Faith Modipa: innovation, dedication and self-belief are key to success

Faith Modipa was just a schoolgirl when she took the first step on her Elegant Journey by following in her father’s footsteps and empowering people through creating employment opportunities for them.

Decades later, she has covered much ground and is realising her dream as one of the directors of independent petroleum wholesaler and distributor Elegant Fuel.

Modipa was fortunate to have had an inspirational business mentor in her father, who farmed while running his own shops and filling stations. He was fully committed to empowering those around him by offering them employment and mentorship opportunities, a business legacy that Modipa, too, has adopted.

She attended Maolwe Senior Secondary School in Modubung village, outside Tzaneen in Limpopo. When her father enquired about her post-matric plans, Modipa’s response must have made him very proud: “I want to be like you, and help people and create employment,” she replied.

To demonstrate that she was serious about business, Modipa enrolled for two academic courses after matric, completing both in record time and setting herself solidly on the path to achieving her goal.

Her first “taste” of the petroleum industry was when she became an administrator at Caltex Oil South Africa in Louis Trichardt (also known as Makhado). Her natural rapport with clients soon saw Modipa’s position evolving into more of a marketing role.

After two years at Caltex, she moved to Soutpansberg Petroleum. At this proverbial pit stop in her life she met Ockie Strydom and Koot Erasmus, who were destined to become her future Elegant Group co-directors. The trio established Elegant Fuel (today a subsidiary of the Elegant Group) in 2007.

At the time, major oil companies were withdrawing from small communities due to low fuel demand, so Elegant Fuel stepped in to fill the gap. Launching a new business requires start-up capital, which Modipa was able to leverage by using her assets as collateral to obtain a loan.

“We didn’t mind servicing small garages and filling stations,” says Modipa. “When we started, we were selling about a million litres of fuel per month. Now we’re selling up to 40-million litres every month.”

True to Elegant’s innovative spirit, the company soon began fixing up old fuel pumps and uplifting and upskilling local communities wherever it established itself, by hiring its own pump installers and welders.

Today Modipa operates out of Louis Trichardt/Makhado, and is responsible for the operations and the construction, branding and maintenance of Elegant Fuel petrol stations across seven provinces.

It doesn’t sound like an easy job and it’s not, with an average working day being up to 13 hours long, during which Modipa manages more than 40 permanent employees.

“Work never stops – we run a 24-hour business,” she explains. A typical day might see Modipa attending numerous meetings, checking sales targets and payments, interacting with customers and overseeing service delivery – all while growing the brand.

But it’s this tenacity and belief in herself that has seen Modipa and her partners grow Elegant Fuel from a corner petrol garage into a major player in the petroleum distribution industry.

And what of her Elegant Journey? It’s still a long way from reaching the chequered flag, it would seem.

“We wanted to become one of the largest petroleum distributors in Southern Africa, a goal that we have achieved. And we want to empower more women … as this is a male-dominated industry,” says Modipa.

When she looks along the winding road ahead, Modipa sees change as being an inevitable part of hers and Elegant’s journey, due to the globalisation of business today. To retain a competitive edge in the petroleum industry, she says, there is a need to constantly “strive to innovate”.

“We believe employees are the most important asset for any business,” says Modipa, who places great importance on a healthy and harmonious working environment. From a client perspective, there is a strong focus on continually improving the quality of Elegant Fuel’s service delivery.

On her personal journey, Modipa finds that her job offers great satisfaction in that she is able to improve the lives of others. On a macro level, she is proud to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth.

When times are tough, which they often are, Modipa turns to her Bible for inspiration and guidance. She also shares five lessons that have helped her along the way: there are no shortcuts to success; keep a clear vision; learn to control your emotions; hard work pays off; and invest in yourself.

When she’s not attending to all things Elegant Fuel-related, Modipa, who is a mother of three, enjoys spending time with her son Karabo. She also loves indulging in a massage, travelling … and sleeping!

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