Angela Dick, the CEO and founder of Transman, the largest privately owned, temporary-employment service provider in SA, has driven her company’s revenue from R85 000 in 1983 to R640 million today, writes Sue Grant-Marshall
Angela Dick’s decisions can potentially affect 120 000 people a day. That’s a figure that could keep a soul awake at night, and sometimes it does, for she cares deeply about the 10 000 breadwinners she employs.
“No matter what happens, my workers are paid their wages every Thursday. I am acutely aware that most of these individuals put food
on the table for between 10 to 12 family members.”
Dick knows what it is to go hungry. When money started to get tight in the early days of the business, she fed her family of five children on two loaves of bread a day.
At one stage she stopped paying the bond on the house for six months and sold household goods to afford petrol to get to work. “I do truly know what it is to have nothing,” she says.
Dick, a teacher by training, and her former partner, who was in the transport business, started their business in the early 1980s, training drivers in Joburg.
“Then a client asked me to find a driver for his company. I was stunned when 1 200 people answered my advert and that’s how we began.”
Dick had found a gap in the market, creating a temporary but stable labour force that was able to add value to their client’s operations.
Many people had only a few years of schooling but Transman helped train them to attain new skills and ensured they matched closely the specifications of jobs on offer.
“Today, 30% of the people for whom we find temporary employment obtain permanent jobs,” she says.
Dick doesn’t give up on anybody, describing a young man with no education and barely able to communicate, who arrived with holes in his shoes, wearing threadbare clothes.
“We found him a job helping to clear municipal waste. It was a start.”
She muses, smilingly, as she recalls the 42-page recruitment document that applicants used to sign. Today, that is one double-sided page.
She has literally and metaphorically, gone places that most other women would have run from in the then dangerous, totally male-dominated transport industry.
She would stride through workshops dripping with calendars of nude women, ignoring catcalls, always being respectful but firm.
“I’ve had experiences that you don’t want to hear about, but I made my boundaries very clear,” she says.
She set about transforming labour regulations, insisting on minimum wages, holiday pay and other benefits for her Transman workers in the road freight industry.
But that came at a cost. Other companies didn’t follow suit and in the early 1990s, they lost 60% of their business.
This brave, determined woman fought back, taking the then Motor Transport Bargaining Council to court for not enforcing an agreement with all suppliers to ensure temporary transport workers’ wages and benefits.
Eventually, the ruling was made that anybody supplying drivers to the transport industry had to comply with the agreement.
Today, Transman places people across a multitude of industries. But the struggle continues, this time with labour federation Cosatu in its
ongoing tirade against labour brokers.
“(Cosatu) has accused us of being ‘slave traders and traffickers’, and threatened to close us down and injure my staff in our Free State, office.
“I obtained an urgent court interdict preventing the latter action and am currently pursuing them through the courts with a defamation case.”
The steely ring to Dick’s voice is a reminder that the Durban-raised single child, whose mother died when she was only three years old, and who was brought up “to marry well”, has done well in spite of life’s arrows.
“I took total responsibility for myself from the moment I had my first child at the age of 22 and now that extends to my family of 120 000 South Africans,” she says.
The one-time schoolteacher – who was made the Business Women’s Association’s 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year, a highly sought-after award – has driven
her company’s revenue from R85 000 in 1983 to R640 million today.
And yet this avid collector of South African art, ranging from wire craftsmen to commissioned works by Tamlin Blake and Adriaan Boshoff, still has big goals in that busy, creative mind of hers.
One concerns expanding the company through a unique franchising concept that will focus on small to medium enterprises and on the black economic empowerment sector.
Dick is keenly aware of the massive unemployment figures that threaten South Africa’s future.
In a world that’s suffering from an economic meltdown and where employers are reluctant to hire permanent staff for fear of not being able to get rid of them, she is in the right business at the right time.
Her strength is that she brings to it her compassion for the vulnerable.
A small but powerfully poignant testament to this is the birthday album of good wishes that Transman staff from across the country compiled for her.
It’s not beautifully bound – more like a scrapbook, actually. But it is filled with pictures, sketches and words of genuine warmth for a
woman they so clearly admire.
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