Enabling workplace for growth
During Workers Month long-serving employees share about their career journeys and the evolution of the business
As South Africa celebrates Worker’s Month in May, a tough economic environment in the past year has pushed businesses to work hard at improving themselves, not just for survival, but for long-term sustainable growth.
In the next stage of its journey, Bridgestone observed its 90th anniversary globally and 50 years since the establishment of its Brits manufacturing plant in the country, Bridgestone Southern Africa (BSAF) will rely on its skilled work force now more than ever to take the business to the next level.
Three long-serving workers reflect with excitement on their journeys as part of one of the country’s leading manufacturing operations.
Elmarie David, recently promoted to Continuous Improvement Manager, has been at Bridgestone Southern Africa for 10 years, having started as an industrial engineering trainee at Brits in 2010.
“When I started here, we just focused on getting the most number of tyres out,” she says. “This started to expand in 2017 when the business initiated a remarkable transformation of operations, which substantially enhanced the demand management function.
“Previously, there were some gaps between marketing, sales, and the plant. As years went by, communication between the various functions got much better. This allowed us to refine our processes, which was difficult for some people, but it helped us become a smarter, more data-driven company,” she says.
Elmarie is one of the few female engineers working in the plant, and her determination and focus allowed her to advance quickly, despite the challenges along the way.
“When I was appointed as industrial engineering manager in 2013, I faced one of the greatest challenges in my career,” she says. “People who previously saw me as a peer, were now reporting to me, and I had to work hard to earn their trust. Instead of expecting their automatic support, I reached out to each of them to see what they needed to succeed, and they eventually started to rely on me as a leader.”
Due to the fast-changing nature of the manufacturing environment, she has had to grow rapidly, and at the age of 32, she has had to prove herself time and again.
“I am fortunate to have great leaders in the organisation who have supported me every step of the way,” she says. “The business is ready to grow quickly, and I believe it is heading in a positive direction as it grooms a new generation through programmes such as the Yes4Youth initiatives currently being rolled at Bridgestone. Every single woman should consider pursuing a career in engineering, because we bring a lot of passion and a different perspective that can unlock great solutions.”
Stock service operator Ezekiel Maganedisa has been working at the Brits plant since 1987 and looks back with fondness at his journey over the decades.
“I’ve had my fair share of struggles along the way, but I’ve managed to overcome them,” he says. “At one point, I experienced some financial distress, but my work at Brits allowed me to clear all my debt and continue to provide for my children.”
Ezekiel started as a general factory worker and now at the age of 57, progressed to being responsible for the first-in-first-out boards, which includes tagging the stock and the material compounds that are used to make the tyres in production.
“My second-born child has just completed his agricultural diploma and started his own company,” he says. “I want to help him get established, using my years of experience in an industrial operation earned working at Bridgestone.”
Plant manager at Brits, Dries Lottering also started his career in 1987, working in the company’s human resources office, and eventually migrating to the factory floor.
“From the HR department, I moved into the continuous improvement function, with the task of building up our cross functional teams,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting different Bridgestone plants in different countries across the world, learning a lot.
“Despite the many ups and downs in the industry and the business, I’ve always stayed positive and asked for help when I needed it. This was especially important when I changed functions to completely new areas, which I did often. We are finally in a good place to deliver sustainable growth and explore more opportunities in Africa and other export markets,” he says.
Since taking up the reigns at Brits in 2020, Lottering has been hard at work bringing the facility up to its full potential, from a technology, process, and people perspective. At the top of the agenda is continuously trimming costs, boosting productivity and refining waste management.