Women in business: A rose among thorns   

By Zandile Mavuso
Editor: DIY

With DIY, hardware and construction being male-dominated industries, it is not often that we get to appreciate and to know more about the women who form part of the management and functioning of some of the most successful companies in these industries. In the spirit of women’s month, DIY & Industrial Trade News decided to run a special segment this month that profiles women in the industry that are doing a great job. We met up with A.SHAK director, Cindy Engels, and asked her about her involvement in the industry.

A.SHAK director, Cindy Engels

Q: Could you please give us a background on how did you get involved in an industry dominated by males? Take us through your journey

A: After grade 12, I did a National Diploma in Architectural Technology and worked for Architects for several years. During
this time, I gained a lot of experience working on building sites with project managers and engineers. In 1992, I was looking for a different career opportunity and was asked by a friend in recruitment

to apply for a position as a sales representative for a company supplying the construction and hardware industries. Well, that company was A.SHAK and I was offered the job right there in the interview. My job was to grow the retail side of the company as the original owner

Alex Shakinovsky’s brother Leo was responsible for the construction and precast customers. Leo at the time was in his late 60s and when he realised that my technical knowledge of the industry was quite extensive, he decided that I was capable of dealing with all the customers.  

Q: Can you tell us more of your involvement at A.SHAK, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?  

A: As the sole director of A.SHAK my duties are quite diverse. I am a self-confessed control freak, so I try and stay involved in all aspects of the business. I oversee the management team as well as marketing and advertising. I have daily discussions on planning and expenditure with our accountant as well as dealing with plant level issues with my factory and transport managers. I have an open-door policy so any one of my staff are free to come in for a chat.  

Q: With your level of expertise in this industry, what would you say can be done to accommodate more women to pursue this as a career path?  

A: We are seeing more woman choosing the construction industry as a career path and it is no longer unusual to find female engineers or project managers on sites. There are, however, still some prejudices to overcome so any women who chooses to be in a male-dominated environment need to make sure she knows her stuff. She must make ensure that her knowledge is better or equal to her peers. Find a mentor and learn everything you can from someone who has been in the industry for a long time. Unfortunately, women still must work harder than men to receive the same recognition and they need to prove themselves in a tough industry – they need to get their hands dirty. Concrete is not kind to manicures, and you will break your ankle if you wear heels on site. This also does not mean that you need to lose your femininity.  

Q: Does your company have any plans in place to accommodate or encourage women to join the company? If yes, please share in detail what these plans are  

A: I already have many women on my staff. My factory manager is a woman, and she has worked for me for 24 years. I have a ‘no prejudice’” approach to employment and will always employ the best person for the job regardless of gender, colour, age, or any other criteria except their suitability for the position. I believe in equal opportunity for everyone.  

Q: Drawing from your experience, would you say the industry is on the right track in terms of development and transformation?  

A: I believe the industry has done it’s best to accommodate development and transformation but with the state of our economy and I believe the laws forcing transformation on the industry has had a detrimental effect and has caused the demise of many of our large construction companies. The construction sector is the biggest employer of unskilled labour in South Africa and therefore would be an ideal platform for training and upliftment of women. The transformation laws don’t allow sufficient time for nurturing of young people and allowing them to gain critical experience before throwing them into positions they are ill equipped to thrive in.  

Q: If you were to advise any women who aspire to be like you in a male-dominated industry, what professional advice and guidance would you offer?  

A: Be prepared to work hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Have a good personal support system that allows you to spend time away from home developing your skills and network.  

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your company?  

A: A.SHAK is one of very few privately owned, and 100% South African-owned companies left in the Construction and DIY industry as most of our competitors have been bought out by foreign corporates.  

Business Leader Profile:  

Full Name: Cindy Engels  

Position and Company Name: Director A.SHA, A.SHAK CONSTRUCTION CHEMICALS and ENDURO ROAD   

Main activity of the company: Manufacturing and marketing of products used in construction, DIY and road stabilising  

Date of birth and place: 03 July 1963, Durban South Africa  

Schools and University you attended: Alberton Primary school, Alberton High School and Wits Technicon  

What was your first job: Architectural Technician at Lees and Steel Architects  

How much was your first ever salary: R250 per month  

Value of assets under your control: Private information  

Number of people you lead/manage: 61  

What would you say is your management style: Diplomatic  

Who has been the most influence on your career? Leo Shakinovsky  

Which successful business person do you admire or are impressed by: None, I take inspiration from many people as success is defined differently by different people  

What is your life philosophy: Do your best every day  

Name one person that you would like to meet: I meet many interesting people from all walks of life  

What would you say has been your biggest opportunity: Landing my job at A.SHAK  

What would you say has been your biggest disappointment: Our government policies and red tape that restrict growth of our industry  

Favourite reading at the moment: No time for reading  

Favourite TV programme: I love watching THE BLOCK AUSTRALIA when it’s on.  

Favourite food or/and drink: I’m not a big foodie. I eat for sustenance and not pleasure  

Favourite music genre: 80’s music is still the best  


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DIY News August 2023

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