Angela Dick, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Transman, South Africa

Words of Wisdom: “The most important thing is to trust your inner instincts. Look at what you respect; who you respect and who you believe in.” – Angela Dick

Interview with Angela Dick, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Transman, South Africa


Angela Dick, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Transman, South Africa

Angela was the Founding member of Transman, a temporary broker, and has been its Chief Executive Officer for the past thirty years.

Since the company’s inception in 1983, Angela and her team have been responsible for finding employment for and recruiting and placing between 7 000 to 10 000 temporary and contract staff daily into the workplace, with a focus on previously disadvantaged individuals. Her multiracial upbringing together with her genuine concern for the underprivileged in our country, has given her insight and grasp of South Africa’s socio – economic complexities.

Amongst her accomplishments:

  • Since its establishment finding employment for over 11,000 people on a daily basis and maintaining and developing them in their job position.
  • Implemented beneficial changes in terms of benefit structures in Labour Legislation many years before such became gazetted and thus compulsory.
  • Formalizing an informal industry in employment of casual and temporary labour.
  • Leveling the playing fields by challenging the main agreements of some of the Bargaining Councils so that all suppliers of placed staff were compelled to comply with labour laws.
  • Being elected inaugural President of i.e. The Confederation of Associations (CAPES) in the Private Employment Sector, representing the Staffing Services Industry by her peers, now Vice President and currently fighting the proposed new Labour Laws that will damage employment and the economy.
  • Against all these odds, she has driven the company’s revenue from R85 000 in the first year of operation in 1983, to a current budget of R 640million. 

Angela Dick is the inaugural winner of the Business Woman of the Year 2006 Award in the Entrepreneurial category and there is no doubt why.


Angela Dick, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Transman, South Africa

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version. We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website. 

 What was the catalyst for starting Transman?

I am very much a child, and a woman of Africa. In the early days when I first started my employment as a Sales Executive I would always be in the industrial areas between 5 – 6am to see my clients. In 1982 / 83, I would have to walk through crowds of men from the townships looking for employment. They would be smelly, unwashed, wearing cloths with holes, shoes of some description on their feet, and they were looking for employment. There was no one there to speak for them or assist them in that regard.

The thing that really struck me and still does today, I can’t live with it, is the look of desperation in their eyes. I know these people have families back home and all I could see is the cycle going on, and on, and on, with no hope for their future. There is nothing worse than someone not having any hope for the future at all.

I thought these people don’t have an opportunity to speak to a CEO, Production Manager or an Operations Manger, but I could.  I could talk to those people; see what skills they did have, and try to find them employment with the best wages and working conditions I could get for them.

That is exactly how I started, which didn’t make me very popular because if you can hire someone for 30R a day outside your gate, and now you have some female come along and you now need to provide them with holidays, take care of them when they are sick and now it is going to cost you 50R a day, the Management could see their Christmas bonuses going out the window.

Being a Sales Executive before, I imagine your income went down substantially? What was the first step you took to establish Transman?

My income went down substantially.

I was just really looking at how I could help these people. My nature is if I can help someone, I will. I have an interest in the indigenous African people; I can’t bear to see this poverty cycle to continue. I can’t bear to not seeing education offered to children; I don’t like to see children hungry. If I can do something about it, I will do something about it.

Yes I did take a risk. There were months and months that I couldn’t pay the rent, couldn’t pay the bond. We lived on brown bread and jam for a week at a time. We sold all the carpets, the furniture, cars etc. in order to get this thing up and running.

How long did it take to get Transman up and running?

It took about five years to get accepted into the marketplace, as it was a brand new concept and industry. It took about 18 months before I started to receive any sort of income.

What I did is I used the bonus from being a Sales Executive to float the business for awhile, but it didn’t last very long.

As far as hiring temporary staff, what are some of the advantages of hiring temporary staff over permanent staff?

All businesses have cycles in their business, highs and lows. You may have new projects starting; you may need a specific sort of skills for a specific period in time. If businesses are not flexible and they can’t find a particular skill at a particular point in time, they suffer. Having a service like ours is an advantage to these companies.

On the flip side, as a worker who wants employment, who is not entirely skilled as they should be, is given the opportunity to work with the client to improve the skill-set over a period of time. So from changing someone from one job to another you are adding to his or her skills all the time. When someone has little or no skills now they have skills, which will make them a valuable employee.

What do you do to prepare temporary staff members for an opportunity to go to ABC industry?

We recruit on an ongoing base.

