A Passion For Excellence – VEA MD Thoko Tshabalala-Shandu

By Fiona Wakelin

Thoko Tshabalala-Shandu’s association with VEA Road Maintenance and Civils began in 2017, marking the beginning of a transformative journey. Armed with over a decade of experience in the mining industry, particularly in roles encompassing business development, sales, and customer service, her proficiency and confidence in engaging with individuals across all organisational levels did not go unnoticed by the Board of Directors.

Unwavering commitment to best practices and a willingness to share knowledge became the defining elements of Thoko’s approach. Throughout her three-year tenure as Business Development Director she consistently demonstrated a passion for excellence together with an emphasis on effective communication, delivering clear and concise messages, and fostering positive outcomes further underscored her professional philosophy.

It is within this context of dedication and impactful contributions that Thoko was appointed Managing Director of VEA – and this year the company was in the top 5 of the Top 500 Best Managed Companies in the Construction Group sector. In a wide ranging interview we asked her to share with us what, in her opinion, contributed to this success, “My achievements are a result of the collective endeavours of the team with whom I engage daily. In addition, I offer valuable services to operational managers, aiding them in optimising site safety, operational expenses, and capital expenditure. This is achieved through the provision and utilisation of business information, reporting, and effective utilisation of business systems.”

“Personally, I consider it imperative to establish, sustain, and lead a proficient team that consistently delivers best practices and astute services across a diverse spectrum of general activities. Through my exposure to the different kinds of environments, I have gained insight regarding work ethics, governance structures and protocol and above all the ability to work as a collective. As MD, I have the opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the company. I set long-term goals, define the vision, and guide the organisation toward success. Leading a team of professionals, including contract managers, construction workers and admin staff provides the opportunity to inspire, motivate, and guide a skilled workforce. I also get to apply problem-solving skills to ensure the successful completion of projects and engage with clients, industry professionals, and stakeholders.”

“Many African countries are experiencing significant economic growth, presenting opportunities for investment and business expansion. Africa is often considered an emerging market with untapped potential in various industries, including technology, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure. Therefore it is on our list of goals to expand our services to Lesotho, Zambia and the DRC in 2024.” Thoko’s role as the Managing Director encompasses a wide range of responsibilities that are crucial for the success and growth of the company; these include:

  • Strategic leadership
  • Operational oversight
  • Financial management
  • Client and stakeholder relations
  • Risk management
  • Team management
  • Compliance and legal affairs
  • Community and corporate responsibility
  • Reporting to the board

Overall, her role at VEA is a multifaceted one, requiring a combination of leadership, strategic thinking, financial acumen, and industry expertise to drive the company’s success in a competitive and dynamic market. Thoko leads a team whose culture is driven by a commitment to excellence with its primary focus on consistently delivering exceptional service in a timely manner and within the parameters of clients’ budgets.

“We are dedicated to the success of each individual project and the satisfaction of our customers, ensuring a personalised and client-centric approach. Our team conducts business with unwavering honesty and ethical integrity, consistently striving for the highest standards in all our interactions. We are a goal-driven team, collectively working towards achieving both individual project milestones and broader organisational objectives. We meditate daily and have faith that we will achieve all of our goals. We recognise that dedication and efficiency are integral to realising our goals, and we consistently apply these principles to deliver results regardless of external circumstances. In embodying these principles, our team aims not only to meet but to exceed expectations, establishing a culture of excellence and integrity that defines our approach to every endeavour.”

“Our Values:

D.C.U.P.E – Desire, Continuous, Unyielding, Persistent Effort; Building and sustaining relationships/networks with high integrity; Ensuring client satisfaction; Innovative, entrepreneurial, successful, driven business; Personal and collective accountability to accelerate continuous sustainable growth; A will to win – successfully achieve our goals no matter what.

VEA Road Maintenance and Civils’ Key Products and Services:

  • Roads and earthworks
  • The full scope of road construction services including road rehabilitation and routine road maintenance as well as all civil construction within the road reserve
  • The full spectrum of township infrastructure development including roads, stormwater drainage and associated civil works
  • Civil work
  • Specialist civil construction skills on complex projects that include repair and rehabilitation of large structures such as major road and underpasses, culvert and bridges
  • Specialised services include structural and cosmetic repairs as well as concrete rehabilitation. Full assessments are conducted on all sites to ascertain the exact requirements prior to remedial work beginning

VEA Flagships Projects Include:

  • Hendrick Potgieter Bridge
  • Moloto Routine Road Maintenance
  • Burgersfort Routine Road Maintenance
  • Eastern Freeways Routine Road Maintenance.
  • GAUTRANS Routine Road Maintenance

As a Proud Level B-BBEE Contributor with 51% Black Ownership, How Does The Company Bring About Positive Change?

