Iris Manaka joined Barloworld as “Girl Friday” in 1983, and today she’s Divisional Secretarial Administrator in the Automotive Department.
The will to thrive is alive
Iris Manaka’s story is inspiring and is a true testament to the pioneering Barloworld spirit of going above and beyond expectations. Now 56, Iris has been on a steady journey of success, where she chose to thrive and improve her position from “Girl Friday” to Divisional Secretarial Administrator in the Automotive Department. “It has been a long and rewarding journey,” she says, “I’ve had the privilege to engage with wonderful people along the way and have received opportunities which I’ve grasped with both hands. I am thankful to God for these opportunities.”
The journey began 31 years ago in 1983 when Iris was appointed as what was then called a “Girl Friday.” Iris shares her story below.
“When I joined the company, I was young and had no work experience. What I did have was a will to learn and the determination to provide a better life for my loved ones. I initially worked at Reunert & Lenz, a subsidiary of Barloworld Limited, performing a wide range of general duties. When Reunert & Lenz closed down I moved to Barloworld Limited as a Switchboard Operator. In 1989 I was unfortunately widowed and left as the sole breadwinner and single parent of my two daughters, who at that stage were eight and two years old. Faced with such a challenge, I vowed to provide my children with a good education, a greater future and more options than I’d had growing up. Education and learning is something I am passionate about, since I was the only one out of five siblings in my family who was fortunate enough to have completed high school.”
While working in Switchboard, Iris applied for a new post in the Secretarial Department where she was appointed as an Admin Clerk in 1991. During her time as an Admin Clerk, she became unsatisfied with the nature of the work and sought a new challenge with greater financial rewards that would help her to afford a good education for her children. Iris approached her supervisor, Antonette Lefebvre, for advice on a career path, which led to her studying towards being a Chartered Company Secretary. Barloworld assisted in providing the necessary support, both financial and otherwise. Iris credits Antonette for her mentorship, “Antonette, now one of my closest friends, became my mentor. She believed in me, encouraged and supported me through my studies. Her belief in me helped me push myself to remain committed to pursuing my studies especially when the material became harder as I progressed.”
Iris spent most of her free time studying, spending the evenings during the week attending night school. This meant that after work she would fetch her children from school, and they would then have to do their homework and eat supper in the car or at night school as there was no one to fetch them from school and look after them at night. At that time Iris did not have sufficient funds to employ someone to help take care of the children. “They had to become responsible for themselves at an early age, discipline themselves regarding school and share chores,” says Iris. “Seeing this made me more determined to provide a better life for them. I think that I was fortunate that they were mature enough to understand my challenges and that what I was doing was for the benefit of all of us and they did all they could to help me have less on my plate.”
Juggling studying, work and motherhood was not easy, but Iris is grateful to her then departmental head, Michael Barnett, who was understanding of her situation. She expresses her gratitude, “Michael gave me some flexibility in terms of my working hours and understood that there would be occasions where I had no choice but to bring my kids to work with me. I am grateful to him for being understanding and providing the necessary support while at the same time creating opportunities for me within the department.”
Iris finally graduated in 2001 and became an Assistant Company Secretary in the Barloworld Corporate Office. She occupied that position for six years and in October 2007, she joined Barloworld Automotive as Company Secretarial Administrator, where she currently works with the legal department and liaises with the Company Secretary.
Having thrived herself, Iris enjoys encouraging young people and advising them on life in general, stressing the importance of bettering themselves through education. As uTata Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. She doesn’t mentor people in a formal sense but more in an African sense, as “a mother to all,” as she puts it. Iris explains why she is so passionate about education. “Education is the only way most of us can improve our circumstances. I always encourage people to study further and study a subject that is likely to afford them with better opportunities in the job market. I love engaging with young people who hunger for more in life, who are committed to achieving their goals despite the obstacles that stand in their way. ”
Iris is a different person compared to the one that walked through the door on her first day of work as “Girl Friday”. “The dream to learn more and the sacrifices made give me great pleasure. Seeing my children as successful and happy as they are, makes all the sacrifice worth it. They dream bigger than I could’ve ever imagined and they persevere to achieve every goal they set for themselves. Through all of this I know better than ever that anything is possible if you set your heart on it and commit to achieving it. It’ll come with sacrifice, but the reward will be well worth it. Thank you Barloworld for giving me the opportunity to thrive.”