I met Carol Roskruge when she was studying at the University of KZN in Pietermaritzburg. After her studies, she came to work at Unilever in the Product Development Department and worked on various face and body care categories, facilitating innovation, commercialisation of products and speed to market.
We both left Unilever and became colleagues later at SABMiller. We still engage socially. Carol is the ultimate entrepreneur, and I have learnt so much from her and her philosophy. It is Woman’s month, and I wanted to get her perspective on business, women, entrepreneurship.
Carol is very assertive and very clear on her views and whether you like what she says or not – that does not concern her. She is very much her own woman and an independent thinker, and very honest.
Can you give people some background about Carol the young Carol and where she grew up and what shaped your younger years?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, which takes me down memory lane. I was born in Durban KZN, and immediately my family relocated to the Eastern Cape where I grew up and partly obtained my elementary education. I come from a large family unit with seven members including our parents. My childhood memories were full of fun, laughter, conversations, discipline, hard work (yes we ploughed the fields during school holidays), encouragement to be highly competitive and strive for excellence in everything that we did. We were also raised on and taught strong Christian values which mostly inform my choices, attitude and views. When I started high school, my parents decided to send me to Little Flower School with boarding facilities in KZN. It was tough – I recall crying days before I was scheduled to return to school every quarter. It was a massive change for me and the beginning of shaping me into the woman I am today. My years there taught me valuable lessons on accepting change, dealing promptly with situations, expressing myself confidently and most of all, making and losing friends and building networks, some of which I still have to this day. When I look back with immense pride, these are indeed the years that shaped me.
You studied a BSc and did a Masters degree in the sciences – and then you changed careers. What led you to that change and what was your realisation?
I am an analytical person (my creative side is dead!!!). I recall that during my secondary school education, I was very much a Mathematics and Science kid. In the absence of quality career guidance in high school, it felt logical to pursue tertiary education in medicine and the sciences. My parents wanted me to be a doctor but funding was limited, and God had other plans. After matric, they got me registered at the University of Natal (now University of KZN) in Pietermaritzburg to read for the sciences, where I completed BSc (Hons) and MSc degrees. In 1997 one of my Professors recommended me to the South African Sugar Association for my first job – I quickly learnt that a career in research would kill me as it was a day filled with repetitive tasks. In 1998, I was recruited by Unilever to join their R&D team, and my career in Development started. My fast growth and the many career opportunities, exposed me to diverse functions and the true meaning of run, manage, change and grow the business. I was also afforded opportunities to manage and lead local, regional and international operations – my view of business was non-myopic, it was my AHA moment. I started to take on more commercial roles, with brand growth, project management, budget, people and P&L responsibilities. In 2008, I completed my MBL and to cut a long story short – here I am today, a well-rounded executive with general management exposure.
Please tell us about your company and how you started it? What were some of the lessons that you learnt and can share with other women who have started on this journey
After 14 years of working as a supply chain/commercial/project management executive, I wanted to change. I wanted to try my hand at entrepreneurship to give me more prominent accountability, financial freedom and time management in my hands. In 2014, I started Imi Mat (Pty) Ltd trading as Carlynro Supply Chain, Commercial and Project Management solutions. It was not easy – I hustle every single day. My most significant push was from Ms Amanda Dambuza, CEO and Owner of Uyandiswa Project Management. She kick-started my business by giving me an opportunity and opened doors which could otherwise have been closed. I try to do the same for other women who are starting. My biggest lessons include:
- Understand your reason for being – know why you started the business and continuously reference this as its very easy to lose focus especially when things are not going well (and they will)
- Be patient – it takes time to grow and establish your own business;
- Money-savvy – know, understand and respect money. Cash flow is king
- Spend time in your business – especially doing the administration and business development;
- Network with SME businesses on the same mission as you;
- Respect your networks – they are your net worth in the real sense of the word
Have you ever “failed” and how did you overcome that
Yes, I am proud to say that I have failed many times. I may not show it, but it is true. In my view, failure is like a loss. I have endured lots of personal loss in my life, including the death of two close siblings and business loss. What keeps me going is that I know what I want and I am determined to define and fulfil my destiny. In addition to this, I am also a very strong person, with a fighting spirit and I surround myself with people on the same mission as me. My state of mind allows me to recover fast from situations because I firmly believe that I cannot undo what has occurred, I have no control of future events, but I can control how I react and how the incident influences me. To overcome my failures, I move swiftly to understand what I am going through, what has caused the failure, what is in my control and what is not, what lessons I have learnt and rush back to the drawing board. There is not the time to feel sorry for me.
What is your view on entrepreneurship in SA and how can we drive more women entrepreneurs in South Africa
In my opinion, entrepreneurship in SA is on the rise, but I don’t think that SA is ready for the huge rush. The success rate of entrepreneurs is not as favourable. Generally, business growth creates opportunities. Our economy is growing slowly, and so the possibilities are less. Entrepreneurs also struggle because of its hard doing business with government – red-tape procurement coupled with late payment of invoices. The private sector is largely not interested in genuinely growing the Black business. I have knocked on doors that made me feel that they are permanently closed to my type etc. I am very interested in joining a panel to discuss how best we can untie the knots. For example, I think a lot can be done on the regulatory front; much more can be done by the government who is the main culprit in killing entrepreneurs. More accessible and economically viable funding models are most welcome.
It is Women’s month, and I meet a lot of women who want to know how does one make it to the top and what are your lessons?
My journey to the top was bruising – for example, I was accelerated to the glass-ceiling without my consent so to speak. But I was not willing to be forced up an imaginary ladder, and I acted swiftly to climb down that ladder which I did not ask for. I quickly learnt to design my career path and destiny – it was my best revenge! I have joined influential positions that allow me to be a mouthpiece and contribute in an open and constructive manner to conversations that openly address the influence of diversity (gender, race, creed, preferences) on career opportunities and most importantly, turning these conversations into action. It is a real fight for Black people. Unfortunately, many women give up along the way. If I have to impart some lessons, here goes:
- Work hard, put the time in and know your craft;
- Get an excellent mentor who has your development at heart;
- Never allow a 3rd party who has no knowledge of and interest in your dreams to control your destiny. People can have opinions of you – but don’t let their silly views define your path;
- Contribute and get involved – create a good track record
Do you mentor other women and if so how can people get hold of you?
I have been so focused on building my business, and this area has been neglected so to speak. I only have one SME under my guidance. It’s an area of improvement for me. I am in the process of designing a mentorship program for women in supply chain and hope to have it operational in 2019. Otherwise, I have an open door, and I am contactable on www.carlynro.co.za and through professional sites like LinkedIn. I am here because I was given an opportunity. I want to do the same for other women.