“We should not set ourselves any limits.”

25.03.2021 | Interview: Fatima Motala

Fatima Motala, Certified Sales Manager at Mercedes-Benz, is standing on a building. In the background, a large illuminated city can be seen.
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How Fatima Motala from South Africa takes her team forward day by day, bit by bit.

Fatima Motala had just turned a mere 20 when she became the first women to be promoted to the sales management of the Mercedes-Benz dealership in South Africa. Today she heads a team of 24. It could easily all have worked out very differently, because the first contract she signed as a student was for just three months. Fatima has now been on board for 17 years. The lateral entrant has long since grown into a leadership personality. Here she describes how you can keep growing constantly and establish a mutual culture of learning also among the employees.

Fatima, it was chance that brought you to this industry. What was it like in the beginning?

I couldn’t tell an A-Class from a GLA. For me, they were just vehicles. But I immediately loved all the models, and it was great fun learning about the topics and eventually becoming an expert. On the brand and model range, but also on the vehicle technologies. It was a stroke of luck for me then that I was able to complete a sales training course right in the first year.

You became a saleswoman – and then a sales manager. In three sentences: what makes a successful leadership personality?

She has the confidence to stand up for herself. She has the courage to take tough decisions. And she has the empathy to respond to the needs of others – in particular to the needs of the employees, of course.

Did you have these skills right from the start?

Definitely not. It was mainly confidence that I lacked. That’s why I felt that I had to work hard to be taken seriously. Luckily that changed, not least thanks to training courses and seminars. It also helped me to make it clear to my colleagues: I need you as much as you need me! I made it clear to people who had much more experience than I did back then that I wanted to learn from them. Because we are working towards a common goal.

Fatima Motala, Certified Sales Manager at Mercedes-Benz, sits in a vehicle at the Mercedes-Benz dealership in Durban, South Africa, and looks out of the window.

Experiences that are certainly very valuable today when dealing with your team…

Absolutely! I want to be a role model for my employees. To do this, I have to put myself in their shoes. And this often works if I think back to situations that I myself have experienced. This also helps if I have to motivate someone who is moaning about their workload or who is facing a setback. Then I can credibly say: We find a solution together! And at the end of the day, in most cases it’s worth overcoming obstacles.

How do you help create an environment in which people can continually grow?

Just let me say one thing first: the car industry is constantly in flux, so we retail experts have to be, too. This is only possible as part of a living culture of learning. I am convinced that this is based on signalling trust as a manager. If my employees feel that I believe in them, then they will too and can continue to further develop step by step. And another thing: at some point, I discovered that I mustn’t restrict myself to a certain job title or function. If you also look left and right from time to time, you see opportunities for development. I encourage my team also to do so.  

Does that really work?

Of course, in my team, too, everyone has their clearly defined tasks and areas of responsibility. But I want a culture in which personal growth is firmly anchored in the mind. And this also includes not always working through the same to-do list. Continuous feedback to the employees is still key. After all, they need to know which areas of development they should concentrate on.

Fatima Motala, Certified Sales Manager at Mercedes-Benz, sits in a vehicle at the Mercedes-Benz dealership in Durban, South Africa, and looks into the camera.

You have completed an extensive management programme. How has your image of successful management work changed?

It sharpened my awareness of the extent to which my role affects every single member of the team. The influence I have on the development and success of the employees. And, as a consequence, how satisfied our customers are and how successful we are as a company. I wouldn’t have been doing my job properly if I hadn’t already understood all this before. But the programme at Global Training enabled me to take another step in my development. Since then this message to the team is even more important to me: our business is very close to my heart, and so are you guys and your interests. Taken together, both contribute to the whole!

How do you motivate yourself to keep developing further?

Earlier the motivation probably came most of all from the feeling that I always had to prove myself, even more than my colleagues. So the lack of confidence also had its benefits. What motivates me today, more than anything else, is the urge to do as much as I can for the company. That’s why I sometimes take on too much, but it’s worth it to me.

What do you advise other budding female managers?

You also might think that you have to prove yourself to the world. This is no bad thing and can be a key motivator. But be sure who it is that you really want to live up to: yourself and your standards! And don’t forget: we are in a position to do much more than might seem possible sometimes. We can achieve a lot. So let’s not even start setting ourselves limits!

Mercedes-Benz customers can expect excellent advice. Sales Manager Fatima Motala plays an important part in this at her Mercedes-Benz dealership. Also thanks to the support from Mercedes-Benz Global Training.

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