BACKSTORY: Barloworld chair Neo Dongwana
We question Barloworld chair Neo Dongwana on her top tip for doing a deal, how to fix Eskom and her biggest regret
What’s your one top tip for doing a deal?
Be prepared to lose a little to maintain the other party’s dignity.
What was your first job?
I did odd jobs through a student placement agency while I was still studying at the University of Cape Town, which ranged from promoting Fatti’s & Moni’s pasta to getting a more regular bookkeeping job. My first full-time job was as an articled clerk at Deloitte in Cape Town.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
It was R1,975 gross and I saved a third, and spent the rest on rent, food, transport and clothes.
What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?
That while a career is important, you need to make time for yourself, your family and your other interests. Also, diversify your income streams, regardless of whether you are on a company payroll.
How would you fix Eskom?
The revenue line is the most challenging to increase, so cost reduction is inevitable. The biggest line item, unfortunately, relates to staff costs, so that would be a start.
Do you think we need SAA?
Not in its current format.
What is your biggest regret?
Not studying further to get my master’s and PhD before I got married and became a mom.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
I am quite creative. I design some of the clothes I wear, and I love interior decorating and making spaces look beautiful.
What has been your worst purchase?
Some unnamed timeshare on the coast.
What is the one investment you wish you had made, or made earlier?
Property, property and more property.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Intelligence … the truth is hard work also still pays off.
Was there ever a point at which you wanted to trade it all in for a different career? And if so, what would that career be?
Around 2001/2002 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and through that whole three-month operation and recovery period, I realised that I was being given a message to slow down. I have since done my best to be kinder to myself and reduce my stress levels.
How do you cope with load-shedding?
I invested in a generator five years ago (we do sell them at Barloworld) and have always cooked with gas.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?
I would choose three things that I would focus on and change fundamentally for the better: education, health and a significant reduction in unemployment.