From humble beginnings in the small Eastern Cape KwaMagxaki, Vuyokazi Bangazi has become a force to be reckoned with in the material handling and industrial equipment industry. As general manager for the EIE Group’s Toyota Business Unit in the Eastern Cape, she has increased the company’s profitability in the region by 257% between 2017 and 2021 and grown market share from 37% to an anticipated 50% over the same period.
Not only was she awarded best Senior Leadership Development student at Wits in 2011, she was placed amongst the top 40 under-40 leaders in the Eastern Cape by the Nelson Mandela Bay Chamber of Commerce in 2015 and voted best manager by the Black Management Forum in 2019.
Bangazi graduated from the University of Port Elizabeth (now Nelson Mandela University) with a BCom in accounting in 2002. After a short stint at EIE Group in the Eastern Cape, she was transferred to the business’s head office in Johannesburg in 2005 as an administrator in the rental division.
In 2007, she was transferred back to Port Elizabeth as rental manager for the region. “That’s when I really started to gain managerial experience and in 2014, I was promoted to assistant general manager, a role I fulfilled until being appointed general manager in 2016.”
Bangazi’s willingness to learn and put her hand up saw her successfully negotiate the predominantly male-dominated material handling and industrial equipment industry from her early days as a management trainee to the position she holds today.
She says her greatest learnings during her early years were the importance of being adaptable and how to flex in different situations. “I never regarded any job as beneath me and I absorbed everything like a sponge, which meant I gained a deep insight into the business.”
Mentors played a critical role in Bangazi’s growth as a leader. “Mentorship should never be underestimated. I have been mentored within and outside the industry by excellent female and male mentors who have helped guide me through difficult situations and environments. Some has been assigned to me, and others I have sought out.”
Humility and a desire to learn have stood Bangazi in good stead on her journey up the corporate ladder. “It is important to know when you don’t know much, and it’s just as important to know when you do know a lot. I am passionate about people. I am a networker and I like to collaborate, engage, learn and give back.
As the leader of 128 EIE Group employees spread across East London, Nelson Mandela Bay, George and uMthatha, Bangazi says she is a believer in human capital. “Without human capital, you don’t have a business. I also believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast any day. You can have the best strategy and the best business, but if you don’t have the right people, and you don’t have discipline, your strategy won’t get you anywhere.”
Negotiating the boardroom has its own set of challenges. Bangazi says women often take a back seat in the boardroom. “Not only is it about where you sit in the boardroom and the conversations you have with your colleagues, it’s about whose voice is the loudest. Women tend to be calmer and more compassionate and until their work speaks for itself, it can be hard to get their voices heard. In the boardroom I listen and I choose my battles.”
Bangazi says she has often been in situations where a customer has asked; “Who is the executive or general manager?” “When I say it’s me, I see their initial shock. It’s important to have high emotional intelligence to understand that it’s not their fault. When they realise I have 18 years’ experience in the industry, I know my products and I have an excellent team around me, they relax and accept my legitimacy as a leader and trust me to do the job.
“To be honest, if I hadn’t had to deal with challenges over the years, I would not be as resilient as I am today or to be able to push boundaries and constantly improve myself. I would have been soft on my achievements and successes, and I would not have shown the way for other young aspiring females.”
She adds; “While I can be outspoken and transparent, it’s easy for me to reach out and accept advice or offer solutions. That’s how you grow. Nobody knows you have a problem or a solution unless you talk. Showing vulnerability is not a bad thing and giving back – teaching and advising – is crucial. There’s a saying that really resonates with me: “Lift as you rise”. The more you lift other people, the more you are able to rise.”
In addition to meeting work demands, Bangazi is chairperson of the Black Management Forum in the region and is also involved in various socio-economic activities in KwaMagxaki. “I believe it’s important to remember where you come from. When I realized that the high school in KwaMagxaki was deteriorating, I created a group called “Saving KwaMagxaki”. We tackle various projects such as fixing rest rooms and providing other assistance, which became particularly critical when the pandemic hit and people were out of jobs.”
When asked about how she balances all aspects of her life, Bangazi says she doesn’t believe in balance, but rather in prioritising. “There is no balance in life. I choose what to prioritise at any given time. I’m fortunate to have a strong support structure. My husband is a busy man with a demanding job, as well as being a triathlete and spending a lot of his spare time on training. We have two young daughters of 13 and 8 and have managed to ensure that everything is good at home. If home is good, then everything else falls into place.
“At work, I make sure to empower my people and hire from within. I train and develop my staff so that they are well equipped to do their jobs and not too dependent on me. Then I focus on the clientele, because I believe my role is strategic rather than operational role – it’s my job is to see what’s going to happen in the next two years and to alleviate risk wherever I can,” she concludes.