Q&A with Melissa Nortje - Executive Head of Strategy, Development and Marketing at First Car Rental
Q1: In what year did you join First Car Rental and what was your position?
A: 2002, Sales Area Manager: Wholesale.
Q2: What do you like most about First Car Rental?
A: I truly like our brand, the people and our systems. Any negative is always directly related to time, and the lack thereof. I would therefore have to be quite broad and say that I like our company character most - we are known internally and externally for our ethos of innovation and adaptability whether it relates to our approach in systems or people.
Q3: When are you most satisfied in your job?
A: I am most satisfied when I revisit my annual strategy plan every January and manage to tick-off the majority of "to do's" on the list. To delete some of the "nice-to-have" items is a bonus.
Q4: As Executive Head of your department how do you go about establishing your credibility quickly with a team?
A: I believe action speaks louder than words and that we should lead by example; I work hard, my team works hard. It is as simple as that. The same goes for all values I hold dear. My team is in a unique position to be part of something great, it is not just car rental - we get to create real solutions for real people. I believe credibility is established every time a vision is realised.
Q5: How would you describe your work style?
A: Collaborative but always willing to make the final decision within a heart-beat, and bear the consequences thereof.
Q6: What would be your ideal working environment?
A: My "Ideal" would be a working environment that allows more than 24 hours a day!
Q7: What do you look for in terms of culture - structured or entrepreneurial?
A: I am entrepreneurial to the core, but to be a finisher and for things to work long-term you have to be structured - so I would say a good balance of both.
Q8: What techniques and tools do you use to keep yourself organised?
A: A manageable inbox size is key with only pending matters present - this is easier said than done in a development role, as I handle a few hundred emails a day - with many that are not associated to the day only. We have a very good handle on spam within our network and my friends and family know I don't read jokes or "thought for the day" so I don't make it onto mass-sends of random emails. I unsubscribe and report abuse upon receipt of unsolicited mail to avoid future sends.
I am pedantic about documenting procedures accurately enough so that anyone can follow them; ask my team, a few re-writes are a given when it comes to daily, weekly or monthly processes or procedures; if you do it right upon inception it will serve you well in an emergency.
I use my iPad extensively when I travel, but my moleskin writing pad is a close second (nothing like explaining by drawing a quick picture, flow-chart or table).
Q9: If you had to choose one, would you consider yourself a big-picture person or a detail-oriented person?
A: Big-picture from a visionary and solution perspective, but detail-orientated when it comes to implementation.
Q10: Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
A: My parents- I grew up in the 70's - 80's - most of my friends had their mom at home. My parents were scientists and worked full-time - they were very logical and reasonable. I never questioned whether I would work hard one day; I couldn't wait for school to end so I could get to it!
Allan Burke - he was my Sales Director when we were still National Alamo. He was almost eccentric in his approach at times - but he had a lot of faith in my abilities and provided an environment where I was allowed to learn, grow and create.
Bruce Barritt - he is the MD at First Car Rental and he continues to be my mentor every day. He has a wealth of knowledge in the car rental industry but has taught me so much more than this. I have Bruce to thank for my continued growth; if he finds a problem he will throw it at me - and that is what makes me tick.
Q11: What kind of personality do you work best with and why?
A: I don't care too much about personality types. Attitudes and abilities are the traits I value most as this defines ones' character in a working environment. I am a firm believer that the right attitude allows for an individual to absorb more knowledge, which leads to ability, as people are more willing to share with someone who has the right attitude.
Q12: What is your proudest achievement within work?
A: We've had many successes but Weblink - our online booking engine - was the first system in our industry to allow for electronic vouchers. This was my baby in 2004 and beyond and it has evolved, but the essence has remained and it was worth all the months spent on it day-in and day-out with 4 hours sleep per night most nights.
Then Show & Go - this product is the first car rental mobile check-out facility in the world and I created it by spec'ing it from design to interface to implementation. Today it is a reality. I am never quite satisfied though because enhancement is the key to longevity for any project. This is what keeps us ahead of our competitors. It has to be said though that testing and roll-out is a big part of these achievements, and I surround myself with good people who make these achievements possible.
Q13: What are your strengths?
A: Determined, willing and able for every challenge we may need to face
Q14: What are your weaknesses?
A: A good Shiraz (yes, I know this is not what you meant)
Q15: What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?
A: Beginning 2012 I had a health-scare. I needed to find balance; I'm still searching - as it has become evident that one creates one's own rat-race.
Q16: What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?
A: Random whistling. Actually, just whistling in general. Do you know anyone who can truly whistle well? I don't. How do I deal with it? I ask them to stop. And if it is a stranger, I remove myself out of sound range. Sounds insane... I know.
Q17: List five words that describe your character.
A: Hard working, loyal, competant, adaptable, fair.
Q18: What is your greatest fear?
A: Being impaired (mentally or physically)
Q19: What is your greatest achievement outside of work?
A: Stopping for a moment - realising who I was, not caring about social norm and finding someone that doesn't bore me with whom I could share the rest of my life with.
Q20: Tell me the difference between good and exceptional?
A: Good doesn't get noticed.
Q21: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
A: San Francisco.
Q22: What's the last book you read?
A: I don't read books - I read numbers the whole day and most night's off my laptop. I tend to fall asleep when reading a book. Who needs that when you have late night golf to watch, which really makes me sleepy!
Q23: What magazines do you subscribe to?
Q24: What's the best movie you've seen in the last year?
A: Difficult one. I will give you 3. Django (with a silent D) - I have yet to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie that I didn't love! I am not one for musicals but something has to be said for Les Misérables, the movie... singing live whilst acting instead of pre-recording - a First for musicals, which makes it spectacular. Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man.
Q25: What would you do if you won the lottery?
A: Everything I do now, just bigger - and make more time for myself and those dear to me.
Q26: What do you like to do for fun?
A: Snowboarding/ golf/ a glass of good red wine with a log fire.
Q27: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I recently started painting again (first time in approximately 15 years), but it takes time plus you have to be in the mood. Taking on a Salvador Dali as a first project was probably a little ambitious though.