A leader with a passion for people and the pulpit

2011-04-22 00:00

FEW business chamber presidents find themselves spending the Easter holiday period preaching at the pulpit and teaching Sunday school.

However, for the newly inaugurated president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) Thato Tsautse (43), her spiritual convictions fit in perfectly with her roles as business leader, high-powered legal professional and mother of two children.

It has been a busy month for Tsautse, who shifted up a gear from deputy DCCI president to the role of president, just days after being licensed as a lay minister at her church — St Faiths Anglican Church in the Durban CBD.

“I have a passion for children — especially because of their purity and passion. I have been a Sunday school teacher since 2001.”

Although she realised that she had a calling to become a lay minister three years ago, Tsautse resisted, due to her business and professional commitments.

However, she says that this stance changed recently.

“It was not my plan initially to be in the pulpit. But, God has a way of making you see the light.”

Tsautse is the first woman to occupy the role of DCCI president and she has consistently placed the role of women in business and the role of women in the maritime industry on her agenda, primarily through her involvement in the Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association.

She is currently the CEO of the South African Association of Shipping Operators and Agents (SAASOA). Although her role as president is critical to the success of the Chamber, she draws strength from knowing that she is not alone on the journey. Recently appointed DCCI CEO Andrew Layman has now filled the leadership vacuum at the Chamber and Tsautse says that she will navigate through her presidency through collective engagement.

“I work with the collective. That’s my leadership style. I know that I won’t be hands-on all the time.”

One of her key objectives is to ensure that the powers-that-be in government do more to create and foster a sustainable and enabling environment for business to operate in.

“This year’s national theme is jobs. But it [jobs] doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We must understand the environment and respond and react accordingly to it.”

Armed with an LLM (masters in law — focusing on maritime studies), education has always been important to Tsautse. She has had to overcome significant challenges — including having to repeat her matric due to the negative impact of political violence in the eighties on her schooling.

After completing her articles at a law firm in Durban, she worked as a lawyer at various firms before making an entry into the maritime industry — through the legal services portfolios at Portnet and SA Port Operations (divisions of Transnet). This was followed by a stint at a top Johannesburg law firm, where she helped set up the maritime legal department.

She hopes that business leaders in KwaZulu-Natal will address the education system by helping to promote knowledge-based workers.

“Those who do not have the chance to partake in the knowledge economy should not be left behind. Leaders must inculcate a culture that enables people to improve themselves educationally.”

She is also passionate about empowering people, and plans to start at home — in the Chamber — by transforming the DCCI into an employer of choice, while also helping “her people” (Chamber employees) to upgrade their skills and improve themselves professionally.

Tsautse has a firm understanding of the core values she holds dear in her personal and professional lives.

“My father, who was a police officer, was a value-driven person.

“He always put family first and my family is key for me. I have young children and I ensure that I spend as much time with them as possible. I am still close to my siblings and my extended family and it means so much to me to be in touch with them.”

Her spiritual life has also helped to deliver these values.

“My faith has also kept me in check,” Tsautse adds.

She believes strongly in values such as integrity, respect and trustworthiness.

Tsautse has her hands full at the moment as she occupies various positions — including her role as president of a major business Chamber, operating as a legal and maritime professional, fulfilling her calling as a lay minister and teaching Sunday school, as well as studying toward a Bachelor of Theology.

I asked her how she manages to juggle all these roles. Her response reflected a simple, yet profound, outlook that is often lost in the corporate “rat race”.

“It’s not difficult. I’ve embraced that you can’t do everything in life. I just prioritise the different aspects of my life. There are 24 hours in a day and only so much you can do. I’ve made it a point to ensure that I offload those aspects that do not add value to my life.”

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