Women have been an integral part of the South African marine sector for many years, some in leadership positions, while many are working hard behind the scenes. It is only fitting that as Women’s Month draws to a close we celebrate a few of the many remarkable women who have chosen our sector as the space in which to pursue their careers, realise their goals, and meaningfully contribute to the industry.
In the first of our 2 Part series, we chat to Vanessa Davidson and Toni Mainprize.
Vanessa Davidson has worked in the marine industry in South Africa for over 12 years. She has managed the Marine Industry Association of South Africa and the South African Boat Builders Export Council. She runs her own consultancy, Cobban Consulting and is a founder of Blue Cape, a non profit company promoting ocean sports, marine manufacturing and superyacht visits to Cape Town. She is current Chair of the International Marine Certification Institute and holds an MPhil from the University of Cape Town.
Toni Mainprize is the General Manger of the Royal Cape Yacht Club. Coming from an engineering background, sailing has been a hobby, a love of the elements and a passion throughout her life. It has now become her career too as the core business of the Club is sailing, and the daily management remains her focus. Being someone who has always loved a challenge, she firmly believes that one grows more by stepping outside of our comfort zones and facing our fears. Running the Club has been her biggest challenge to date, and she LOVES it!
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY INDUSTRY SEGMENTS in SA AT THE MOMENT, THOSE DOING WELL AND THOSE MAYBE STRUGGLING?
Vanessa: The IT and BPO sectors are doing very well at the moment. The SMME sector has been hit hard by Covid and the services sector, tourism, hospitality and retail have been the worst affected. The boat building sector is reporting strong order books from private clients with the supply of boats into the charter industry less buoyant.
Toni: In the busy port of Cape Town, and personally for me, there has been no time to make any deep comparisons. Too many activities and action required to protect RCYC. With the “floating” Covid measures we are adjusting our business, staff, schedules, budgets and organograms almost weekly. What I have seen is a huge reaction to increased boat sales. Both new and second hand. In SA the second hand boat market is the majority of boat movement and here at the Club we have seen a sudden increase in membership due to many boat purchases. First time boat owners are arriving at the Club every month. It quite surprised me but is in part a reaction to COVID- 19. I miss the networking events such as the boat show, the meetings with partners to have the opportunity to share views and to feel the different industry segments. Right now we are all very busy maintaining our own businesses. Having a 7 day a week members’ restaurant and bar, part of the hospitality industry, I feel the risks both socially and financially.
In the marine sector in Cape Town one of the key industry is boat building. We play a key role in the catamaran building industry as we provide facilities for this sector. In fact I have been surprised at how busy our hard space has been. The suppliers were under huge pressure, but they are all still there.
WHAT ARE THE CRUCIAL ISSUES MOST BUSINESSES in SA ARE ADDRESSING TO ENSURE SURVIVAL AND SUCCESS?
Vanessa: I think South Africans in general are survivors. In order to succeed, I think businesses need to seriously look at how they leverage technology and how to find alternate selling channels. With reports of serious market contraction for businesses, driving efficiencies becomes key and finding a distinct value proposition for the business, especially for small businesses.
Toni: To be relevant and, what next? At the beginning of the first lockdown it was impossible to imagine and shape our current business, even just to protect and adjust the business within a time frame. In fact, this lack of visibility is the main challenge and the main issue. It really has not been easy when you depend on a government ministry whose priority is fighting for survival at their own level and not making the necessary adjustments for the leading industries within our province or country.
It has impressed me no end to find service providers, suppliers and small businesses that despite Covid related challenges, strived to adjust and maintain their services, not just use it as an excuse. These companies are to be applauded as I only came across a few.
HAS THERE BEEN A NOTABLE CHANGE IN SUPPLY CHAINS FOR SA MARINE INDUSTRY BUSINESSES WITH A MOVE TO SOURCE MORE LOCALLY?
