u|Chief spoke to Emma Corder, Country Manager of Nilfisk ZA, about her career journey and the insights she has learned along the way.
Tell us about your career journey to date?
My career began at a small, family-owned business that specialised in professional cleaning equipment and consumables. After starting in customer services, I became a sales rep for the healthcare division, where I acquired valuable insights into the cleaning industry and the sectors we serve.
As I began to take on more managerial responsibilities over the next five years, I realised that developing my skill set would improve my career prospects, so I enrolled to do an MBA at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. This equipped me with the professional knowledge, skills and confidence to pursue more and, in 2016 – when the company was acquired by Nilfisk – I was appointed as the Marketing Manager for South Africa and, a few months later, the Middle East and Africa.
During this time I gained a comprehensive understanding of the company, which was great preparation for the role of Country Manager, which I took on six months later.
Who is your role model?
I don’t have one role model. Instead, I try to role model specific behaviours in different people. Some of these include Elon Musk’s ability to push the envelope through the belief that anything is possible; Sheryl Sandberg’s humaneness as a leader, and the proactive role she plays in supporting the development of more women leaders; and Richard Branson’s sense of fun, as well as the emphasis he places on having happy people in an organisation, and how this contributes to collective success.
What advice would you give women with similar career aspirations?
Take every possible opportunity to diversify and strengthen your skill set. Speak up in meetings and make sure that your voice is heard. Interact with senior people whenever you get the chance.
“Speak up in meetings and make sure that your voice is heard. Interact with senior people whenever you get the chance.” – Emma Corder, Nilfisk
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My job involves a lot of travelling but I try as far as possible to eat healthily, exercise a few times a week and sleep at least seven hours a night. I’ve also found regular meditation to be hugely beneficial in training my mind to clear when I need to relax. There’s nothing worse than lying awake for hours stressing about work when you have a busy day ahead.
What does your job as Country Manager entail?
I oversee and coordinate the different departments within the business to deliver on the overall strategy. It involves continuous communication with managers to ensure they have the right tools and support needed to execute their roles effectively. I have an incredible team, with a diverse skills set, who are all extremely committed.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the diversity of the work and the responsibility that comes with being in a leadership position. Leaders are absolutely instrumental in shaping the work environment and I relish the opportunity to create and maintain an environment that allows people to flourish.
What do you strive for at work?
I strive to create an open, transparent environment where people feel comfortable with sharing ideas.
In your opinion, what qualities are important in a leader?
Fairness, ethics and authenticity.
What unique challenges and opportunities does Nilfisk face in South Africa?
The cleaning industry in South Africa is ripe for disruption. I think one of our biggest challenges in the foreseeable future will be to position the benefits of digitization within the business, particularly when it comes to service.
What sets Nilfisk aside from its competitors?
We have an immense amount of knowledge when it comes to cleaning methodologies and we are experts in floor care and maintenance. We offer a full-service solution that includes equipment, consumables and chemicals, which means our clients needn’t shop elsewhere when looking for a partner in the cleaning space.
What challenges do women in your industry face?
While the cleaning industry is male-dominated, I haven’t been conscious of prejudice at Nilfisk. Externally, however, assumptions have been made about my industry knowledge and technical expertise – particularly when I was in sales, and particularly with male customers. The way I challenged this in return was by ensuring I was the best in the industry in my portfolio, and showcasing my technical expertise as often as possible.
Even as Country Manager, I’m conscious that some people underestimate my capacity to succeed. However, as always, I plan to use this to my advantage and as motivation to pursue further success.
“The development of digital services as a means to measure, track and optimise the performance of both cleaners and equipment will play a far greater role in differentiating one supplier from another.” – Emma Corder, Nilfisk
What future trends do you see emerging in the cleaning industry?
Robotics has been a buzz word in the industry for a number of years, but as technology becomes more advanced, particularly in Europe, I think we’ll slowly start to see more automation on a local level. The development of digital services as a means to measure, track and optimise the performance of both cleaners and equipment will play a far greater role in differentiating one supplier from another. I think more and more customers will start to look to partner with experts as they come under increasing pressure to generate more value with a tighter budget.