MICHELLE GREGORY is the co-founder of Wozani Berg Gasoline (WBG), a diversified logistics group, providing transport, fuel storage, distribution, and supply chain services nationally and in neighbouring countries. She is the systems director responsible for all procedures and systems including telecommunications, information technology, and software development.
Michelle started off as a teacher before getting married and then worked in the computer industry for three years. Michelle and her husband James got an opportunity to move to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands where they ran a thriving trading store. When Engen invited tenders for a fuel depot, she and her husband made a joint bid.
James had fuel industry training and experience and Michelle had accounting and IT experience. She says, "We were fortunate to be the right people at the right place at the right time" and their bid was successful. They opened a fuel depot in the tiny town of Creighton with a truck, two drivers and a clerk. Despite major setbacks, through perseverance, hard work and building good relationships, the business succeeded and expanded.
WBG now boasts a modern infrastructure nationally with more than 200 employees. Michelle says, "To get here today has been a long process, 26 years of hard work, almost like the process of a river from start to end."
Say what is relevant and produce results
Good and bad life experiences have moulded her, making her a graduate of the University of Life. Michelle is inspired by men and women who have bounced back from hardship and hard times. "Resilient people are able to adapt to change, become stronger and become dynamic leaders in the business world." Michelle believes specific incidents don't make you, rather it is relationships and being able to change as life moulds you that matters. People are very important to her and so good relationships between them are necessary. She feels fortunate to have a support system of family and friends who have been with her all the way.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry meant Michelle had to learn the hard way to stand up for herself. Being the only woman around a table with men set in their ways requires bringing an art to negotiations. As Michelle likes to produce something tangible quickly and efficiently, she found it is better to say less, be clear and only say what was relevant to produce results.
"Working in a man's world is tough for a woman," she says, "you have to learn to read men, and then you have to use the advantages for your benefit."
Leave work behind
Balancing work and family life have been important, but not a problem for Michelle. "I am very clear that when I leave the work premises, I leave work behind. It's my saving grace," she says.
When Michelle and James started the business, they had three toddlers and Michelle's time had to be divided. She believes, "Being a mom is the most humbling and precious gift that a woman can have in life". Motherhood grounds her and gives her purpose. It gives her balance in the work and life scenario says Michelle.
Be patient, humble, and bold
If Michelle could give her younger self advice, she would say three things. Firstly "Be patient, slowly-slowly catch the monkey" as she had been impulsive and wanted to get things done very quickly. "Set your goals and know that you will get there eventually if you are resilient. Success does not happen overnight unless you win a jackpot."
Secondly, she would tell herself to be humble. "Life throws curve balls at us, so enjoy the good times and be grateful for them, because they can be taken from you in an instant." She relates that there were times at WBG where they had to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the saddle. "Being humble is about knowing you are never so good that nothing will go wrong."
Lastly, she would say "Be bold". As a young mom she battled to express herself, "but years later I can sit around any boardroom table, rely on my gut feeling and with integrity say what I need to say." This is important, she thinks, as young people tend to hold back and not say what needs to be said.
The best is yet to come
Michelle is not content with what she has achieved and says that her best is yet to come. She has been privileged to be part of WBG and aims to leave it a sustainable, well-oiled machine that can function without her. She believes in giving back and through WBG assists schools, supports an orphanage and gets involved in social projects. Though modern technology, WBG offices are becoming green.
Now she would like to start something on her own and says that it's never too late to start something new, she is ready for a challenge. Michelle has a passion for women in business and wants to create a business network run by women who own their own businesses.
Michelle is poised to do so right now, but "Even baby eagles need a push to fly!" she concludes.