All the odds were stacked against her, but Engen service station owner Lydia Ramatisa is proof that with hard work, commitment and passion, success is indeed possible.
Ramatisa, franchisee at Engen’s Orkney Convenience Centre in Klerksdorp in the North West, could easily have become yet another teenage-mother dropout. Instead, the arrival of her baby girl Rethabile 14 years ago sharpened her focus, driving her to chase her dreams.
“I was in Grade 11 and suddenly I had to find work so I could feed my baby. It was a tough lesson,” Ramatisa recalls.
Today she is a beneficiary of Engen’s decision to prioritise the empowerment of black women in a bid to effect positive change in South Africa.
In 2012, the National Empowerment Fund set up a R50-million affordable loan facility for black entrepreneurs to acquire Engen retail dealerships.
According to Unathi Njokweni-Magida, Engen’s Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement, 46% of the company’s 1 020 retail service station are now black-owned, with 10% of them women-owned.
Ramatisa recalls how she got her first position with Engen as a cashier at the Uncle George Service Station in her home town of Jouberton, also in Klerksdorp, 12 years ago. She had sought a better-paying job after first working in a bakery for just R800 a month.
“I used to work extra hours at the Uncle George location, just to make sure the business was running well. My main aim was to see the customers always happy with our service,” she says.
That’s because while Ramatisa may not have an education beyond Grade 11, she quickly figured out that if the customers were happy, the business would thrive.
“I got interested in everything about the operations of the service station, and soon began acting as a supervisor, directing, managing and helping train the staff to do their best work.”
After eight years at the Jouberton location, where she rose to assistant manager, Ramatisa got the chance to run her own concern when her boss, Dr Abdool Ebrahim, suggested she apply for her own Engen franchise.
“I told him I was an uneducated woman but he was adamant that I was young and ambitious, and that I was exactly the kind of person Engen was looking for, who they could help to learn and grow.
“Once I got to the interview I had no more fear. I just wanted to show them exactly what I had to offer,” she remembers.
That was in 2015, when the Orkney site was ready to reopen after a two-year shutdown.
“Engen put their trust in me, and I became the majority shareholder in the operation, which includes the petrol and Quickshop, as well as a Corner Bakery and Barcelos.
Ramatisa and her team have since doubled previous sales figures for all parts of the operation, and were named by Engen in the top two operations for the region in July.
“It’s extremely hard work, but I am so proud of what we are achieving,” she adds.
Ramatisa also changed the future for Rethabile, and her other daughter, Bonita, 3, explaining that she invests in their education wherever possible.
“I may be a single mother, and I may not have much of an education, but I am proof that hard work really does pay off. When I failed to matriculate, I promised myself that that would be my last failure.
“Other women out there need to know that they can do the same if they put in the time and effort, and if they have love for what they do.”
Njokweni-Magida says that by continuing to attract and grow the talents of young women like Ramatisa, Engen is helping build a prosperous future for all South Africans.
“We are focused on integrating more women across our entire value chain, and are very proud of success stories like this one.”
Other than the significant boost in the number of black and women dealership owners, the Engen Limited board comprises 54% black members, and 31% black women. The Engen management committee is 64% black, and 36% black female, while senior management in the organisation is 65% black of which 36% are black female.
Ramatisa says she “fell in love” with Engen’s operational methods.
“I remain passionate about the Engen brand, and thank the company for proving that if you offer someone an opportunity, along with mentorship and guidance, anything is possible.”
Her message to other women like her?
“Don’t be afraid to dream big. I am proof that you can do anything you want in life.”