TRANSFORMATION FOR WOMEN Lerato Motsamai, the CEO and founder of Petrolink. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
If a country wants to reach its full economic potential, it has to involve more women in its economy.
Lerato Motsamai, an entrepreneur and the founder of Petrolink, said transformation in industries ultimately has to be to the benefit of both sexes.
Motsamai started Petrolink, a supplier of automotive and industrial lubricant, in 2012.
“As a result of globalisation and the technological advances made in our industry, I saw a gap and realised I could also be a source of employment opportunities in the industry,” she said.
She only has a matric certificate, but doesn’t allow that to hold her back.
“I gave up my studies in my second year because I couldn’t keep up with the chemistry direction I’d chosen, but I thank the Lord that others kept studying for my benefit, because I have chemical and mechanical engineers as well as financial people working on my products,” she said.
After 15 years of experience in this field, and involvement with, among other companies, Engen Petroleum and Chevron, she has found her niche.
She was a temporary receptionist, a credit supervisor, network developer and a franchise specialist at Chevron.
Petrolink, which Motsamai started with her pension money, distributes a range of more than 200 lubricants, many of them specially designed for particular clients.
She says that through Petrolink, she wants to make a “meaningful and sustainable contribution”.
She also launched Girlignite Africa, an empowerment programme that teaches leadership, entrepreneurship and mathematics to high school girls in low-income communities.
Two years ago, when she started the project, it was tough to make ends meet.
“I even had to sleep in the car with my two children, but it’s when we’re at our lowest that we discover our purpose.
“My business started by doing consultation services for retail petroleum networks but, after two successful years, clients just began disappearing. I entered my wilderness season and slept outside a hotel in my car and used the country club’s facilities,” she said.
Things began to change when she decided to change the business’ focus and started to manufacture her own products.
“I just let God’s grace guide me,” she said.
She believes that no person is too big or too small to make a contribution, and that motivates her. “I believe my calling is bigger than me.”
Just like any other undertaking, Petrolink’s biggest challenge was obtaining capital and the recruitment and training of personnel. Strategic planning and marketing was at the heart of this process.
Petrolink gets support from the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Global Business Accelerator programme that seeks to help black-owned businesses.
“They help us to build relationships and trade ties in domestic and foreign markets,” said Motsamai.
“I want to encourage other women to begin their own businesses. It’s nice to stand out but it’s much more beautiful if there are more women all shining together.”
Petrolink has four employees and wants to expand the number to 11 by the end of the year.