A Mover and A Shaker in Engineering – Phenomenal Woman Malani Padayachee
A trailblazer, whom nothing could stop her and her business partner from acquiring MOT MacDonald Africa in the midst of Covid-19.
Malani Padayachee-Saman, will be taking over the role of CEO of the yet to be rebranded company from MOT MaCDonald to MPAMOT. This announcement was made on Monday 9th August. This move highlights how women are determined to rise and change the face representation in the segments they dominate. In a press release issued by the two partners “There has been a slowdown in infrastructure spend but post covid-19 SA has to be future proofed. Business and government have to work together to execute on renewable energy projects and create infrastructure which is made sustainably and can last for a new generation.” Padayachee- Saman Said.
There is enormous wealth of advise we can learn from this engineering and construction morgue on how to navigate challenges. We believe her inspirational story will motivate and ignite your passion and drive to go achieve your set goals.
Briefly tell us about yourself and your family.
I am the eldest and have a younger brother, who is also in the engineering field; a huge accomplishment for my parents as neither of them have a tertiary education. In fact, my dad only completed Standard 8 or Grade 10, and my mum was a locum teacher. I was born, raised, and completed matric in a little rural village on the south coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal called Umzinto. I am married to my soulmate and have three children, aged 23 and twins of 18.
What does your business do and when did the journey begin?
I am a registered professional civil engineer and the first to start a woman-owned and managed consulting engineering practice in the history of South Africa, a company that recently celebrated 23 years of existence. I have been in the profession for 30 years since graduating, and I do believe that the year I spent working in the United Kingdom in 1996 gave me the confidence to return to South Africa and start my own practice the following year.
As a woman, what challenges have you had to navigate to still remain above par?
Being a woman in a largely male-dominated profession does come with a host of challenges. However, I have successfully navigated these by ensuring that my professional skills are the focus and not the fact that I am a female. I have also been very mindful that if I did not make a concerted effort to raise awareness to certain matters, then traditional habits will continue to be perpetuated; to be fair, trying to unwire and rewire stereotypical individuals does take a special skill.
What sets your business apart from other competitors like you?
It is unique in the sense that we have an equal representation of both males and females in the organisation. Early on in the growth of the business, I recognised the importance of having diverse teams working on a project, particularly in our speciality field, which is providing infrastructure in the built environment space. We focus on service excellence and look at projects holistically, even to the extent of the socio-economic impact on communities due to infrastructure investment. I would like to think that we offer a cradle-to-grave solution, but because of our ability to create sustainable solutions, we structure the future of our landscape in a manner that creates meaningful empowerment and sustained economic activity to promote wealth and further development.
I also recognise some of the challenges that females face in the sector and, therefore, provide a strong mentorship role both in my professional capacity as well as on the entrepreneurial front. Since establishing MPA, fourteen other individuals who have walked through our doors, have taken the bold step of starting their own practices; a remarkable feat for any organisation to lay claim to. I constantly encourage entrepreneurial development, as project managers cannot fully understand their responsibilities in terms of cost controls, teams, and programming if they are not thinking holistically.
What advise can you offer to women looking to take the same journey?
It is important to have a solid foundation and skill set that you can rely on. In addition, it is also critically important to ensure that you are continually developing your skills and evolving, as technology is not a constant.
It is not easy creating a work–life balance, but if you have good planning skills, which is what is required from an engineer, you will find ways to achieve this balance successfully.
Do not be afraid to compromise on some things during the journey, as in order to achieve your ultimate goal you will need to make a number of sacrifices.
How does your business impact the greater community? What difference has your business made?
We offer consulting civil and structural engineering services in the built environment space. Our designs and supervision of the implementation results in the roads that people travel on, the houses that they live in, the water that they drink … the list goes on. We impact people at all levels and contribute towards the betterment of communities and society in many ways. In essence, we provide structure to the future of humanity.
What is your next big move in the next three to five years?
Across the globe, there are only a small number of women who have ventured out to start their own practice. I would like to be an instrument of change and encourage more like-minded individuals to take the plunge.
It is only when we have entities on the scale of MPA that we will reap the benefits of the rich and diverse influence that such groupings have in terms of changing our countries. I would like to walk into a room and not have to first remind those present of the number of years I have been in the profession in order to be taken seriously.
I would like to create a network on the African continent to promote and inspire female entrepreneurs in the built environment space to work together, to ensure that they are at the forefront in leading the transformation that they would like to see in their own communities and cities by their service offering.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your ability to grow?
As a medium entity in our sector, we have been agile and responded very quickly in terms of remote working. However, a number of our clients, most of whom are in the public sector, have not had the same opportunity, so there have been delays on several projects. Our growth plans were initiated prior to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was concerned that we might need to stall the expansion in the short term. Nonetheless, I am satisfied that the South African government has recognised the need for the construction sector to be a stimulus to our battered economy and, more specifically, infrastructure roll-out as being the key driver.
Fortunately, this is an area that we can directly benefit from. I sincerely hope, though, that these initiatives are broadly targeted; it is important to recognise that the best innovation and ideas usually originate from agile organisations but that often these organisations do not have the finance or scale to move forward.
I am currently addressing this within MPA through a merger and acquisition all rolled up into one, and looking forward to the exciting opportunities that the future holds.
Malani Padayachee & Associates (Pty) Ltd
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