Vanessa: We have seen significant disruptions in the supply chains particularly with import delays which have a knock-on effect on production timelines for manufacturers. I think the move to source more locally is going to take time. We have commercial boats designated for local procurement with a 60% local content provision. There is a support programme run by our Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to assist marine component manufacturers in particular, to reach international accreditation and certification standards to support localisation. In the recreational marine manufacturing space we don’t have a designation so there is less impetus to source locally and price and quality are the main procurement drivers whether local or international.
Toni: I do not feel any change at my level as sourcing locally has been our main principle at RCYC.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHANGES YOU HAVE HAD TO MAKE IN YOUR BUSINESS DURING THIS PANDEMIC TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE?
Vanessa: As an industry association, SABBEX worked extremely hard last year lobbying with government to allow the boat building industry to return to work at 50% during our Level 4 lockdown period, along with the automotive sector. If we had not achieved this milestone I think we may have had industry casualties. Adapting to the pace of work virtually and with online workshops and conferences, I have had to learn a new way of networking and engaging. What I have particularly enjoyed with virtual engagements is being able to chat to international colleagues more regularly and share experiences. Maintaining a positive outlook and taking all opportunities that present themselves has been key.
Toni: More Flexibility with all aspects of your business.
3 key changes:
First one: To divert our standard communication towards the members. To explain regularly all our adjustments and how it affects them and their Club, remaining connected so there is value for them. It is highly recommended to inform and maintain a strong contact with our members, our suppliers too, regarding what we can do together to maintain our sailing activities. Committees were working as brainstorming groups.
Second one: Maintain a social cohesion within our staff team, even for, or after retrenchments.
Third one: prioritise activities and expenses. The annual budget was not easy to close. With many ifs and hypotheses, we developed a geometrical budget.
WHEN INTERNATIONAL BOAT SHOWS RESUME, WILL THEY BE AS IMPORTANT AS BEFORE?
Vanessa: Yes, I believe so. In a poll conducted by the owners of the Cape Town Boat Show, almost 70% of exhibitors said they were ready to exhibit in person. I also think buyers are ready for more than just virtual engagement.
Toni: They definitely will be important as before, but the clients could be different and may be unexpected. If you see what is happening in the Building industry in Europe, where the lockdown has created a need to be outside the city, to escape the routine, and to travel differently. What does this mean? Rentals are changing and many start to buy a house or a flat or a boat in advance of their retirement plan. I think the Boat show will start slowly with less products, but they are present to create a stimulus, and to answer to the demand.
WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE MAIN OBSTACLES WOMEN FACE IN THE MARINE SECTOR?
Vanessa: I would like to see higher levels of women ownership in the marine sector. What do we need to do to make ownership easier for women?
Toni: I think we have only two big obstacles for women within the marine sector: first a society and cultures not yet ready for the inclusivity process (although it is not the case at RCYC as you can see with a female GM). Second issue for women who are not qualified as engineers, they face the struggle to be heard and to enter into a very conservative group. The industry here is still very conservative.
THE WORLD IS NOW SHAPED BY TECHNOLOGY CHANGE, SOCIAL MEDIA, CONSUMER EXPECTATIONS AND HYPER CONNECTIVITY HOW HAVE YOU EMBRACED THESE FACTORS TO DEVELOP YOUR BUSINESS?
Vanessa: In my view embracing the technological change has been accelerated with Covid and we need to keep up with the changes and the hyper connectivity. This means running your business in a different way and adapting on a daily basis. Being understanding of those who are resistant to the technological advancements, has also been important – how to stay connected with those people. This was quite evident in two research projects we undertook last year with some respondents very comfortable with online surveys and interviews and others very resistant, preferring to only engage face to face. Keeping an open mind and staying connected are important
Toni: We have several arrows to our bow.
By chance, working through our constitution, we have a committee that can be renewed annually with new members. These are volunteers coming from different industries, with different rich backgrounds, and they add value to the business. This fresh blood regularly is our richness.
Second is to pay attention to the role of marketing. The marketing focus is to ensure we pay attention to the youth, our members and partners. With an experienced open-minded person in this role we can stay in the market and up to date with modern tools and methods.
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