WOMEN’S MONTH: Audi SA’s Dealer Planning Manager Shula Manzini

By Willem van de Putte Time of article published Aug 20, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - There are thousands of cars sold every month and during every day driving you pass dealerships of manufacturers without giving it a second thought.

They’re like fast food outlets scattered throughout the country and we take it for granted that they’re just there and when we’re in the market for a new vehicle walk through the front doors and kick a few tyres.

But it’s people like Audi South Africa’s Shula Manzini working mostly behind the scenes that make it all happen to ensure that you have the best experience possible.

Manzini is the Dealer Network Planning Manager for the Four Rings and before you sit in the upmarket surroundings and sign on the dotted line she’s had a lot of input as to how that happened.

“In broad strokes I communicate with the head office in Germany about the dealer network. How they operate, where the preferred locations are, do the market research on spend and affordability and optimal representation of the brand.

“My portfolio also includes dealings with architects, planners, builders and project managers and I often put my hard hat on for meetings on site,” she said.

A far cry from when Manzini started working for a major cosmetic house.

Egged on by her sister to look for employment within a large corporation with growth opportunities she got her chance when a placement agency suggested she apply for the position as personal assistant to the National Sales Manager of Volkswagen.

“I knew I was more than a PA but it laid the foundation for my growth path and writing bulletins to the dealers gave me a lot of insight. A year later I was dealer sales analyst and then dealer operations manager at VW and then moved across to Audi as dealer network planning. I look back and thank my sister for the valuable advice back then.

“I’ve always focused on personal and professional growth so I studied and took in as much information as I could, including getting to understand and deciphering architectural drawings.”

As a woman in a predominantly male environment Manzini says initially it was a challenge.

“Things have changed though but I remember the raised eyebrows when I first arrived on site. But when people see you have value to add and everyone has the same end goal it gets easier, but it can still sometimes be daunting.”

The retail space that the dealers operate in is dynamic and filled with challenges. “Compliance requires an investment and we’re also gearing up for electric mobility which has its own challenges. “They always joke that after I’ve spoken to them they have to open their wallets,” she chuckles.

“We’re also on a transformation drive to ensure that the brand continues to deliver excellence.”

There’s never a dull moment but the satisfaction from getting the nod from Germany is a highlight, she says.

“When you get the thumbs up from head office it’s always an achievement and when they tell you it’s a benchmark project it’s a fantastic sense of accomplishment. And when the dealers are happy it means so are the customers which is what it's all about.”

Being in the Audi/VW family she’s currently driving a VW T-Cross and in an ideal world the Audi RS Q8 would be in her garage.

“And an e-tron, it’s my baby and I’m passionate about it,” she says.

Going forward Manzini sees herself continuing to flourish and grow within the company. “Who knows? I continuously explore opportunities for growth… and I continue to learn.”

And advice for women hoping to enter the world of cars and manufacturers?

“Go for it, the sky's the limit. Focus on your personal and professional aims and fight against gravitational forces. Learn as much as possible, stay humble and continue to ask questions. Knowledge is power.”

On a personal level Manzini says that focusing on herself, her spirituality and family has kept her grounded.

“Look after yourself, your family and your loved ones and stay humble.”

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