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Women in transport: you need nerves of steel

Being a woman in what is traditionally regarded as a man’s world is not without its challenges. Lise Van der Berg, founder and CEO of Tradevest Logistics, a committed Netstar customer, offers some insights. 

Empowerment of women has been a much discussed topic over the years, especially in South Africa where the number of women who hold executive positions in commerce and industry falls far short of that of men. Equally, 50/50 parity becomes even more challenging in historically male-dominated sectors such as the transport industry – although strides are being made.

Lise Van der Berg is founder and chief executive officer of Tradevest Logistics, a fleet-management, logistics and warehousing company based in Cape Town. Established in 2010, Tradevest is a 100-percent female-owned company that prides itself on its value system, which is based on honesty and transparency.

“Before I started Tradevest, I was one of two founders of a transport company based in Mpumalanga,” says Van der Berg. “Driven by the urge to do my own thing and desire to establish roots in Cape Town, I left my job, moved to the coast and started my own business.”

Having built meaningful and trusting relationships with her customers over the years, Van der Berg says many of her former clients chose to back her when she started her fledgling operation. “Their support for Tradevest really humbled me. It taught me that, by treating customers with respect and handling all deals with integrity, you can lay the foundations for building a successful business,” she says.

Nine years after starting her company with just one truck, she now manages a fleet of nine vehicles. “Above establishing good working relationships with clients, you also need to build similar bonds with suppliers,” she says.

“During the past couple of years, in particular, Tradevest has built an excellent working relationship with Netstar, which is responsible for ensuring that our fleet is safe no matter where the trucks go.”

She says she has had the pleasure of working predominantly with women at Netstar. “It is encouraging to see how organised, honest and helpful the Tradevest account managers have been. The transport industry, although rewarding, is very challenging. However, being a woman adds another layer of complexity,” she explains.

“You need to work ten-times harder to prove yourself. That is why you need to be passionate about your job and surround yourself with people you can trust.”

In that respect she singles out not only the personnel at Netstar, but also one of her directors, Rista Watts, who joined the company in 2016 as an investor. “Her managerial skills and business acumen make her a huge asset to Tradevest,” says Van der Berg. “Having run her own pharmacy business for 18 years, Rista is constantly teaching me things. And we are also learning from each other as fellow female entrepreneurs.”

In 2007, when Van der Berg was still with the Mpumalanga based transport company, she was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Lowveld Chamber of Business. The following year, she was announced as the winner of the South African Business Woman of the Year title by the South African Council for Business Women (SACBW). She has also claimed National Large Enterprise awards from the organisations.

In 2015, Van der Berg was announced as runner-up in CEO Magazine’s Most Influential Woman Award. And, in 2017, she once again won the SACBW’s National Business Woman of the Year title.

“I have had the privilege of being recognised for my work within the industry, but I want to stress that it has not been easy,” says Van der Berg. “The transport sector is really cutthroat and you need nerves of steel to make it.

“However, I believe that women have been created with an extraordinary ability to withstand even the toughest circumstances. I would encourage more of us to join the transport industry to make our marks as leaders in the field.”