FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE |
By Andrew Ngozo
A Path Paved with Success
In the proverbial ‘male dominated’ project management field, an unlikely force is rising. In aviation circles, females are often relegated to being airline hostesses yet, Bongiwe Pityi, Deputy Director of Airport Operations, Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) has defied stereotypes by not only being one of a few senior women in the top echelons of ACSA but paving the path with successes wherever she goes.
The 2013 South Africa’s Most Influential Woman in Business and Government winner in the Public Enterprises (SOEs) sector is the first woman worldwide to have moved a live airport operation within the shortest space of time in a seamless manner. This means that Pityi had to manage and oversee the addition and upgrading of new facilities to an already functional airport without any disruptions to normal airport activity. The King Shaka International Airport in Durban, South Africa, is one of her ‘babies’ and Pityi is well on the way to adding another feather of project success victory with her current project, the GRU International Airport in Guarulhos, Brazil.
“An airport is a complex structure that involves various organisations, processes, facilities systems and equipment,” reveals Pityi. “It is made up of a set of interrelated processes which need to be well orchestrated to achieve the set business goals. A common
complication when it comes to introducing additional facilities to an airport is that the work is often carried out in a live environment. While processing a high number of air traffic movements, equally large volumes of people pass through an airport on an hourly basis, while the work is being done.”
It is often reported that start-up failures in the delivery of large capital projects is attributable to the weaknesses in enabling staff to competently and confidently execute their responsibilities. Pityi has surpassed her own expectations which are testimony of her zeal to succeed regardless of whatever risks that may be encountered. “One of the key success factors is to pay particular attention to the implementation of a fast tracked but effective familiarisation induction and training programme. This ensures that the workforce employed within the airport is enabled and ready to handle the more advanced systems and equipment from the first day of commercial operations,” she observes.
Not For the Faint-Hearted
Perhaps the GRU International Airport project is one that has been Pityi’s sternest test yet, she points out. “There were various complexities I had to manage and, which, under normal circumstances, I would never have been involved in. The difference between the role played in Brazil and the one I played in South Africa is in the fact that I was responsible for the operational readiness planning for a Greenfield project- a 102 000m2 facility,” she says. This project was literally a showstopper as it had a number of complexities. These include licencing requirements for a new airport, the calibration and commissioning of navigational aids on the runways and taxiways, airfield ground lighting, firefighting capability, baggage security processing equipment, integrated testing of engineering and information technology (IT) systems; all of which needed to meet set criteria before ACSA and its partners were issued with an operating license.
Pityi shifts focus and tackles the business and cultural integration matters that she had to go through as a result of the GRU International Airport project. “Prior to my relocation to Brazil, I had not been exposed to Brazilian Portuguese. I am still taking lessons but, given the fast pace of the project, I continue to rely on a translator,” she confesses. While the language and cultural barrier has only been one of the issues faced on the Brazilian project, Pityi’s people skills have been barely tested as “Brazilians are much like South Africans. They are a soccer loving and proud nation.”
A Positive Outlook
Admittedly the aviation industry is one that is still dominated by males, acknowledges Pityi. But with all the stereotypes and myths associated with the sector, she has chosen to focus on being positive about her role. “I have gone past the stage of focusing on the stereotypes and, in fact, I embrace this particular challenge as I believe it can define one’s character depending on their outlook. I pay more attention to the value I add to teams I work with and to my contribution that is not characterised by gender but quality.” She adds that team synergies are crucial to project success as there is power in the collective and in collaboration.
Hailing from a small village on the outskirts of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, Pityi is a true embodiment that stereotypes limit an individual in so far as one allows them to. “My work ethic is underpinned by discipline, hard work and passion for what I do. I am born of parents who are widely regarded as a couple that defied odds in their lifetime,” she shares. Surprisingly enough, Pityi, a qualified lawyer, and only one of the only two attorneys to have been produced from the area, is outshining engineers in their own back yard.
She also hints that, the law fraternity is another which is still largely regarded as a male terrain. With 14 years’ experience in the aviation industry, the lawyer turned project manager and leader par excellence, has broken ground by being the only woman to head a project which was the first ever of its kind in South Africa and the world.
Although Pityi has reached the epitome of career success, she believes that learning is a critical aspect of the same. “As the only woman in a small team deployed by ACSA to Brazil, I have been given a platform which offers many learnings and experience that most people have not had the opportunity to enjoy in their lifetime. I am humbled and eternally grateful to ACSA for the opportunities it continues to give me as a woman based on a proven work track record,” she concludes indicating that, having experienced so much in so little time, she hopes to write a book on leadership in the near future as “There have been many lessons learnt on growth and development”