  1. We have a standard application form, which is graded based on education and skill level. For anyone who comes into our environment completing that particular form is a test in itself.
  2. From that form we can assess what level they are operating at.
  3. From there we give them an intensive interview where we test what they can do and what they can’t do. Just because the have a tertiary education certificate doesn’t mean you can actually do it. So we test them again at that  level.
  4. We check references
  5. We check if he or she has a criminal record, as it is a huge issue in this particular country.
  6. If someone is going into the financial environment you have to check his or her credit ratings.
  7. You handpick that individual and put them with a client you know well. You don’t put them with a client that doesn’t want them, doesn’t need them, which they won’t fit in with their culture.

If you can do that, the client will take the person on. It is a really good opportunity for the individual to actually work for the client for a few months so they get to know each other. The client learns about the individual’s skills and the employ learns about how they will be managed. They become comfortable with each other and then you can convert that into a permanent position.

Who are your clients?

I place staff in every single commercial industry you can think of, from cosmetics, to fast foods, to mining, to manufacturing, to picking-up garbage, to highly skilled positions.

Our work force is still 80% of people who need that step-up in industry.

What are the risks of hiring temporary staff for a client?

  • If a client is going to hire straight off the street, that is a huge risk. He doesn’t know who he is, where he has come from, what his potential is.
  • From our side, because we do such a thorough screening job prior to placing them, we know them well and we put them to the client with the understanding that this is potentially a new recruit. We have done the references, and the all check out, there shouldn’t be a risk from that perspective.  But you never know with human behaviour because anything could happen.

What should companies be looking for when hiring?

In South Africa, you have to be prepared that who ever you hire may not have the entire skill-set that you want. You have to be prepared to work along with them to educate them and give them that skill-set if you can.

I think it is very much a trust issue on behalf of both parties, and that you will have to train regardless.

What obligation does an employer have toward a temporary staff member?

To treat them exactly the same way they would a full-time employee. They are part of the business, so you must treat them exactly the same.

From a legal perspective, again the same thing applies. The responsibility is between the client and the recruiter and one has to make ensure that all laws are abide to.

Do you do any personality assessments when hiring?

It is very difficult because every company has their own interest and own preferences. A company may want us to test up to a certain level, but if the company is looking at a particular candidate than they tend to like to do their personality assessments or any further testing themselves. We may provide five people for them, and they may only select two for example. We leave it up to the company as they do have preferences.

Describe someone you would not hire.

My company has a commitment, to find employment for everyone who walks through the door. The only time we have a problem if that person has been a convicted criminal and they have not declared it, and we are unable to rehabilitate them. We do work with some of our clients to rehabilitate criminals, but some of our clients are not comfortable. In my own organization we too have a couple of people who have been convicted.

Do you ever find that you want to hire someone for your own organization that has applied for temporary work?

Absolutely, our senior managers are often recruited through our processes. A matter of fact there was one gentleman that had finished tertiary education and couldn’t find employment and he came to use where he registered as a temporary employee. We could only get him a job where he literally packed boxes on shelves. Ten years today he is a Senior Accounts Manager responsible for over 600 people in a 7million Rand account.

As a person that has come from sales and then has been working in Transman with a focus on sales, what is your sales process?

  1. One must understand the global economy and how that affects our country.
  2. What are the issues are as far as our country is concerned?
  3. What is the focus of Government?
  4. What is the focus of business?
  5. What are the business objectives?
  6. What are the skills that we have that help businesses meet those objectives?

So for example, lets say I have a group of highly skilled people, lets say civil engineers, I would then go identify potential clients in the market, maybe three or four, I would have a look at their business and understand their business objectives, ask questions and do the research. I would hand pick people that I think would fit into that particular client and actively go into that particular client and look into the opportunity to place those individuals on the bases of meeting that clients business objectives.

How are you finding the clients business objectives?

  1. Primary research. Going into the client and asking them questions.
  2. If you know that an industry is struggling with particular issue you know it is problem, you get to know who their clients are, so when you go into talk to prospective client you say what you understand as their business objectives. You ask a particular manager in a department how he or she will deal with achieving those objectives?
  3. I will tell them I can help achieve with these objectives, not with those.

What do you do to retain that business?

  1. We confirm the client’s business objectives with that particular manager within that particular division.
  2. Work out a service plan to match those objectives. For example, they may want staff at two o’clock in the morning and they must be there exactly on time, if they are a minute late it is a crisis. For other clients five or ten minutes late, not an issue. So we might have to provide transport for that particular client.
  • The client may have a shrinkage problem, for example in food processing we would have to address that process and we set-up a service agreement with that client where they have to sign-off on it to ensure we are on the same page.  This is what we are going to report back on a regular bases. We are going to show how we are going to react under each circumstance.  Critically important, always, always legally compliant in every facet of the business.

