“I come from humble beginnings and I have always been determined to maximise my abilities to reach my goals”
Phindile started her career with Illovo Sugar South Africa (Illovo) 17 years ago as an in-service trainee. Since then, she’s successfully studied for an MBA, spent time in the UK at British Sugar sites, and has taken three years outside of the business to widen her horizons. Previously at Sezela on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, where she worked as the Production Manager, Phindile recently moved to Eston, taking on the role of Recoveries Engineer. Now, and in an exciting career development move for her, Phindile has been promoted to Factory Manager.
We chat to her about what this appointment means to her, what she’s already achieved within her relatively short career journey, what she loves about her job and her future ambitions.
First of all Phindile, congratulations on your recent appointment, you must be delighted!
I am truly ecstatic and appreciative of every opportunity afforded to me. The responsibility entrusted to me is humbling, so I am thrilled and nervous at the same time! This is a big role and I look forward to making my contribution as the leader of a collective team of professional and dedicated individuals.
Before talking about your current role, please share some insight into your previous role at Sezela?
I was accountable for the entire sugar manufacturing process at Sezela’s two factories, as well as ensuring that all safety processes were complied with - and that delivery was achieved against budget, time and quality within the site’s production plan. My role provided me with insights into the total operations – this is really important in driving maximum plant efficiencies, working and planning together with a range of top-class people. At the same time, it was quite challenging in the sense that my decisions had a wider impact across other operations – so it was important for me to weigh up all of my actions before setting about implementation.
I love working in this industry as it sparks something for me. There is a lot behind the production of sugar and our range of downstream products, and therefore, there are so many different career paths available. After joining Illovo as a trainee, I was offered a bursary to study a BTEC in Chemical Engineering, after which I was appointed Engineer in Training (EIT) at Noodsberg on a three-year programme. I was then given the opportunity to travel to the UK to visit some of the British Sugar factories and learn from the teams there too. It was a huge learning curve for me, not only professionally but also personally. I learnt a lot about continuous improvement and the types of processes, plans and structures that the teams had in place; but I was also able to share my learnings from our African operations with the UK team. The experience gave me a new perspective and a new way of looking at things, which I brought back to Illovo with me.
What do you hope to learn on your new adventure at Eston – is it all about factory, or do people fit into your thought process as well?
The role is factory based, but now instead of only looking after the sugar manufacturing process I am also in charge of the entire factory operations. That is everything that occurs from in between cane receiving to sugar despatch – more critically, it involves holistic planning and leading a dynamic team to achieve the Eston site objectives.
What are your future aspirations – and do you stop at factory manager?
The sky is the limit for me, at least that’s what Illovo has instilled in me! Starting out as a trainee, I only knew about engineering, but since joining the company I have learnt about the many different careers directions I could take. Part of doing my MBA was to expand my knowledge and to understand what else lies out there for me. Having gained that knowledge, I am able to contribute more broadly to Illovo’s operations and to communicate across the different levels within the business and its wider networks. I really enjoy that I can contribute and add value, whilst learning from the different people I engage with every day.
In my last interview, I was asked about my future aspirations. Being promoted to the Factory Manager role is just testimony to my belief that the sky is the limit - as I do not believe I’ve yet reached the ceiling in my career. This is another stepping stone for me because at Illovo, hard work and dedication really does pay off! I just hope that my story inspires all the young females we have in our organisation to dedicate their best efforts to bringing their dreams closer too.
What would be your advice to young people starting out and hoping to make it “big” in this business?
I come from humble beginnings and I have always been determined to maximise my abilities to reach my goals. The road to success is not always easy, but through hard work and determination, you will make it. My advice to others is that there are people who are always willing to help and support you through your journey, so don’t be too proud to accept the hand when it is extended. Recognise the opportunity, be grateful and take advantage of it to the fullest. Let me conclude my statement by saying: “In order to lead, you have to first allow yourself to be led”.