Transport and trucking tends to be a male dominated field, but that hasn't stopped Sharon Butler from developing Expressway into a successful logistics company together with the KZN D&H Deliveries, with seven depots and 90 trucks across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. And as she says, there's no reason why women can't run a successful transport business
I love South Africa and don't plan to leave, we have to conform and survive the challenges and strive to make it work
Transport and trucking tends to be a male dominated field, but that hasn't stopped Sharon Butler from developing Expressway into a successful logistics company together with the KZN D&H Deliveries, with seven depots and 90 trucks across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. And as she says, there's no reason why women can't run a successful transport business.
"Women have stepped up to the plate over the last 20 years, and several successful transport companies are run by women. It's a tough industry, especially right now with the attacks on truck drivers, but men face the exact the same struggles that we do. Success boils down to hard work, perseverance and believing in yourself."
Trained as a secretary, Sharon found her entrepreneurial spirit as a young mother. She'd loved her secretarial job but once her son Ross was born, she didn't want to go back to work. Instead, she created a business from home - a fresh vegetable pack house. Buying produce straight from the market, she developed a range of convenience packs; cleaned, sliced and packaged vegetables for coleslaw, soups, stir-fries and a large microwave range. Now commonplace, this was a new concept and it wasn't long before she was supplying hypermarkets and supermarkets in Howick, Hilton, Pietermaritzburg and throughout Durban.
Building a new business
After a chance meeting with Darryl Ouzman, who owns D&H Deliveries, Sharon changed course going to work for him as a sales rep. Spotting business opportunities in Gauteng, she negotiated a partnership and moved her ambition in business to Johannesburg to focus on growing the business for their new company, Expressway.
Finding a niche in the market, Expressway's key business is offering Johannesburg logistics companies access to a broad KwaZulu-Natal footprint. "There are plenty of transport businesses that don't have their own infrastructure in KZN," says Sharon. "And this is where we succeeded, partnering with them and ensuring Expressway provides their clients and efficient and reliable delivery service in KZN.
Expressway is a third-party wholesale carrier." Sharon's role includes managing the marketing, finance, insurance and administration, while Darryl and his team handle the operations and fleet. "I wouldn't be here today without Darryl," says Sharon. "He's a brilliant business partner and we work very well together."
Inspired by many people, her administration manager in Johannesburg stands out. "Erika Venter is a little dynamo. She's full of ambition and fastidious about deadlines, scheduling and filling trucks. She has the same values and drive as I do, and her loyalty and commitment are inspiring, as a woman in a tough business."
Focused on her goals
Sharon is clearly proud of her achievements, and the way they've grown the business, but there's no doubt that it's taken a lot of work. "No, I don't really have a life-work balance," she admits. "I spend a lot more time at work than I do at play, but it takes a lot to build and maintain a business. So, I'm proud of what I've achieved and I'm lucky to have a very supportive family, which has helped me along the way. But it takes focus and perseverance."
A strong believer in goals, Sharon points out that this has helped her focus. "I have a good work ethic, and I've always strived to set a good example for my son Ross, who also works in the business, and show him the value of hard work and perseverance. I've also aimed to build a business that might create opportunities for him one day too, and hopefully I've achieved that."
Sharon works with a life coach, Lynne McNamara, who she credits with giving her the confidence to chase her goals. "I've always set goals, but she has held me accountable and challenged me. She has also had a very calming effect on me when needed, which was very comforting. I believe that when you're prepared to push the boundaries, the sky is the limit. And I've proved to myself that I can do things I never really thought possible. I truly value her advice."
Another new beginning?
A farm girl at heart, Sharon can't wait to get back to her home in the KZN Midlands after a week in Johannesburg. But it's not just to relax and recharge. Always the entrepreneur, she'd spotted that berries were becoming a growth area in the fresh fruit market and planted 2 000 gooseberry seedlings in her rather large three hectare property at the beginning of the year. "After a little research I learnt that gooseberries are hardy and they don't need tunnels. Basically, you're growing weeds!" she laughs.
But this is more than just a weekend hobby. Despite the intervening years since she'd had her vegetable pack house, Sharon managed to reconnect with some of her old contacts who offered useful advice and her first crop yielded 3 000 punnets .
Sharon focused on the fresh fruit while her mother made gooseberry jam - that rapidly sold out in farmers markets and wholesalers in KZN. "But this isn't a once-off," she says, pointing out that her second crop is due in November. "Maybe I've discovered my exit plan," she smiles.