Managing Director, Imperial Armour
Louisa Garland is the managing director of Imperial Armour, which was established 21 years ago. Being a woman owned company in the security industry, Louisa is an inspiration to her staff.
She takes a proactive approach in being actively involved with all aspects of the company. Louisa is continually motivating her staff and is continually finding new ways and innovative ideas to keep the company moving forward and evolving to keep up in changing times.
Louisa’s journey began 21 years ago when she left Belgium to come to South Africa to assist her father who was running his own company making body armour. Unfortunately, a month before she arrived here, with her two children and their father, the company went into voluntary liquidation. It as then a question of whether to return to Belgium, or to establish a new company.
Life changing chapter
“Coming to South Africa, was already such an exciting prospect and I knew I was ready for the challenge! So Imperial Armour was born!” explained Louisa. “It was obviously a hard road, as firstly, because I knew nothing about body armour; nor manufacturing! I was living in a new country; with no friends or family, but I felt inspired. It was also an incredible life changing chapter of my career.”
Louisa comments that much of her journey has been self-driven as she believes in herself and her abilities. She was also inspired by the need to support her daughters. After one year of living in South Africa, their father went back to Belgium, so the family was alone. She explains, “I was incredibly excited to go along this journey and while it was daunting and I was afraid, I still had my two beautiful children, Lara and Emily, and I wanted to make an impression on them and for them to be proud of me.”
Louisa started Imperial Armour in a garage in Kloof. In 2008 the company moved to Westmead, Pinetown, which is where all of the personal protection equipment is manufactured.
Succeed through learning
The biggest challenge that Louisa experienced when she first came to South Africa was to make someone believe that an English lady who has come from overseas can make and sell body armour. “For the first year and a half I did not do very well. But I succeeded through learning and growing in confidence. On this incredible journey, the more knowledge that I had, the more confident I became, which resulted in people believing in me,” says Louisa.
At this precise moment in this journey, Louisa is in a fantastic position because the company is doing extremely well. Imperial Armour has doubled its turnover from last year to this year and has orders flooding in and has clients who are supporting them. “We are in a beautiful space. What is even more exciting is that I can still see even more light ahead,” explains Louisa. “I just feel so confident for our future.”
The fact is that she is now employing people in different regions of South Africa. Apart from KwaZulu-Natal, this includes employees in Gauteng, Cape Town, and the Eastern Cape. An operations manager has recently been appointed and the Imperial Armour staff complement has grown from 15 to 35 in one year. As Louisa strongly believes that women should be empowered, 98% of the staff are women.
One of the strengths of Imperial Armour is that Louisa, in addition to believing in herself, has also instilled the same values in the people that work for her. “I believe that training is extremely important so that we grow people. We inspire confidence in them to do better and to become stronger beings in themselves. What is also important is that when employing women of the community, you are not just employing them, you are employing their children, their families, and their friends. So, when they feel empowered themselves, they can share that message to the people that they know. And that is what I believe in.” The result of this ethos is that the company’s retention of production staff members is very high. Many of the employees have had between seven and fifteen years of service at Imperial Armour.
In advising other people entering the business world, Louisa would say, firstly, believe in yourself and secondly, to have passion to carry out your goals and the motivation to never give up and keep on going.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you stumble; you can get up and you can keep on going. By having that desire and that drive to succeed, you will be able to do it. Never stop learning; to me it is really important to continually grow yourself within.”
In order to have a work life balance, Louisa loves redesigning both her home, with new colours and using different furniture, as well as her garden. One of her passions is to buy a property and completely renovate it to make it look beautiful.
“I love spending time with my daughters, and I now have a grandchild who I am spoiling rotten. I love to scuba dive. I love reading and learning new things. I love travelling and I am a real adventurer when it comes to exploring new places,” she added.
In conclusion, says Louisa, “If you at times find it difficult to get back on your feet, remember to love yourself. Remember to do those affirmations in front of the mirror and to say, ‘I - love – you’. How you love yourself is how you teach others how to love you.”