MARGIE WHITTEN, even as a child was interested in business, perhaps from force of circumstance. Her parents placed a high value on education, and chose to make real sacrifices to send her to a private boarding school. But it was a financial stretch, and Margie didn't have many of the "necessities" the other girls took for granted. Undaunted by this, she realised she didn't have to go without. "I've always been very determined," she says, "and I was an entrepreneur before I was 16." Margie set up several small businesses while she was at school, her favourites being an after-hours tuckshop and her second-hand clothing business.
A lucky break started Margie on her path to director of IDU KZN. She was invited to an interview by an IT company, and got the job - and this launched her career. Here too she connected with the developers of the IDU software that powers her business. But it takes more than a lucky break to make a career. "It was more of a natural progression," she says, pointing out that a huge amount of hard work was required to build her career.
IDU KZN helps medium to larger corporates in KZN and into Africa with budgeting and financial reporting systems that simplify financial management. As Margie puts it, "We make it easier for our clients to make sound business decisions based on accurate financial information, without having to spend hours crunching numbers."
With a strong focus on growth, her prime role is business development, but she is also involved with business consulting and scoping customer requirements. "We're experts in what we do and we understand our solutions very well," says Margie, "but we also need to really understand our clients' business needs too, so we can marry the two knowledge pools together to implement the right solutions to each client's needs."
Women don't face the same challenges as they did years ago
Over the years, Margie has had many role models, but right now she singles out Michelle Obama as an inspiration. "She's a strong, competent woman, with a transparent commitment to her husband, her marriage, her family and she does incredible work for the community. She's such a real person and she hasn't been swallowed up by her husband's power and success."
Margie is adamant that there's an even playing field in the IT world today. "Things have definitely changed. We don't face challenges that men don't have to deal with, at least in our industry, and I see this similarity in my clients' companies too," says Margie. "I believe it's a level playing field, but we have to play our part too. The right mindset is vital. We have equal opportunities in business and we need to make the most of them."
She does acknowledge, however, that women probably take on more responsibilities than men, when it comes to domestic duties, and that can add stress and present time challenges. "But we do have more resources to support us in being wives and mothers as well as business people."
"I'm lucky to have the support of an incredible husband who's happy to share the load at home. You can plan ahead as much as you like, but we support our clients through critical reporting timelines and our work is often driven by factors out of our control." Margie admits that she doesn't have a work-life balance. "I'm not even sure it's a real thing," she laughs. "I've tried, but when your customers need you, they tend to come first - that's what makes our business."
On the bright side, Margie points out, when she stopped stressing about work-life balance, somehow things fell into place. "It works for us. Though recently, my son does seem to love piling on the guilt about me being a working mom."
If Margie had the chance to do it all again, she wouldn't change much, but she says she would take a longer term approach to her goals. "I've always had short and medium term goals, but I'd plan better for the life I wanted at the end, and set out to achieve that. I was a late starter when it came to motherhood, with a miracle baby when I was 40, and having a child made me realise I needed to have long-term plans in place. So I changed by mindset and it's working for me."
"I'm happy with what I've accomplished," says Margie, "but I'm not happy that I'm heading to the end of my career. There's still so much I want to achieve - and it's not just about me." Margie points out that she certainly didn't achieve her success on her own, and her team has been invaluable in growing the business and delivering value to their clients. "One of my core goals right now is to help my team create a secure financial future for themselves."