“The future holds more possibility than you can ever imagine.”
After leaving high school at 16, Wendy Gamiet’s teachers swore she’d amount to nothing. Today, she oversees operations at a manufacturing company with an R800 million turnover.
wendy used to stare at the aeroplanes in the sky as she traipsed her way to classes at a strict Catholic school in Cape Town. She dreamt of becoming an air hostess and flying away from the mean nuns, political turmoil of the ’80s and the gangsterism of the Cape Flats.
By the age of 16, she had dropped out of school. Her dream of being an air hostess would never be realised. Instead, she found work in a clothing factory.
And then she worked, watched, listened, worked some more, took classes and kept pushing herself.
Today, Wendy is the group operations executive at TCI Apparel Group, one of the largest clothing manufacturers in Southern Africa with an R800 million turnover.
She manages 3 000 employees across four plants, producing womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, sleepwear, and formal wear for local and international retailers.
When she’s not overseeing the production of millions of garments every month, Wendy enjoys spending quality time with her sons Roche, 20, and Aiden, 15. She did finally get on those aeroplanes – but it was for holidays, not work as a hostess.
We asked the busy executive to share a few of the secrets to her success.
1Dream big It doesn’t matter how impossible your dream seems or where you come from: dream big. The future holds more possibility than you can ever imagine. When I was in high school, I was rebellious and not a high achiever. The nuns thought I would never amount to anything. Sister Carmelita would say, “One day you’ll join the guys sitting on the corners.” But that was her dream, not mine.
2Education is key My mom told me I had a week to find a job or I had to go back to school. So I stood outside Monviso Knitwear factory, where I heard they were looking for cleaners, and hoped they would pick me. I started out as a line feeder – fetching water or thread for the machinists.
My boss, Ian Stein, told me that no matter how bad my experience at high school was, I would have to get an education if I wanted to build a career. So I took advantage of the education programmes at work. Eighteen years later, with two young kids of my own, I enrolled at UCT Graduate School of Business and worked weekends and nights to finish the Administration in Management Programme (AIM) and a post-graduate diploma in Management Practice. Not having a Matric didn’t work against me; because they took my work experience into account.
3Love life I make time to do things that bring joy to my life, like spending time with my sons. It sounds simple, but I love nothing more than sitting on the couch together sharing stories about our days or making plans for the weekend. And I love to drive along Chapman’s Peak with the family on Sundays, stopping off in Camps Bay for a snack.
4Build strong teams I use continuous improvement task teams, because it’s the best way to communicate in a manufacturing environment. For example, we have a high level of absenteeism in our industry because of transport and social issues, so in order to deal with the situation I have a team of workers who are frequently absent, workers who are never absent, human resources and shop stewards. This mix means I get different inputs and ideas from everyone affected, and the team is empowered to want to look for better solutions.
5Be consistent Decision making is a big part of my job, and it is important to be consistent. People tend to judge you by your actions, and inconsistency is quickly noticed. When it comes to discipline and time-keeping, every employee across the board needs to
be treated equally. Otherwise there would be chaos.
6Expect challenges Not everything will go the way you want it to go. I recently put a lot of time into grooming a graduate for future development, and they decided to leave the company. If you don’t want to be disappointed expect the unexpected and accept challenges. I’ve refocused my energy into developing a number of graduates and not concentrating on individuals.
7. Transfer your skills If you don’t have a successor you can’t go anywhere, because there won’t be anyone to take your place. I always mentor a group of two to three people. This has made it easier for me to progress to the next level without worrying about who I am leaving behind.
8Never give up It takes time to reach your goals. Becoming group operations executive took me 30 years of hard work. Practise patience, commitment, hard work and determination. “It doesn’t matter how impossible your dream seems or where you come from.”
9Know your strengths Determination has always been my biggest strength. I’m also always willing to listen, learn and execute changes.
10Keep the faith I put God first in everything I do in life. He is always on time, and will never disappoint you, fall out of love with you or mislead you. But you need to make the right choices in life and that starts by surrounding yourself with the right people, avoiding negativity and learning from your mistakes.