The 2011 RMI/Automobil Person of the Year Award was presented to Jeanne Esterhuizen during the RMI’s AGM at the Indaba Hotel in Fourways, Johannesburg. The award is presented to people who have made an extraordinary contribution to the industry during the year. The decision is not made lightly, and the award is given only when a clearly eligible person is identified.
“This year, we have identified an eminently worthy recipient. A person who has made an extraordinary contribution to this industry through serving on an incredible number of forums and industry structures – usually in a position of seniority. She has selflessly given up many hours of her private and business time to serve,” said RMI CEO Jeff Osborne.
Receiving the accolade, Jeanne paid tribute to the influence of the 103-year-old organisation. “I really appreciate those of you who made the nomination. When I joined the organisation in 2000, I didn’t fully appreciate the value the RMI had. All I knew was that it was a voice for my panel shop business – something I really needed at the time. “Later I decided to get involved and now here we are 11 years later. If I look back over the years, I now know one thing: the businesses within the RMI make up a huge voice, which people listen to. The retail motor industry has a voice at many levels, because of the efforts of the members throughout the regions. “Wherever I go, when I am asked about my business, I mention the RMI. And people know what that is. Because of this association, everyone wants to interact with me. Wherever I serve, and I serve at very senior levels, I have built up so many connections. Whatever I need to say, the RMI always gives me a forum to express myself. Just this morning, we wrote to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, to voice our concerns as a collective and the Ministry received it and acknowledged it because of our credentials.”
Automobil: First of all,congratulations on winning the award. How do you feel about it?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: Well, I think it’s recognition, probably, for effort invested in the organisation and I’m very grateful for that.
Automobil: You currently hold 22 different positions within automotive bodies including the RMI, merSETA, MIBCO, DHET, MIFA and SAMBRA. How do you manage to juggle all of these responsibilities at the same time?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: I think it’s really about developing yourself. When you’re starting out and you’re learning about all the different organisations and their challenges and strengths, you then live it for a number of years until it is no longer really an effort. If you’re living it and you’ve done your homework and developed yourself and understood the environment in which you work, then you can contribute meaningfully. Until you have done this, you can’t.
Automobil: Which of these positions are the most challenging and which are the most rewarding?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: Training and skills development is a passion of mine and I find that very rewarding. I enjoy witnessing the difference merSETA is making in people’s lives at grass-roots level. In my own company that is also one of my passions. I believe that skilled staff gives a business a competitive edge. It’s important to develop people. Within merSETA, MIBCO, the RMI, SAMBRA, all of the organisations, I find there is sometimes a lack of understanding between individuals sitting around tables – that, for me, is a challenge. I think there is not enough development and we waste a lot of time educating people. Instead, organisations should be focusing on developing their own people. Stakeholder bodies need to develop their own office bearers. That is a problem, but we are working on it and we are making progress.
Automobil: In addition to all the positions you hold, you also own a highly successful panel beating business based in Bloemfontein.
Jeanne Esterhuizen: Absolutely. We just received an award for the Best Motor Body Repairer 2011 from Mercedes-Benz South Africa. The success of that is, once again, thanks to the skills that have been developed. When I started working for myself, I was heavily involved in the motor body repair sector and I went from panel repair shop to panel repair shop looking at systems, processes and people. At some point in your life you have to realise that you have a set skill, you see and understand the shortcomings and you identify a gap in the market. My husband is also a qualified spray painter, very good and very well known and so people started to bug us to fix their vehicles. My husband was a sales manager for a paint company at the time so we started a business and it just grew. We started with four people – currently there are about 75 to 80, so clearly we have expanded. It’s just a joy when you know what you’re doing. Still, it’s a very challenging environment because you have to deal with insurers and motor body repairers and sometimes the two don’t gel together very nicely. But at the end of the day, I love it because it’s very dynamic and always changing and I love cars and motorbikes. We also work with new technology on a daily basis, which I enjoy.
Automobil: You are only the second woman to receive this award in 25 years. How significant is this fact to you?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: It is incredibly significant to me. When it was read out yesterday, it was quite amazing. We have a history of male domination within the retail motor industry. In the motor industry bargaining council there has never been a woman president in its history. It has been extremely rewarding for me because I think we, as women, bring a different flavour into any organisation. It’s overwhelming to think there have been only two women in 25 years to receive the award.
Automobil: What do you think are the requirements needed to achieve such an award?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: I believe you have to understand what you’re doing and understand your own shortcomings. You have to understand what it is that your members need. In other words, the art of listening comes first. This is necessary for your own development. And then you have to drive it.
Automobil: What motivates you to perform at such a high level?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: I’m a patriot. I love South Africa. I believe we have tremendous potential. I believe we will achieve more than any other country in the world because we have a massive number of individuals who are absolutely committed to bringing about a difference in the lives of others. We have achieved much over the past 17 years and, going forward, I believe this will continue. That is what motivates me – I love the country and I see its potential. Every bit of effort will bring about a positive change, which is ultimately the goal.
Automobil: How did you get involved with the RMI and the other associations you represent?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: I’m a businessperson and have been involved in business for many, many years. When you operate a business you find there is legislation that can become irritating. I couldn’t understand, on the skills development side, why there was so much bureaucracy. So I looked for an avenue and a voice to express what I felt as a businessperson – this led me to the RMI. But one of the first organisations I became involved with was MIBCO, which appealed to me because it offered a wonderful platform to engage in social dialogue. I liked the fact that we could discuss the issues affecting both labour and employers. I realised what we needed was a collective view, a collective vision in order to take business and organisations forward in South Africa. My involvement with merSETA was noticed at a regional level and so I was invited to get involved at a national level.
Automobil: When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
Jeanne Esterhuizen: I ride motorbikes. When I met my husband he was a big fan of motorbikes. When our son was born it evolved into kiddi-Cross and motorcross and off-road biking. When he went to university my husband and I went back to road bikes. I find it’s good to have that release when you are pressurised, constantly, and you don’t have much leisure time. We don’t get much free time so when we do, we make the most of it.