Mary-Anne is one of the Top 100 women in logistics in Africa. She is Commercial Director of DB SCHENKER in South Africa. Guess how she started? No – not with a golden spoon in her mouth and a perfect education but with a difficult childhood, early motherhood, and emotional issues. Apart from these personal challenges, she had to face difficulties on her professional front, too.
"Don’t wait for what happens to you, make it happen for you. Life is about choices."
As a commercial director of DB SCHENKER in South Africa you oversee 35 colleagues and manage a budget of 10 m euros. You are named among the most prominent logistics managers in Africa. How did you make your way to the top of logistics in Africa?
Definitely, not like shown in the career guidebooks. You know, when I was only 19 years old and fell pregnant, my immediate goal was to look after my newborn. I needed to be a caring and reliable mum. I wanted to be better than what I received as a young girl. My mum was an alcoholic and I lost my dad when I was three years old. I did not have any fancy birthday parties nor the opportunity to go to university. This has probably been a huge part of my driving ambition in my job, too. I want to provide better and more than what I had. As I started evolving in this career, I wanted to get to the highest level I could. So, being appointed as Commercial Director in South Africa in 2019, was sure a milestone being achieved by me.
What keeps you going, after all you have already reached?
My husband said to me: Hon, you have achieved what you wanted to achieve. And, I said yes – you are right. And then, maybe two months later, I looked and realized I still want to travel the road and make new milestones. I don’t know where it ends but I already have my next goal: now, I’d like to take on the challenge of a country head or move into a product – for enhancing my experience.
Do you have a clever career advice?
Well, there are two bits of advice I am happy to share. The first – which may be obvious reading about my growing up: trust yourself. I could, unfortunately, not rely on my parents. But life gives you choices. And the decision is to be made by you. Don’t wait for what is going to happens to you, make it happen for you.
How did this advice help you?
I wanted to make a career in logistics and could not show the required certificates from university. So, I took courses, juggling with my professional and personal life. Now, at the age of 44, I am close to finishing my bachelors.
What is your second advice?
The second is: the first advice works best if you find somebody whom you can trust. I think that is one thing I totally neglected when I was young. I believed too much in myself and did not rely on others. I wanted to do everything on my own without seeking any help.
Whom do you rely on?
For me the one whom I can count on is my husband. He is my greatest supporter in every situation of life. For example, I lost around 21 kg’s in the last two years and his encouragement in this journey was fantastic. He has cheered me on and been a pillar to rely on. From a career perspective, he constantly reminds me that I am his hero and how proud he is of my achievements, no matter big or small.
The same goes with my manager, Denzil, my CEO. I fully trust his opinion. He has taught me a skill that I lacked and required, that is “calmness”. By nature, I am very energetic. I have so much energy, that at some days, I tire myself. He has taught me calmness to go through my decisions and processes before acting on those. Processing my thoughts, ideas and impulses has reaped many benefits for me. I still think it is a long way to go and everything take time.
Sounds like you are always on the run. How do you relax?
Well – your statement implies the answer: it is by running. Today, running as a sport is a strong pillar of my relaxation. For me, it is important to manage stress. Not only stress from work but responsibilities from everyday life, just needed to survive in this crazy planet. I had learned this the hard way, too. Being in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with panic and anxiety disorders so finding ways to ‘manage’ was and is imperative for me.
How do you manage them in everyday life?
It is very well controlled now thanks to my consistent stress management. I run up to five times a week. It is my time where I can block out everything and to be alone with my thoughts and with who I am. Well, and I really took my relaxation part that seriously that I did my yoga instructor program and opened two studios. I wanted to share this great experience. Yes, you guess right. Trying to pursue a career, being a mum, a wife, leading a yoga studio was just too much in the end and I had to close them again. However, I still practice yoga. I love this synchronization of mind and body.
DB SCHENKER’s organizational goal is to reach an overall representation of 40% females across all levels and 25% female representation per BU/FU on senior leadership level by the end of 2025.
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges in being a working female?
For women, there is a tendency to be labelled by the opposite sex. This is an obstacle, we do not speak about often. It is sad and unfair that we are put into such position. That is certainly a challenge that I personally have faced on many occasions. Especially, being on customer-facing role. Being a lady, you are often perceived as a ‘weaker’ sex. Your gender should not be brought into business or customer relationships. There have been some really difficult situations that I found myself in. And it is not always easy for a female to overcome. We have been taught for ages that men are superior, men are stronger gender. They have the power. This is not the reality and while I don’t feel that I am in any way feminist, I do want to be recognized for my value and not my physical features.
How did you get out of these embarrassing situations?
I am strong personality and will never allow inappropriate behavior. But when men come into that superior position where they think they can take whatever they want, you need to stand up and put your foot down but stand your ground. And I think one of my positives within my career at different places is that my bosses who predominantly have been men have stood up for me, too. But for sure, these are difficult self-decisions. You may destroy a customer relationship and you may put yourself into a problem because the customer may leave the company. But that never means you must compromise yourself in being a woman. Compromising yourself is never the answer.
What do you tell women, who find themselves in similar situations? What is the answer, then?
I was fortunate that my superiors always supported me. They never had the expectation that I should behave in any certain way. The key is always being true to self. It is tiring to justify our decisions such as wearing cloths of our choice e.g., instead of being respected for our work performance and value.
Remain confident and respectful in all your dealings and never make a decision that you may regret.
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