What to you think are some of the characteristics that make a really good sales person?

  1. You must like people for starters.
  2. You need to be intelligent.
  3. You really need to listen to what the client has to say.
  4. If you are looking from a recruitment perspective, you also have to be able to listen to what the placement staff has to say.
  5. You must do everything you can to maintain that business. To be present to be a proper liaison between the placement staff and the client. It is critical to be there all the time.

When you say to “do as much as you can” to maintain that business what would be some of the things you would suggest to ensure the customer is retained?

  1. You have to have frequent meetings with the client and report back on how the business is going. How you are actually supporting it.
  2. If the client has any problem, you attend to it immediately. If you can’t you say so.
  3. If you have problem that you can’t deal with, you say so. Don’t hide behind anything and give reasons why you can’t attend to it.
  • Together with the client work out a plan where you can actually resolve those issue no matter what they might be.

You are talking in a manner of ‘this is just how you conduct business,’ it is just a matter of fact. In your experience as an Executive, do you think people just do those sorts of things?

No I don’t

Why do you think that is?

I think it is because of the ethos of the company and its culture. The way I look at my company, and I am insensibly proud of my people to the very last one no matter what level they are. They are all part of my family and I am responsible for all of them. I will never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

My team knows we are all dependent on each other, because that is the culture I have built over time. They also know that we are all responsible for our own actions but they know there is a ripple effect if things haven’t been done. I do think my company, and the people particularly really go the extra mile. They are on duty 24/7/ 365. I know I can phone my Senior Executive, or my House Keeper for example, I know that sounds terrible, from two o’clock from Japan and do what I ask and they know that if they call me I would do the same thing.

Looking outside your organization at the business community at large do you find in South African businesses are doing some of the fundamentals of business etiquette, such as following-up, doing what say your are going to do, creating a core etiquette philosophy into organizations?

I don’t think it always happens to be honest. I think we still have a bit of a mindset in terms “you owe me.” Or people don’t really want to deal with this problem, or they don’t understand the problem so they try to get rid of it, or ignore it.  I do think a lot of that happens.

At the same time we have some excellent business leaders in this country and people will work with them all the time any time.  We have this huge contrast between the two.

Is there a book that you have read that has helped you in business or in life?

I wouldn’t say that. My reading is enormously varied. I couldn’t pick on anything specific. As you know my mother died when I was very young and I think what happened I knew I was responsible for my actions at a very young age, as there was no one to bail me out. I think from that early age I was responsible to develop to who I am today.

My father was a man of honour. He kept his word. I am like that if I make a commitment I keep my word. I may take awhile to make the commitment, but once I make up my mind, I will stick with it.

What has been the most significant impact you think you have had in your career to date?

I think for me personally I have made a positive difference in this country. I would like to think that I am going to leave a positive legacy behind. I like to think that I have given people positive opportunities that they have never had before and it has turned out well for them.

From the staff that is placed in employment and work themselves up to possibly achieving something they have never achieved before, I find that very rewarding.  

What is legacy to you? What are you going to be leaving behind?

I hope to leave behind a happy company. A company motivated to help other people, which is very much the culture I have created. I hope to leave a company that is sustainable that will continue to make a contribution, not just in this country but in the continent.

If there was one thing you could attribute your success to, something that happened to you, an attitude or situation, what would that be?

I don’t understand the word NO.

To date, what is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

To see the happiness of the people around me and the ability to find them an opportunity to sort themselves out from the poverty. This is so important, because there is opportunity for individuals. Sometimes people at the top of the heap and have no clue what is happening with their people. I love my people.

There probably has been many challenges in your career, and tell us a couple of those challenges and what you would do differently based on what you have learnt?

I think I would continue to do things the exactly the same way because I have core of stability and strength from all sorts of experiences some the have been very frightening, but the only one that can sort them out is me. So I get on with it.  One of the lessons I like, if I am ever nervous about something I talk to myself and say: “Angela, don’t be ridiculous…there are millions of women throughout the world that deal with this, so get on with it.”

One of the frightening situations was when I was seven months pregnant with my youngest daughter, from a National ‘Stay away’ initiative, which is when all the roads were closed, no transport. I spent the night at the office on coil mattresses with my people, running a soup kitchen because that is what they needed. At about 2:00am 600 black males went outside, I was the only white female around, we were getting them in the trucks to get them to work and the very next day the riot Police came in opened fire and killed three of my people right in front of me, as close as I am to you. That was a challenge you have to deal with.

Hopefully those situations have changed over time.

