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Resilient Retailers


Despite challenging economic conditions, these women continue to drive their organisations forward, stewarding some of South Africa’s best-loved retail brands, writes Tamara Oberholster.
Image: Marcia Mayaba - dealer principal of Barloworld GM Bruma Image: Marcia Mayaba - dealer principal of Barloworld GM Bruma

Zyda Rylands, CEO of Woolworths, says: “Maintaining and building on a brand in tough economic times is challenging. In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, leaders need to adapt and change to determine a path forward to differentiate their brand, product and services, as this is the difference between success and stagnation.”

Rylands, who was named Woman of the Year at the 2017 World Retail Awards, says she would like to see more women supporting one another in the private sector. She shares her three “laws of life”:

  • You will always reap what you sow;
  • You will suffer the pain of sacrifice (short-term) or suffer the pain of regret (long-term); and
  • By the grace of God, if it is to be, it is up to me.

“This all means: dare to dream, work hard (there are no free lunches!), believe in yourself, be open to feedback, never stop listening and learning, and finally, when you are presented with the right opportunity, take the shot,” she says.

Rylands has followed her own advice, and risen to the top of her field. Today, she is steering Woolworths into a bright future, despite the economic storm currently facing South African retailers.

She says that one of Woolworths’ strategic objectives is to deliver a seamless, connected customer experience across the physical and digital worlds. She is also excited by the group’s recent acquisition of Australian chain David Jones. “We see huge opportunity in the benefit that our scale across the Southern Hemisphere affords us, particularly in terms of sourcing. We are focused on a single-sourcing approach, with combined volumes, to drive improved product development, price accessibility and margins.”

She adds that Africa provides additional growth opportunities for Woolworths, and the company is focused on tailoring its offering to local customers and improving product availability.

Business for good

Mary Jane Morifi, group executive for corporate affairs and sustainability at Tiger Brands, says courageous choices in business deliver the best returns. “I’ve worked in oil, mining, and now the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries, all three pillars of the economy, and what all three share is the challenge of doing business in a country with massive social and economic inequalities,” she says.

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Mary Jane Morifi

Morifi firmly believes that doing the right thing is good for business, because it creates shared value. “Throughout my career in business over the past 25 years, I’ve focused on finding creative ways to minimise our environmental footprint, increase our positive social impact on local communities, and catalyse broad-based black economic empowerment,”  she says.

She remains driven by a desire to effect change wherever she is, which is why she and the Tiger Brands team are working to bring sustainable positive impact to consumers and their communities. The company is partnering with government to increase its procurement of agricultural products from black smallholder farmers from 23 000 metric tonnes to 35 000 metric tonnes in the next three years, generating R100-million for black farmers.

“If we diversify our agricultural supply chain, we can create more jobs and more economic opportunities for more people,” Morifi explains. “It’s one small way that we can help get the country out of recession and stimulate consumer spending again.”

This is critical, given South Africa’s current economic climate. “South Africans have experienced unprecedented cost inflation in FMCG resulting from severe drought conditions, high commodity prices and devaluation of our currency,” Morifi  says. “We are extremely aware of the economic pressures facing consumers over the  past few years.”

In response, she says, Tiger Brands has implemented significant cost-saving initiatives to contain price inflation wherever possible, and has not passed on the full impact of cost inflation to consumers.

Of course, as a savvy businesswoman, Morifi is also concerned with ensuring the company’s long-term sustainability. “Consumers know their favourite Tiger Brands products – whether it’s Oros, Black Cat peanut butter or Beacon chocolates. But we can’t just rest on our laurels or rely on brand loyalty from consumers. There is a burgeoning population of young people who don’t  necessarily share consumer loyalty to some of our iconic products. Because young people are the fastest-emerging demographic in Africa, we need to capture the hearts and minds and imaginations of young consumers to sustain brand leadership.”

Motoring ahead

Marcia Mayaba, dealer principal of Barloworld GM Bruma, says she never expected to pursue a career in motor retail, but she has done so very successfully despite the slow pace of transformation within the local motor industry. “But beating a path for other women is something I am very passionate about,” Mayaba says. “When people talk about including women in the motor industry, they often just mean sales. But there are many operational elements in a dealership where women can make a positive contribution and be successful. For example, there’s a need for female technicians and managers.”

Unfortunately, access to funding remains a barrier to entry. Nevertheless, Mayaba is confident that more women can break into this male-dominated industry. “Hard work, patience and passion really do pay off,” she says. “I am proof of that.”

Mayaba was the first black female dealer principal in the country for Volkswagen/Audi SA, Imperial Auto and Lindsay Saker. ”In 2009 I was recruited by Imperial Lindsay Saker and offered a dealer principal position. I declined it and asked instead to be trained for the role, to build up retail experience first,” she says, explaining that failure just wasn’t an option. Once her training was complete, she was appointed dealer principal.

Under Mayaba’s leadership, the dealership won Dealer of the Year for the first time in its history in 2013, and repeated the feat in 2014. It also achieved membership of the VW Club of Excellence.

She believes women bring their own strengths to the motor industry, including warmth and an appreciation of people, which she feels are currently lacking.

“If you look after your people, everything else comes together.”

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