Through employment equity we actively promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace by implementing fair employment practices, ensuring equal opportunities for all employees, and fostering a culture that values diversity. Our skills development initiatives empower black employees and communities. This can include training programmes, mentorship opportunities, and partnerships with educational institutions to enhance skills and promote career advancement. We support black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs through partnerships, mentorship, and financial assistance. This contributes to the growth and sustainability of small and medium enterprises within the black community.

VEA’s CSR initiatives align with the company’s values and positively impact the community including charitable donations and projects that address environmental sustainability. The company regularly assesses and evaluates the impact of our B-BBEE initiatives. This involves tracking progress, identifying areas for improvement, and ensuring that the company’s efforts lead to meaningful and sustainable positive change.

How Important is Skills Development at VEA?

The importance of skills development at VEA cannot be overstated. Here are several key reasons why skills development holds significance within the context of our business;

Enhanced Employee Performance:

Skills development programmes contribute to enhancing the capabilities and competencies of employees. This, in turn, improves individual and collective performance within the organisation.

Adaptation to Technological Advances:

In an era of rapid technological advancements, ongoing skills development ensures that employees stay current with the latest tools, technologies, and industry best practices, fostering innovation and efficiency.

Increased Employee Engagement:

Offering opportunities for skills development demonstrates a commitment to employee growth. This commitment, in turn, boosts morale, engagement, and job satisfaction among staff.

Talent Retention:

Employees are more likely to stay with an organisation that invests in their professional development. This helps VEA retain top talent and reduces the costs associated with recruitment and training new staff.

Competitive Advantage:

A workforce equipped with up-to-date skills and knowledge provides VEA with a competitive edge in the marketplace. Clients and partners are more likely to trust and engage with an organisation that invests in the continuous development of its team.

Succession Planning:

Skills development is critical for succession planning. By nurturing talent from within, VEA ensures a pipeline of qualified individuals who can step into leadership roles when needed.

Meeting Industry Standards and Compliance:

Certain industries have evolving standards and regulatory requirements. Skills development programmes help ensure that employees are well-versed in industry compliance, reducing the risk of legal and operational issues.

Innovation and Creativity:

A workforce with diverse skills and a culture of continuous learning is more likely to generate innovative ideas. Skills development fosters a dynamic and creative work environment, driving organisational growth.

Customer Satisfaction:

Well-trained and skilled employees are better equipped to meet customer needs effectively. This contributes to higher levels of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Corporate Reputation:

VEA’s commitment to skills development reflects positively on its corporate reputation. It signals to clients, partners, and the broader community that the organisation values expertise, professionalism, and the ongoing growth of its workforce.

What Are The Biggest Challenges You Have Faced At The Company and How Did You Overcome Them? Has Being a Woman In a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry Been A Hurdle?

I encounter bias and stereotypes which affect the perceptions of my competence and leadership capabilities. When it comes to the construction sector, women are often underrepresented in leadership positions, leading to a lack of role models and potential isolation. Balancing demanding leadership roles with my family responsibilities is a unique challenge for women. Especially as I’m a wife and also a mother.

To overcome these challenges, I have established a strong support network both within and outside the company. Mentors, colleagues, and external networks can provide valuable guidance and advice. I also advocate for diversity and inclusion within the organisation and encourage policies and practices that promote equal opportunities for all. Leading by example helps challenge stereotypes and biases.


What Are You Looking Forward To In The Coming Year?

On our strategic horizon are: Strategic business expansion through the realisation of organisational objectives and the expansion of our service footprint into neighbouring countries, ensuring the attainment of overarching business goals. We are also looking forward to sustained employment generation through the creation of meaningful employment opportunities, contributing to both organisational growth and socio-economic development within our operational areas. 

The promotion of gender inclusivity in construction by championing the increased presence of women in the construction sector, fostering an environment where deserving female professionals occupy significant roles, thereby promoting diversity and inclusivity within the industry.

Do You Have A Message of Inspiration For Our Readers?

As we navigate the dynamic landscape of public sector leadership, it is essential to reflect on the profound impact we can have on those who follow in our footsteps. The concept of ‘lifting others as you rise’ encapsulates the essence of responsible and visionary leadership. In our journey to achieve success and drive positive change within the public sector, it is crucial to recognise the potential for transformation that lies in empowering and mentoring others. Each step we take upward should be accompanied by a conscious effort to extend a helping hand to those aspiring to ascend the professional ladder.

As leaders, we hold the power not only to influence policies and drive organisational excellence but also to inspire the next generation of public sector leaders. By sharing our knowledge, experiences, and insights, we contribute to the collective growth of our community and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Taking others as we rise is an investment in the future of our organisations and, more importantly, in the development of capable, ethical, and compassionate leaders. It is a commitment to creating a legacy that extends beyond individual accomplishments, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of public service.

Let us collectively embrace the responsibility to mentor, guide, and uplift our colleagues and emerging leaders. Through collaboration and shared wisdom, we can build a resilient and empowered public sector that serves the needs of our communities effectively.

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