There are still many situations of violence, as you know of the Marikana strike and the violence there; the national transport strike has been happening the last three weeks. My people are driving some of the trucks and people are being dragged out of those trucks, the trucks have been burnt and so on. I deal with violence on a daily bases. I deal with poverty on a daily bases. You can become very hard if you don’t have an inner core to deal with it.

How do you deal with the violence and poverty?

I think one has to assess the situation and deal with it from a practical bases but always beyond it is that you have put someone in a job position and they have been placed in danger not of their making, not of your making, but they are in a dangerous situation, so what do you do? You pull them out immediately.

When there is a situation where someone has been hurt, it is very important to go there and speak to the family directly. Do what ever you can to deal with those issues. It makes you very strong.

It would make you very strong, and yet at the same time you seem to be a very sensitive person. So how do you manage that balance to lead your company in the right direction and be positive?

I think it comes back to the perspective and the view I have always had is that I am not important. I am just a little speck in this huge university. It is my responsibility to look after people and I must do what ever it takes, even if I find myself in traumatic situation. I have to be there, be seen to lead and be stable; you have to do that for your team. It’s not for me.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

Dealing with the ongoing poverty. I think about what do people of South Africans want? They want the same thing I want. They want a home for their children, food for their children, they want transport to get to work, they want employment and they want some kind of future for their children. That is what keeps me going.

Do you feel you are conducting you purpose?

Yes I think so.

I would like to do more in many other areas. Something’s are constrained in terms of budget and so forth. But I do things in different ways by belonging to different associations and organizations outside the company. 

Thirty percent of my time is spent outside the organization in other organizations where I can have a broader impact. 

Do you have any advice to other women to find their purpose?

You need to ask the question of what am I actually hear for? What can I actually do that will make a positive difference? What ever it is, do it. Keep doing it and be steady and determined to make it happen in your own environment. Trust yourself and instincts. And don’t let anyone tell you – you are not good enough because you are.

When you look back at your career, is there anything you should have done differently?

Mostly just knowing more about accounting. I could have achieved things faster.

What does success mean to you?

I have achieved what I set out to achieve, but I haven’t got there yet.

Where is there?

I don’t know the goal posts keep on moving.

How do you define leadership?

Your people must have trust and confidence in you and you must have trust and confidence in your people.  You must work together on what ever you are trying to achieve. There must be 100% commitment from both sides. You as a leader are responsible for cultivating that type of culture in your people.

If there was three pieces of advice you can give to someone who lead a project, initiative or leads a team what would that be?
Leadership Lessons

  1. Trust
  2. Total commitment
  3. Confidence
  4. Ability to lead with your people, they are not reporting to you, they are leading with you. Each one is equally as important no matter what level they are at in the organization. I really really believe that.

Leading with your people, what do you mean by that?

If you look at my Senior Executive team, which there are eight, I believe very much in participator management and I accept that I do not know everything. Obviously they have been developed over the years. I am perfectly happy to accept advice or recommendations from any level. Some of the best ideas in this company have come from a housekeeper. I think it is important they know I take the advice, format it, and implement it as something positive for all of us.

What do you do to give a housekeeper the confidence to approach you?

I think they all know me pretty well. And they realize I accept them as part of my family. What I do only a daily bases and I send them an email every single day. I call it my thought for the day. It is something that I have been thinking about, a concern of an employ, or something that is happening in the country. It is just a positive thought they I am thinking about this and you perhaps should think about this to. I get wonderful feedback from all corners. It is amazing when you stretch out to people and touch their hearts and minds you just never know what is going to come back, it is just incredible.

What would you like leadership legacy to be?

I would like my senior team to be as much like me as possible in terms of the spiritual and practical aspect of leadership.  I cannot have anyone in leadership that doesn’t have cultural ethic I do; the fit would not be there.

What is next for you?

I don’t know, to continue to grow and make a difference.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 10yr. old daughter?

To have confidence in herself. Draw her inspiration from the people she respects and that that respect her in return. I think respect is critical in important at every level and it is two-way.

Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?

The same

Words of Wisdom for African women

The most important thing is to trust your inner instincts. Look at what you respect; who you respect and who you believe in. Who do you believe is genuine? Don’t be swayed by material or superficial things. What is the genuine essence of what it is you are trying to achieve.

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    2 replies to "Angela Dick"

    • Gladys

      This is absolutely amazing and so inspiring. And you are winning in a complex environment. I salute you Angela. I wish I could do something similar in Kenya. You are inspiring!

    • P.Francis

      I new Angela Dick ( nee Partington ) when we both lived in Fairway in the late 1950s or early 60s. Its been all of 50 years since I last saw her and would like to make contact with her again if at all possible

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