“Young women can work in any sector”: Colette Yende, Procurement Operations Executive, Gibela

Colette Yende is Procurement Operations Executive at Gibela, which manufactures train sets for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). This means she has to ensure that any supplies Gibela requires for manufacturing are ready when needed. To do this efficiently, she must also manage Gibela’s relationships with its suppliers. Yende has an Industrial Engineering degree from the University of Johannesburg.

Gibela was formed in 2013 as a black economic empowerment company. The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium is a venture between French rail company Alstom and South Africa’s Ubumbano Rail. Gibela has a R51-billion contract with the South African government to manufacture 600 trains for PRASA. The scope of the contract includes train maintenance, technical support and the manufacture and supply of spare parts.

Today, state-of-the-art X’trapolis MEGA commuter trains are rolling off the production line at Gibela’s bespoke R1-billion factory in South Africa’s Ekurhuleni metropolis. In fulfilment of contractual obligations to PRASA, Gibela is training thousands of historically disadvantaged South Africans – mainly women – in technical skills for both Gibela and the manufacturing industry at large.

Gibela continuously draws scores of South African companies, many of them black-owned start-ups, into its supply chain and works to improve the lives of people in its neighbouring communities. Gibela will generate 1 500 direct jobs at the peak of the project and thousands of indirect jobs through the supply chain over a 10-year period.

How did you get into this important position?

When I was in Matric I thought of doing medicine, but I wanted to do a course that wouldn’t limit me to one sector. I found that industrial engineering came up in production and in marketing – industrial engineers were even chief executive officers. So I picked it.

After graduating, I got an internship at Eskom, in logistics. I was there for a year and then I moved on to procurement and strategic sourcing. Over time, I also finished a postgraduate BTech degree in Quality Engineering, and an executive leadership course through the Gordon Institute of Business Science (University of Pretoria).

After Eskom, I moved to Transnet, where I learned a lot. I began as a commodity manager, looking after energy supply, then locomotives and also components. At Gibela, where I began in September 2020, I have been able to use my experience gained at Transnet.

At Transnet, my scope was vast. South Africa was implementing a competitive supplier development programme, which meant we had to find local suppliers to team up with foreign suppliers, and work to get the local suppliers certified as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The benefit in this is that, down the line, Transnet would no longer need to import equipment because local suppliers were OEM certified or approved.

Because of this experience at Transnet, I am better able to interact with Gibela suppliers. Also, I built very strong relationships with the then Department of Trade and Industry.

How do you feel about women in the workplace?

I have learned from Zozibini Tunzi, Miss Universe 2019, that we should assert ourselves. We know we are smart enough and, also, we offer a different view on the world. We need to believe in ourselves, whether in the workplace or not. We are valuable, and we need to teach our daughters that when we get home.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way you work?

Covid-19 has complicated our work, especially when it comes to planning and lead times. It has forced us to revisit our systems. At first the borders were closed, and that interrupted our supply chain.

The pandemic and the lockdowns have also changed our relationships. We are closer now. The different waves of Covid-19 and the national lockdown levels going up and down created new pressures. They have demonstrated that no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Procurement and supply are the heartbeat of an organisation. We had to rethink the way we work. I prefer to be in an office, but working from home has taught us to teach our end users that planning is important, and it affects us all. If we don’t plan, we create a bigger crisis.

I have learned to work more closely with the teams. It’s all well and good being an executive, but you need open communication. I need the different teams to tell me, before a problem becomes a crisis, that there is a problem. I have created a cross-functional team through which we can all talk freely, and not just about supply chain management. This way I get one report from this team, not several reports. That smooths the procurement process.

What tips do you have for young women entering the industrial and engineering business sector?

  • Don’t be scared, there is no career that is not meant for women.
  • Believe in yourself and be assertive.
  • Don’t be scared to fail and try again.
  • Try every day to be better than yesterday, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
  • Ask