘I think when you’re managing a company it’s very important that you’ve actually worked in every single department of that company so that you can understand the demands of the jobs. I mean, I’ve never welded anything but you do need to understand the process at least! We have a very strong management team and they are very skilled. I think it’s important that general managers have the knowledge of finance and the knowledge of production and the knowledge of marketing, so that we can actually lead the management team and guide them and empower them to do their job sufficiently. That makes the business successful,’ says Botha.
While there is occasionally speculation that men and women can bring different things to the table when it comes to management and leadership, Botha does not think this is always the case. Whether societal or inherent, however, she does think that women do tend to be better at communicating and connecting with people than men, as more natural nurturers. The skills to successfully manage a team are universal, though.
‘To have a connection to a person you have to pay attention to their needs. Managing a company well is about managing people and connecting with people more than anything else,’ she says. ‘Everybody, when they start off their career, wants to be as successful as quickly as possible. I think after achieving a few milestones in your life you realise that nothing actually makes you feel more successful than having significant connections with other people.’
Botha believes that getting the focus right is vital in management. It is up to a company to decide whether to focus on profits or people.
‘I don’t think you can focus on growing relationships and growing individuals within a company, so the company can grow, as well as focussing on money. You either focus on one of the other and I’ve learned if you focus on the right one the other one comes naturally,’ she says.
It can be common in male-dominated industries for women to experience professional discrimination, but Botha says this has not been her experience.
‘With years of experience you get credibility in the industry and I think it comes with time. I’ve never been discriminated against,’ she says. ‘It’s about mutual respect and being vulnerable enough to admit when you require help from a man who might have more experience in certain fields. If we were good at everything, we’d have no need for each other.’
The key, she believes, is always to keep things professional, not to be over-friendly, and not to get distracted from the purpose or the topic.
‘I feel that your personality and strength come across very quickly. It’s established very early in the conversation you have with someone as to whether you are a credible person or not. You set the tone in the very first interaction, so keep that in mind and keep it professional,’ Botha says.
As with so many things, partnership is key.
‘I like to see women and men work and manage together. There are a lot of skill transfers that can happen if there is some sort of synergy between the parties instead of competition.’
SOCIETY IS DRIVING CHANGE
Less discrimination towards women and increasing respect in industry is being driven by wider changes in society, as the roles of men and women have evolved. Where once, a woman was expected to devote her entire life to raising children and keeping house, now most women expect to have careers. Equally, where once a man was expected to devote his life to his career, men increasingly are more hands-on with child-rearing and domestic chores.
‘I think as more women empower themselves, they’re shifting more responsibility onto the men,’ says Botha.
There is still some way to go though. Many women, Botha thinks, still see their primary role as carers.
‘It’s difficult to have a child and have a career, that’s undeniable, but I would like to empower women to focus on more than just that and also to condition women to think that when you have a child your other purposes in life don’t just end. You become a mother and then that contributes to everything else that you are already,’ she says. ‘I would encourage people to have families, but I would also like to encourage women to focus on everything life can offer you apart from that.’
Developing a supportive working environment that makes it easy and comfortable for pregnant colleagues and those who are mothers, will help them to stay part of the workforce, and get the balance right.
A GOOD INDUSTRY
TO MAKE A MARK
Botha believes that the tank industry is a good industry for women.
‘The tank industry is a very specialised, unique industry, but it’s also an industry that’s required everywhere. I think it’s easier for a woman to make a mark in an industry that’s exclusive like the tank industry,’ she says. ‘If you’re an engineer or accountant in a big industry you’re just going to be swimming with a whole load of fish but if you are in an industry that’s unique and exciting you can make an impact easier.’
What really makes the difference to personal career success, though, is enthusiasm, and job satisfaction.
‘We get so excited if we see a tank leaving the yard. We all take photos! It’s great to see another tank going to a client and we get so passionate about tanks. It’s ridiculous, they all look the same!’
But passion has long been linked with success, and Orca is most certainly successful, as is Botha herself.