By Yoliswa Hlatshwayo
Palesa Mbele, Territory Manager at Puma Energy MP, was born in Johannesburg and moved around with her parents.
She has lived in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. After matriculating at Westering High School, she completed a Marketing and Business Management degree. She currently works for the oil company looking after sites in the Lowveld Region.
What influenced your career choice? What does your role at Puma Energy entail?
I cannot say I dreamt of working in the petroleum industry. It really fell on my lap when I got a call from an employment agency. I went to the interview, it was for Engen Petroleum and I had no idea what the job was about. I then got the job. It opened up a whole new world for me. My former line manager told me to take it easy as I have a lot to learn and will learn daily. That was so true. So as for my role, I overlook all the Puma garages in terms of everything like following up on credit, contracts, Health, Safety and Environment issues, training and relationship building.
Describe your typical day at work?
That really varies on what happens on site. A simple example, not so long ago we had a Covid-19 case at the border where we get our product. Trucks couldn’t come through to Nelspruit. Another plan had to be made, that’s where I scrambled to find products to ensure that my sites are not dry.
This was successful. On a typical site visit, I talk to the forecourt staff about safety as is, Puma has launched the 5 Golden Rules to live by.
Then I chat to management about the state of the business. Then we do a site walkabout, open manholes, check for water and dirt, check that the pumps are working. For those who have shops, there are different conversations.
What are some of the highs and lows in the industry for you as a woman?
The industry is still very much male dominated, I find myself sitting in meetings where I am the only female. At the same time, some decisions are done by management who are also male.
What I found is my survival strong point is the relationships I have with my clients. I know how to steer behaviour and get what I want for the benefit of both the company and the clients.
In your view, are women of today taking up space in male dominated industries? Is there still gender inequality when it comes to senior management positions?
Our company has changed in the past year or so, with females as Chief Executive Officer and Head of Africa. A lot better of strategic positions have been filled by more females. So yes, space is definitely being taken. I see a lot more women being oil tanker drivers and just taking over.
What are your words of encouragement to women generally and those who are still trying to climb the corporate ladder?
In 2020, there is nothing that we as women cannot do. We can negotiate, we can fight for what’s right, we feed ideas, we offload trucks, we dip manholes.
We cannot let the idea of being a woman stop us. So, I say go for it.