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Women in the auto industry: What keeps RMI president Jeánne Esterhuizen motivated?

Jeanne Esterhuizen, President of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation with Rooigras Succession.

Jeanne Esterhuizen, President of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation with Rooigras Succession.

Published Aug 5, 2020


JOHANNESBURG - An avid reader and grandmother-to-be who adores nature and who once dreamed of being a human rights lawyer, Jeánne Esterhuizen (56) is instead living her best life; taking the retail motor industry to new professional heights.

Meet the president of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) of South Africa. She says women who are interested in technology and commerce (and how powerful bikes and cars are built and repaired), will find the retail motor industry a great fit.

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The early days (and now)

When Jeánne and a business partner opened Technicolour, a micro-enterprise focused mainly on motorcycle maintenance and repairs, in 1994, she soon became aware of how onerous legislation in the sector was and also of the massive skills shortage.

“It took about 15 years for us to migrate from a micro-enterprise into a large auto body repair centre and develop a formidable brand accredited by influential OEMs,” Jeánne explains.

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Technicolour has achieved a number of national accolades over the past 26 years and is today a Level 1 BBBEE contributor. Jeánne stepped down as CEO in 2018 but retained shares because she still believes strongly in the brand.

“Over the years, I realised I needed to expand my influence into the broader industry too, where I could shape and impact policy. This is how my journey with RMI began. After joining the organisation I became integrally involved in policy, transformation, sustainability, wage negotiations and a number of other key human resource issues impacting the industry.”

Fighting the good fight

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She explains that the RMI has almost 8500 members and acts as their collective voice to find solutions to day-to-day operational issues.

The organisation is also the major employer representative in the Motor Industry Bargaining Council, playing a significant role in labour negotiations, as well as the industry’s social benefit schemes, dispute resolution processes and exemption procedures.

She says she uses her broader involvement in the industry as a platform to grow and share her business experience. It is also a means of giving back for her. “I love seeing people being given the opportunity to realise their potential,” she says.

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More women needed

And potential there certainly is – for women especially, Jeánne says: “It is an industry in which women can do exceptionally well. We have four women on our RMI board, which is excellent for a predominantly male industry. Most of our member companies employ women to engage with customers, handle admin and human resource functions and order supplies, for example. You’ll find many of these businesses started as family-owned with mothers, wives and daughters all eventually getting involved."

She says that it is encouraging to see more and more young women entering technical trades and ultimately owning their own businesses.

“There are challenges ahead for the industry and businesses will need to evolve or face closing their doors. Covid-19 is a cruel catalyst accelerating the need to evolve. How businesses adapt in a world where the need for all modes of transport suddenly shrunk will depend on the ability of a business to innovate and lead. Artificial intelligence, robotics and automation are all impacting the way we do things in the automotive space. In many respects we are having to unlearn what we know and learn what we don’t yet understand; re-imagine this world and constantly improve our ability to innovate,” she notes.

Auto industry’s Top 5 immediate challenges

Jeánne says the local auto sector needs to think of new ways to respond not only in the way cars are sold and maintained but in terms of re-thinking the entire idea of car ownership in a world where people might be driving much less for the foreseeable future. Here are her top five challenges for the future:

1) The digital revolution

Before Covid-19 business was concerned about how alternative fuels and electric vehicles will affect the servicing and repair of vehicles. Everyone spoke about how this will impact current qualifications and the negative impact on parts sales as we know it.

Now we are faced with innovation at a different level. The digital revolution is now in every sphere of business and our personal lives. We learn, work and meet in the digital space. Businesses are going to need to be flexible and adaptable to a new world or become obsolete. The government will have to bring cheaper data solutions to enable a business to cope with increased demand.

2) The drive to professionalism

We see an opportunity to transform the RMI and member businesses into highly-regarded recognised professional entities.

The RMI anticipates a future where working in the retail motor industry will be regarded as a profession with clear opportunities for growth. New generation consumers are looking for a far more sophisticated online experience with businesses.

3) The Fourth Industrial Revolution

To remain relevant, businesses must improve technical and soft skills for current and new jobs. We are trying to find the most cost-effective and least disruptive ways to grow skills, encourage innovation and encourage the growth of small, black-owned businesses. Know this, traditional skills are quickly becoming obsolete.

4) The transformation of business

80% of accredited RMI members are small- to medium-size businesses and this is where the growth and employment opportunities that are going to drive the economy will come from. Migrating informal business into the formal sector will secure a far stronger and transformed sector.

5) The green economy

Retail motor businesses must become more proactive in preserving the planet for future generations. It is not good enough to plan only for five years from now. Owners will have to think about the impact their actions on the environment is in 10, 50 and even 100 years from now.

“All this change has to happen; it is inevitable. I’m proud to be at the helm of a professional organisation which can support other businesses in the retail motor industry to embrace change, evolve and thrive into the future,” Jeánne concludes.

5 Fast facts on RMI President Jeánne Esterhuizen:

• I relax best when I’m in nature.

• I am a lifelong student of literature, art and history.

• I hike, climb mountains, kayak and horse ride.

• I owned and still have a passion for off-road, road and superbikes.

• The latest love of my life is Rooigras Succession –

Succession is a registered SA Boerperd gelding, close to 4 years old and the most spectacular horse on the planet. I searched far and wide, within this specific breed, for a horse that would make my heart beat faster. At the first glimpse of the proud flamboyancy Succession displayed, his stunning good looks and calm spirit, it was love at first sight.


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