BRIGITTE TURNER is head of Harvey World Travel Highway. When Brigitte bought Harvey World Travel Highway 18 years ago, she'd never worked in the travel industry. In fact, she'd built a highly successful corporate career in property development and was managing director of a major national property organisation. Despite the demands of her corporate position, Brigitte was a natural entrepreneur and already owned three other companies when a friend mentioned that there might be an interesting opportunity in a small travel business.
Having thrived in the male dominated property development industry, Brigitte doesn't believe that women need to take a different approach to men to their careers. "Yes, women are still frequently discriminated against, particularly when it comes to salaries in corporates, but women have more opportunities that ever before. Instead of being daunted by your situation," she says, "you need to trust in yourself, believe that there are opportunities because you have something to offer, and be yourself."
She credits her talented and committed team for their huge contribution, and takes guidance from Richard Branson, her "ultimate entrepreneur", in setting high targets for herself. Branson says he never sets a target unless it really frustrates him, and Brigitte agrees that without aiming high, you'll never reach great heights.
Making business success meaningful
"I'm definitely proud of what I've achieved, but I'm certainly not at the end of my career yet," she points out. "There's so much to be done - and not enough time to do it." Inspired by Branson's philanthropic commitment as well as his business acumen, and by Mother Theresa's service to her community, Brigitte knows that everyone can make a difference. "I only wish I could be even half as selfless as Mother Theresa," she laughs.
Business success has allowed Brigette to make a greater contribution to society. As a business, Harvey World Travel Highway supports community events and helps with fundraising projects, but Brigitte feels that this is only part of it. Over the years she's served on the boards of several charities and gives of her time and business skills too. She's particularly committed to her church's social transformation project and headed a business forum to develop business skills for emerging entrepreneurs. "The business forum started as a workshop for three or four entrepreneurs each meeting, and rapidly grew to over 150 people every week, with formal training courses."
But Brigitte didn't just set up the business forum, she trained entrepreneurs herself, spending many a Monday evening in Kwadabeka and Lamontville. She's particularly fulfilled by the real success stories that started in these workshops, and one in particular made a real mark. "Mandisa Sithole, who owns the craft shop at King Shaka International Airport, had a small beading business and a big dream. And I'm so honoured to have been a small part of her journey."
Brigitte has recently joined Rotary, and notes that, like everything else in life, the more you give, the more you get back.
Living a well-rounded life
With running a demanding business, her family commitments and community work, it can't be easy to do it all, but Brigitte is adamant that you need balance. "My circle of life includes family, friends, spirituality, career, finances, health and love life, and everything needs to be in balance for my life to work," she says. "If one element is out of balance, I feel it across all aspects of my life. And I need my community work as much as I need my exercise."
Needless to say, life is not always perfect, and Brigitte points out that a difficult divorce a few years ago took its toll and she felt she was in a slump across every element. But true to her belief that our time on earth is limited and we need to use it well, she soon got herself back on track. "Whenever I feel things aren't going as well as they should, I take a good look at my wheel of life, pray to God for guidance, and figure out which area I need to deal with. And it works for me."
When asked what advice she would give her younger self, Brigitte says it's the same advice she gives her three children today. "Be kind and be generous, stick to your values, pray often and remember that ethics matter. If you follow this simple dictum, it will stand you in good stead, and you'll always be able to look people in the eye."