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Female “powerhouses” make a positive impact in the industrial sector

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Rand-Air forms part of the global Atlas Copco Group and both organisations’ South African operations are led by women. These the two leaders offer insights into the qualities which have led them each to their current high-level positions in the equipment rental and industrial sector.

Wendy Buffa-Pace is the vice president and managing director of Atlas Copco Group SA; while Kim Coetzee is the general manager of Rand-Air. As such, they are both testament to the growing influence of women within senior positions, in what are typically considered male-dominated sectors of industry.

While each woman has risen to her present position via a different route, there are many synergies when it comes to business practices.

Buffa-Pace believes that throughout her career, by viewing every challenge as an opportunity, she was able to “read” the business landscape and keep an eye open for opportunities.

Coetzee echoes this sentiment and states that a positive attitude and looking beyond her role – with a holistic overview – has helped her reach her present position.

“I really believe that being positive and passionate within your role opens doors to extensive opportunities. Therefore, I am not limited by a title,” she adds.

Both are relatively new to their roles, encountering similar environments when they were each appointed. Coetzee says that her new role created excitement and enthusiasm and she was eager to embrace it.

“As a go-getter, I was eager to take on the responsibilities – when, three months in, the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in South Africa and everything basically ground to a halt.”

Buffa-Pace agrees: “It was as a well-known quote goes, a case of “the best laid plans of mice and men” going awry. No sooner was I set to shoulder the role and make a positive impact, than Covid-19 arrived. That said, this is where the ability to draw on the resources of an agile team came to the fore,” she adds.

To this point, both women see close collaboration with their respective teams as crucial to developing an agile mind set and getting through a challenging period such as 2020, with work teams able to “pivot” at short notice, adapting as needed and yet remaining simultaneously cohesive.

Nevertheless, both women emphasise that being an example to their teams is vital to coping with the changing landscape. Coetzee says, that while people have skills, one cannot teach intangibles such as passion which is where her team excels.

“All my experience has led to where I am right now: I am exactly where I want to be,” she says.

While the perception is that there are few women in senior roles in their sectors, both women report that the landscape is changing in this regard.

“Rand-Air has always been female-dominated, even though the industry has traditionally been male-dominated. However, over the past decade, I am encouraged to see some change has occurred in the wider industry,” Coetzee points out.

Buffa-Pace concurs, adding: “I can say that I am privileged to be part of a progressive, global organisation which focuses on diversity across the board. It is not good enough to simply have women making up numbers, but to have women progressing in their careers and achieving in senior positions.”

Speaking to the need for women to support other women in the workplace, Buffa-Pace comments that throughout her career she has only ever encountered supportive women who have helped her. She points out that it is a matter of how one perceives the actions of other women when countered or criticised – not taking anything personally, but rather in the constructive spirit in which it is offered.

Within the business world, there is sometimes the perception that women may appear abrasive and are sometimes perceived as aggressive. Buffa-Pace comments, “It is really a case of addressing issues as they arise, of ‘having the conversation’ – facing and not veering away from an issue. It is also the manner in which one addresses a situation, of developing a skill in which to address a sensitive issue without creating a defensive response. People will respond depending on how they are addressed.”

“My one piece of advice would be ‘don’t be so hard on yourself, and believe that whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve!” Coetzee concludes.

Contact Byrone Thorne, Rand-Air, Tel 011 345-0700, byrone.thorne@za.atlascopco.com



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