Separating the boys from the women

Malani Padayachee, MPA Consulting, 2011 finalist

Juggling three kids and a very successful company takes perseverance, stamina and an innovative mindset – characteristics that 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards finalist, Malani Padayachee-Saman, possesses all too well. Being at the helm of MPA Consulting Engineers and having majority women equity shareholding in a very male dominated sector, is what she believes makes her company unique.

Established on 1 July 1997 and situated in Randburg, Gauteng, with a satellite office in Middleburg, MPA Consulting Engineers was the first organisation with a majority women equity ownership to be registered with the Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) in 1998, and is currently only 1 of 2 such organisations registered with CESA. Providing consulting civil and structural engineering services to both public and private sector clients, the company has the expertise and knowledge to run with projects from feasibility all the way through to implementation.

After graduating with a BSc Civil Engineering from the University of Durban-Westville (1991), and later with a diploma in Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand (1998), Malani was employed by a consulting engineering practice firm where she worked for five years.

“Thereafter I received a scholarship from the British Trade and Industry and was placed with a consulting engineering practice in the UK for a year,” she recalls.

“It was during this period that I discovered just how competent South African Engineers are and was inspired to write a business plan, which I simply rolled out on my return to the country.”

Having worked abroad and after gaining her professional registration (Pr Eng – Registered Professional Engineer), Malani decided it was time to take the leap toward entrepreneurship.

The feminine touch

MPA Consulting Engineers believes that it is adequately placed to function as role models to other females who want to enter the engineering sector.

“We have already been instrumental in developing two other females within the sector who currently run very successful businesses,” Malani continues.

“While we are a small company, employing 30 individuals (most of whom are professionals), we participate in all areas of civil and structural engineering services thereby offering clients a one-stop service. In addition, we are instrumental on structured joint venture arrangements, working on large-scale projects. Assuring that our clients receive nothing less than service excellence is what makes us a cut above the rest.”

Engineering is a scarce profession in South Africa yet engineers are crucial in ensuring a country’s development. Malani says it is imperative that more young people are encouraged to select engineering as a preferred career path and, more importantly, consulting engineering is appropriately suited to women as they possess a number of inherent qualities and abilities that assist in rendering a good project.

“This career path does require perseverance and dedication, and ensuring that you surround yourself with good mentors who add value to your business.”

And, she adds, never compromise on IT.

“I see employment creation and participation of women in the construction sector as a key focus area and as an organisation, I believe that we have an important role to play in moving our country forward in both these areas and become leaders not only locally but also across the African continent.”

A balancing act

Malani is married with three children – a 13-year-old and a set of twins (10-year-old). Running a family alone isn’t easy but she owes the success of both her business and personal life to a good support system.

“I am a believer that true success is not measured by how successful you are but more so by how successful your children become. I would like to believe that one day, as a result of my influence on work ethics and social interactions, etc, that I will stand a proud parent.”

It is difficult achieving a work-life balance but Malani ensures that she prioritises her time efficiently. It also helps, she says, to ensure that all the necessary support structures are in place.

“I also find that as a working mother you become very innovative in your home environment, and often find time-saving mechanisms for simple everyday tasks.”

A member of the South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE), SABTACO, Business Women’s Association (BWA), and Women in Finance (WIF); as well as serving on a number of councils such as the Engineering Council of SA (ECSA), CESA, and the SA Society of Trenchless Technology (SASTT), Malani is more than just a successful entrepreneur – she is a female force to be reckoned with!