Meet Alison De Klerk the Dealer Principal at Autoworld
Alison is a leader par excellence, whose heart is for the people and families she leads at Autoworld and for her clients and the great product they have. A woman not perturbed at all by being thrown into the deep end, in a men’s space. She has come up tops in the Advanced Dealer Management Training Program, trumping the veteran know- it -all’s, with grace without losing an iota of her femininity. Now that’s woman empowerment in real action!!
DRIVEtorque had a chat with Alison in our quest to understand what makes her tick as a newsmaker… Her responses will not only interest you but will make you a better leader.
- In a few words describe who Alison De Klerk is?
A strong and driven person, who is always willing to help and put others first and lead by example. I value team and have created a “family” team environment in the workplace.
- What was the path you took to become a Dealer Principal at Autoworld?
I started with Autoworld in 2007 in the accounts department, then progressed to Finance and Admin Manager, and then to Dealer Principal in 2012, with some time spent as the workshop manager as well.
- What do you feel is the biggest strength of Autoworld at the moment?
It’s definitely the people. And will always be the people. We have an amazing and diverse team who are passionate about what we do. We also have a great product – which makes our jobs so much easier!
- Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
It might seem a bit strange, the trick is to hire people who are smarter than you, you don’t know everything, so I look to my management team for inspiration and mentorship. They all have very different strengths from me and each other and I find that I am constantly learning from them.
- As a Dealer Principal what is one decision you wish you didn’t have to make?
Any sort of disciplinary decision on the staff is always tricky, but luckily for me I hardly ever have to do that, for we train well and understand our responsibilities well.
- How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts, obstacles and economic challenges?
I like to show a personal interest in the team by chatting to everyone I see, not only about their work but also about their family and personal interests. I have a real passion for getting to know the entire team, from the bottom up, and knowing what makes them tick. This has helped me to resolve conflicts before, and also to understand each person is motivated by different factors and need to be dealt with on an individual basis
- What are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
Leaders must lead by influence. Not rule. It’s not command and control. Leaders need to be involved with their team, so that you have an understanding of what everyone’s strengths are and use them in the best possible way. I also believe successful leaders need to be compassionate and able to listen.
- Auto industry is generally associated with men, have you met any obstacles as a lady and how have you dealt with them?
When I started in the industry in 2007, I didn’t realise exactly how male dominated the industry is. The early years were a real struggle, especially when I doubled up as both Dealer Principal and Workshop Manager. I think the shock was quite evident on some people’s faces to see that the workshop manager was in fact a lady who also didn’t have much technical experience! I got over my initial fears and learnt to rely on my technical team and their skills. I came to understand that so long as I had confidence in the team around me and supported them as best I could, they would support me and come through on the technical aspects when dealing with customers.
- What’s the most important risk you took in your life and why?
I would have to say that this was signing up for the Advanced Dealer Management Training Programme in South Africa in 2012.
I hadn’t done any form of formal studying for years, and the other members on this training course, were all men, with years and years of experience in the motor industry. My confidence levels were very low and I felt that I was way out of my depth.
I made the DECISION to overcome that feeling of being inadequate and a year later, not only had I finished the course, I was the top student in my class!
- How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
To grow and develop as a leader, I think you need to always accept the responsibility of leading, to understand that you do not know all things, that you do have weaknesses and you need to accept them. Once you have recognized them, you do not focus on them, you hire to your weaknesses, you are then able to accept yourself better by doing what you do best without stress.
You also need to learn to listen to those with more experience than you, from anywhere and everywhere, and you need to realise that those with more experience are not necessarily managers in your organization.
- How do you align and balance Autoworld’s business objectives with your personal vision and goals?
Over the past year we have worked very hard on Autoworld’s values, and have had input from a wide selection of staff members on various levels within the company structure. We have listed personal values, and over several sessions, found the core values that resonated across the board with our staff on both a professional and personal level.
It is extremely beneficial to have a staff complement that truly believes in the company’s objectives, as they have had personal input as well, there is no conflict of being one way at work and another out there.
- What do you love about Autoworld?
The people! Definitely the people! And of course, the product we sell!
- What would be your message to the girl child?
Whatever you do in life, do it to the best of your ability. No matter how small or menial you might think a task or job is, the satisfaction of knowing that you have done it well will pay off. Promotion and reward is given to the faithful.
And also remember to be kind to people. You will never regret being kind!
- What’s your favourite car and why?
The ISUZU mu-X. It combines all aspects of luxury and safety, as well as being able to tackle any terrain.