South African Women Are Forging Ahead In Formerly Male-Dominated Manufacturing Sector

Kwikot’s Head of Sales, Felicity Sheridan, has realised her lifelong dream to lead the sales division of a multinational firm and to boot, she has done it in a traditionally male-dominated sector servicing the plumbing industry and market.

Sheridan took a few moments to reflect on her sales journey and success with Kwikot, the local supplier of heat pumps and geysers during Women’s month. Kwikot, a R1 billion South African success story, manufactures and supplies domestic and industrial hot water systems, both for the local market and neighbouring countries. The company was acquired by the international brand, Electrolux, in 2017.

A lifelong ambition

Sheridan has vast experience in the home appliance retail sector and her skills and business acumen soon led to her being headhunted to join Kwikot.

“I was working as a sales representative at KIC (Whirlpool) at the time when I was approached by the Sales and Marketing Director of Kwikot to join them. He said that I would be a good fit for their organisation, and it could offer me a lucrative career,” she recalls.

With a clear goal in mind, Sheridan took the leap, and in time the firm delivered on its promise. “When I went for my official interview with the Kwikot Sales and Marketing Director, I was asked where I would see myself going in the company and my reply was that I would like his job one day. At that stage, she had no clue how much time is required to learn and gain experience to get there.

But her focus on her lifelong ambition to be a business leader, stood her in good stead as she built her career. “In the early days there were very few leadership roles for women in this Industry. The only way to progress was to excel at what you did to be recognised amongst a crowd that was dominated by men. I took on this challenge and later in my career, once you have obtained some ‘street credibility’, it was easier to be heard and recognised in decision making.”

However, it was not always easy to overcome the hurdles in the traditionally male-dominated sector, especially to achieve systemic change regarding gender and to grow as a leader. “I had to approach it with experience I had gained over time and use the influence that I managed to build over years of delivery, to change the minds of decision makers.”

Women as game changers

“Previously our customer base was dominated by men and there was a perception that only men can deal with men. It took time to change that perception. Nowadays there are many examples where women can in fact resolve challenges in a male-dominant market,” adds Sheridan.

She believes that both men and women add intrinsic value to any business organisation. “Men and women are different. Women are more intuitive and when working with people in a sales environment, it adds a nice dynamic to any management team. We are also different in the way that we approach people and challenges. The secret is to get the combination right which provides the company with the best synergies,” she says.

However, she quickly adds that no matter what gender you are, to get ahead in any company, you need to “be passionate and add value”.

“Focus on what you are good at and convert that to a benefit to the company,” she says.

What sets Kwikot apart as a leading brand in Sheridan’s view are its quality products and the fact that the firm puts its customers first. There is no doubt that these factors contribute greatly to its success. “To be a leading brand, you must have customer centricity top of mind, backed up by a superior technical product.”

“My role in this has been to ensure that we continuously focus on the customer, and I’m privileged to be part of a team with superior technical ability. The day we successfully established a formidable business that placed us on a level where an international company wanted to acquire us, was the biggest highlight and achievement for me in my career so far. When the Electrolux acquisition was sealed, I was such a proud person,” she says.

Equal opportunity

Sheridan believes that there are countless leadership opportunities for women in business, even in previously male-dominated sectors, and that firms appreciate the attributes women bring into the boardroom.

“In the old days, it was difficult to get promoted but now with more equitable company policies in place, those barriers are easier to cross. To make a company successful, it takes the efforts of both men and women. As women, we are just asking for a gap to be part of the team and add value,” she adds.

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