True grit

by | Jan 1, 2018 | Business and Marketing

Juggling a demanding job, postgraduate studies and young family takes some doing. But Marliese Martin loves a challenge and thanks to her exceptional organisational skills she’s managing to keep all the balls in the air. Liesl Venter caught up with this formidable dynamo.

Mention the word logistics and images of pallets, containers, trucks and warehouses immediately spring to mind. Traditionally regarded as a man’s world, you could be forgiven for not associating Marliese Martin with this tough industry.

But perceptions and images can be misleading – the petite, sophisticated brunette is possibly one of the foremost authorities on wine logistics in Africa. As area director for Africa, the Middle East and India for global beverage logistics group JF Hillebrand, Marliese is in the business of packaging and moving wine and as comfortable in a warehouse as in the boardroom.

She says she doesn’t buy into preconceived notions of what people can and can’t do. “You show up and you’re present in the moment. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, no matter how unlikely the circumstances.”

Marliese grew up in Somerset West and matriculated at Hottentots-Holland Technical College. She describes her childhood as different. “It wasn’t always easy, not financially nor emotionally,” she says.

Raised by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet, Marliese had no idea where she was heading by the time she finished matric.

“I did a course at a local technical college in the hope of finding a job in computers somewhere,” she recalls. And she did – she found a job at an engineering company.

“I was very young and thought I knew it all. I ended up running the office, but then quit and went overseas to travel. I realised then I was making decisions which weren’t necessarily going to take me anywhere.”

It was this realisation that drove her to see a life coach. “I was back in the country and had just got a job as a receptionist at JF Hillebrand. I’d also been ill after being diagnosed with a rare lung disease. I was in my early 20s and remember wondering if this was it.”

She describes her sessions with her life coach as the best money she’s ever spent. “It cost an absolute fortune, but it changed my life. I realised I could only hold myself responsible for how I choose to show up in life. This choice to be conscious and present in the moment has allowed me to become more mindful and to make decisions from a different perspective. I get up every day and choose to be who I am.”

Practically it means dealing with the hand life deals you. For Marliese it was learning to manage a now dormant disease, making solid life decisions and developing a career rather than just doing a job.

Achieving it all required some of the very same attributes that saw her survive childhood – resilience, grit and determination.

Marliese worked her way up from receptionist to personal assistant to the managing director before trying her hand at operations and then sales. She was promoted to sales executive at JF Hillebrand South Africa and soon afterwards to managing director. In 2016 she was appointed in her current position as area director for Africa, the Middle East and India.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Marliese  says. She attributes much of her success to the close relationships she’s built in the wine  industry as a whole.

“The wine industry is still one where people matter. We don’t just pack and ship wine for our customers and they don’t just see us as another freight forwarder that’s moving cargo. There’s a real relationship at play. Sometimes we give and the customer takes; other times it’s the other way round. It’s not just about rates and the bottom line.”

It’s an industry that inspires her to do her job better. “It’s impossible to not be passionate in the South African wine industry. Getting in your car and driving into the vineyards for a meeting doesn’t feel like work, but more like spending time with a good friend.”

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t take her job seriously. Far from it. Her advice to those in the wine industry is simple – don’t underestimate the importance of your logistics partner.

“Do your homework and understand the cost and risk involved in moving wine from South Africa to another destination in the world. Partner with a reputable company that uses reputable service providers. Don’t take unnecessary risks and be aware that shipping a perishable product has variables that can’t always be controlled and can impact your brand.”

She sees great opportunities for South African wines in Africa. “We’re expanding our footprint in Africa significantly as the market for wine and spirits is growing on the continent. Now is the time to get a foothold in these markets,” she says.

Marliese, who’s mom to two young children, travels extensively in Africa, the Middle East and India. She’s also busy completing her master’s degree in applied neuroscience. “It’s a phenomenal course that can be applied across business strategies and change the culture of a company, allowing for a more sustainable environment where people are happy.”

No wonder her biggest challenge is juggling it all. “I have an extremely fulfilling but demanding career on the one hand. On the other I have two children under the age of five and a very supportive husband who I also need to spend time with. I’m also doing my master’s. I do sometimes wish for more hours in the day just to juggle it all slightly better.”

More hours would also allow her more time for her favourite indulgence – sparkling wine. “I have a love affair with sparkling wine,” she admits. In fact she loves it so much she has a boardroom named Pongracz.

Her other great passion is the Pebbles Project that manages 48 facilities, including early childhood development centres and after-school clubs for the children of farm workers across the Cape winelands.

“It’s no secret education in South Africa is under pressure. If we want to give our children a fighting chance, we have to invest in better education. Business needs to play its role.”

For Marliese, it’s ultimately about being mindful, living a purposeful life and making a difference, no matter how big or small. “Be present,” she says. “Believe it and you can do it.”

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