Women in leadership: From humble beginnings to driving industry growth

Securing a job traditionally entails sending a CV to a prospective employer and being called to an interview. Takalane Khashane’s career journey started differently – frustrated with attending a number of interviews and being informed that she didn’t have enough experience for the job, she took it upon herself to write directly to the CEO […]

Securing a job traditionally entails sending a CV to a prospective employer and being called to an interview. Takalane Khashane’s career journey started differently – frustrated with attending a number of interviews and being informed that she didn’t have enough experience for the job, she took it upon herself to write directly to the CEO of a company she was interested in working for, and pleaded her case.

Khashane is the Managing Director of both the Cleaning and Catering Divisions at Servest, one of the leading facilities management companies in Africa. Managing a team of over 10 000 colleagues takes the tenacity and ingenuity that Khashane has built over the years.

Humble beginnings

Soweto-born Khashane, who grew up in Tsianda village in Venda, is the fifth child in a family of seven children. She migrated to Johannesburg to enrol at the University of the Witwatersrand to study Biological Sciences. Like many students, Khashane also worked part time at a restaurant in Braamfontein to fund her studies and daily expenses.

“I served as a waitress and did food delivery at this restaurant, and after lunch I had to rush back to the campus to attend class. In addition to keeping me physically fit, my job also taught me a lot about people and the importance of customer service. I still use the lessons I learnt then today, and I have internalised the importance of treating each customer as if they are your only customer. Customers buy a service or a solution from you, and they want value for their money – whether it is a sandwich they bought for lunch or integrated facilities solutions, they want value for their money and every rand to stand for itself,” says Khashane.

She recalls that after the restaurant closed, one of the co-partners referred her to one of the major banks where there was an opening for a call centre agent. “This marked an important turn in my life. I could work eight hours, dedicate another eight hours for my studies and I could sleep for the next eight hours. I was able to send some money home to help my family with their expenses. I learned a lot about money and people. I finished my honours degree, which was self-funded; I could now afford to move out of the student residence into a small flat,” says Khashane.

Growing market share

Khashane’s career has spanned a number of diverse industries since then – serving in a senior capacity for major companies in the financial services and telecommunications sectors before she joined Servest.

Sharing more about her strategic role within Servest, Khashane says that her team is at the helm of growing Servest’s cleaning service solutions within the business’ integrated solutions offering. The strategy is based on customer acquisitions, organic growth and where feasible mergers or joint ventures.

“We are looking at growing our market share in South Africa, and we have various strategies aimed at business development and retention of existing customers. It is difficult to grow in an economy that is sluggish, but we believe that when the economy takes an upturn, it will have positive spin-offs for the entire facilities management industry.”

The impact of automation on cleaning services

Khashane points out that the use of digitisation solutions such as automation and artificial intelligence does not bode well for employment generation, particularly in a country like South Africa where millions of people are out of work.

 

“I believe that although automation is already here with us, it will still take some time for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to permeate our industry at a full scale. For now, we still require a human touch, even with the most sophisticated machines that are being introduced to the market,” she says.

She stresses that in this sector, it is important to re-skill the workforce in order to re-purpose them for the new roles that will be brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 What is Servest’s key differentiator?

Khashane explains that there are few to no barriers to entry in the cleaning and catering industry. In a country characterised by high unemployment and a largely unskilled labour force, these industries tend to be the sectors to which many people default to make a living. “Our colleagues are our main differentiator; without them we would not be able to do what we do. Our role is to ensure the sustainability of the industry so that we can create jobs for the country’s unemployed youth and contribute towards some of the country’s socio-economic challenges.”

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