10 December 2012 | Real people real talent

At Yem Yem we understand that we are only as successful as our people and individual growth is a critical component of our mission and value system. A conversation with two of our rising stars reflects the passion and humility that is reflective of the Yem Yem culture.

Ayanda Mcalester

Ayanda McalesterThis vivacious lady was born in Madiba’s hometown of Umtata in 1971. She matriculated in Khayelitsha and not surprisingly, was later crowned as Miss Cape Town and Miss Hellenic. Ayanda spent most of her married life as a housewife and mother of two adorable kids. Although Ayanda did join the real estate industry for a short while, work was more of a hobby for her than a career.

Following the separation from her husband, Ayanda quickly realised that she needed her independence and made the decision to pursue life in the corporate world. This was a decision that changed her life and Ayanda believes that she is living testimony of the fact that anything can happen if you set your mind to it.

We asked Ayanda about her experience in the corporate world.

What was the motivation behind you joining Yem Yem?

I was keen to learn about the industry and prove to all women out there that we can enter male dominated industries.

How would you describe the Yem Yem culture and how do you think it differs to other corporate cultures?

It is difficult for me to compare as my corporate experience is limited, but at Yem Yem I very quickly learned the value of transparency in leadership and management. The building of relationships internally and externally is critical to Yem Yem and the understanding that our suppliers are our partners has been something that was driven home from the day I started.

Yem Yem quickly recognised your talents and promoted you within a short while after joining the company. Where do you think your talents/skills lie?

I think it all starts with the right attitude and I believe that my eagerness to learn and grow has allowed me to only see opportunities where others might see problems. Because I had no background in corporate when I joined, I asked our Chairman if I could do an administration course at Damelin. He never hesitated and it was his belief in me that drove me to achieve a distinction in my very first exam. I am more confident, more independent and proud of being Ayanda – no longer in the shadow of someone else.

The right fit for an employee and the position they are in can be more important than their qualifications. How do you see the fit in your new role?

Yem Yem has an open door policy and is a firm believer of accountability. This working environment inspires and motivates me to observe my seniors and ask questions without feeling intimidated. The humility of our Chairman is a character trait that I aim to mirror myself on.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I savour the fact that I am working for an extremely innovative company that adapts easily to change. Budgeting and strategic planning are new to me but thanks to the coaching and recognition from my new boss, our COO Cindy Smith, I am excited about the challenges that lie ahead. Cindy is an amazing, intellectual woman and I see our relationship as one woman grooming another woman and empowering and motivating each other.  She isn’t insecure and doesn’t hold back on any information that might assist my growth.

As a woman, balancing family and work life poses many challenges. Are there any tips you have to offer other women in the same position as yourself?

Growing up as an only child, I never had an older sibling to defend me so I learned that a great way to protect myself was through the power of a positive mind. I hope to instill that positivity in my children. I am also a strong advocate of creating quality time for your family and that can be made possible with the help of a support structure – perhaps a family member. Make no, mistake juggling work and family is no mean feat, but you must be selfish enough to take yourself out without feeling guilty – you deserve it.


Bongani Ndebele

Bongani NdebeleA true gentleman, Bongani Ndebele was born in Vryheid in 1985. After matriculating in 2002 he studied Project Management at UNISA and in 2005 was offered a position at Allicat Publishing, a division of Junkmail SA, in advertising sales. After just four months his commitment and excellent attention to detail, resulted in a promotion to the position of team leader. By 2007 Bongani was interfacing directly with a portfolio of corporate clients.

In 2008 Bongani took on a new challenge and accepted a position at Standard Bank where he gained experience in various departments from loans, to vehicle and asset finance. It was there that he met Yem Yem’s current Chairman, Siphiwe Dhlomo,
as a client.

Bongani shares his success formula with us.

What was the motivation behind you joining Yem Yem?

My working experience with Siphiwe Dhlomo left a strong impression on me. I was impressed by his intelligence and humility and the chemistry between us was immediate. He later approached me to join the company that he was in the process of creating and I was extremely motivated by his vision, to be a beacon and a shining example of black empowerment.

How would you describe the Yem Yem culture and how do you think it differs to other corporate cultures?

Yem Yem has not adopted a typical hierarchical business culture and offers all levels of employee access to the directors. This allows us the opportunity to really spread our wings and embrace our skills.

Yem Yem quickly recognised your talents and promoted you within a short while after joining the company. Where do you think your talents/skills lie?

I am at work to work, and push myself from adequate to extraordinary. Bongani’s colleagues are quick to vouch for his loyalty and dedication to Yem Yem, “he is always the first person in the office with a ’can-do’ attitude that is contagious”.

My new role at Yem Yem will be accounting based and I firmly believe that anyone in business should have a financial understanding. I see my new role as the perfect challenge, working amongst a group of directors with such diverse backgrounds – every day is a learning curve.

What do you believe are the benefits of working for a company that is very much in its growth phase?

Yem Yem have handpicked a group of individuals that are hungry for success and growth, and all have the opportunity to learn together. In a larger organization it is difficult to focus on the individual and their talents and I owe great appreciation to my mentors, who identified a talent in me that led me to my new position.

On a personal level, what words of advise can you offer to likeminded men out there?

Be faithful to who you are. A man must do what a man does best. You must be a mentor to your children and always lead by example. Many couples, myself included, find themselves in a situation where both parents are working. The great thing about this is that you are on a similar wavelength and conversation flows easily, but don’t forget to pull your weight when it comes to household responsibilities.

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity that I have…remember its up to you what you decide to do with it.

Pursuing our dreams remains our most powerful path to success

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