Head of Research and Development Beier Envirotec
Zamangwane (Zama) Khanyile is currently employed by Beier Envirotec as the head of research and development. By qualification, she is a chemical engineer which she studied at UKZN Howard College. Zama has worked for Beier Envirotec for 11 years now, which is about a third of her life.
Commenting on her career choice, she said, “I’ve always wanted to challenge myself in some way. So, when it came to choosing a career, I did a bit of research to find out which was the most difficult, as for some reason I like to make life hard for myself. Chemical engineering piqued my interest, and I went for it. It was taxing, but I did manage to get through it in record time.”
For her tertiary education, Zama received a sponsorship from the Beier Envirotec. As soon as she graduated, she was offered permanent employment there and subsequently worked her way up to senior management.
Helping her grow
Zama says that during her journey, she has been assisted by people at work who have really helped her grow. For example, she says her mentor Warren Sachs (Pr Eng Mechanical) was so ‘on the ball’ that she wanted to be half the person he was!
At work, she says she also shadowed a very great man, eventually taking over his role in the research and development space. “He was very knowledgeable. I think the best in Africa, and he motivated me to want to be the best as well,” said Zama.
Her current boss, Mawethu Ntsholo, who joined the company shortly after her, has also been an inspiration. She explained, “He’s got a great story to tell himself. He comes from humble beginnings, and he’s done so well for himself. But he saw potential in me, challenged me and gave me the space to grow. He would also come to me for assistance; I actually taught him technical aspects of our products and processes, he taught me a lot about management and business, we had our fair share of fights, but we grew together.”
Making an impact
Commenting on challenges that she has faced; Zama says that her upbringing was tumultuous. Consequently, she wanted to do something that could help her make an impact not only on the people around her but in the world, and engineering was the way to go.
She added that in chemical engineering, you learn about chemical process engineering and design; now she works in technical textiles which is quite different, so she has had to learn everything again from scratch.
Being a young black girl in a very male dominated space was also a challenge in that she says you have to work almost five to ten times as much to be seen. She remembers when initially walking onto the shop floor, where the work force comprised only males who she had to supervise, questioning how she was going to tell someone as old as her dad what to do. Her approach was to humble herself and acknowledge that she had much to learn. She did not want to come across as being bossy or cheeky. Instead, Zama was consultative. As such she was able to gain respect until eventually, she said, she could “call the shots”.
Zama admitted that she was supported by her sponsor at the time who was the second-generation owner of the business, the late Mr. Hans Beier. “He made sure that I wouldn’t be abused. Not to say that I was favoured in any way. I’m here because of the results that I’ve been able to achieve through putting in the work, the time, and through sheer resilience.”
Zama is currently undergoing a master’s programme with the University in America in textile sciences. Her ultimate aim is for the company to be the leading industrial filtration experts in Africa.
Besides work, Zama likes to give back to her community. Her goal, as she is creative person, is to build an arts and craft centre to help young people express themselves creatively.
Her advice to young women is that success takes much sacrifice. She explained, “You have to choose your struggle. Waking up in the morning to go to school is painful. I would much rather sleep in and watch movies all day. But which pain is better, being uneducated and not finding a good job, or getting up at earlier than you’d like to get to work and earn a decent living? To afford and achieve your life goals takes sacrifice. So, choose a struggle and put in the effort.”
In addition, says Zama, industry is really receptive of women more than ever before. “There are great opportunities for women. You literally can do and have whatever you want if you put in the effort. Follow your wildest dreams and don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Zama is proud to say that she has had much opportunity in her company to deliver innovative products, and to test the limits. She has been responsible for fine tuning processes resulting in improved outputs.
When Zama has time off work, she enjoys being with her family. She explained her focus on her studies resulted in her neglecting some relationships, which she is trying to rebuild. Zama has a nine-year-old daughter who loves going to the beach. As her daughter is artistic, Zama enjoys spending time with her as she creates new paintings and drawings. She added with a laugh, “I also enjoy using my sister as a guinea pig for trying out new hairstyles and reading as much as I can.”
Being part of KZN Top Business Women has provided Zama with the recognition she has been longing for and she is grateful for the honour.
“Being in a manufacturing environment is very pressurised. It’s high emotion. Sometimes you feel like your efforts are not recognised. I feel that all my hard work has been for something. It’s really great.”