Veronica Wantenaar is the Director, Change Agent, Certified Professional Coach and Coach Supervisor.
She tells us that, “I am proud to be a catalyst for change in the lives of organisations and individuals. I am a coach working with leaders, teams and individuals creating generative work places that enable everyone in them to be their best, both as an individual and a team player. My vision is to ensure that every interaction I have can create a positive outcome, not just for me but for whoever I interact with. So I need to be intentional and present, listen to understand and add value where I can.”
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
My parents were shopkeepers. We lived over the shop and I grew up with my brother and sister, surrounded by customers and the community where our shop was a focal point. It helped me to become more confident and better at interacting with people of all ages. I attended the local primary school and was fortunate to win a scholarship to a private school. I realised that I was no longer a big fish in a small pond. I was surrounded by wealthy, intelligent females and had to work hard to keep up with the pace. My first job was in Government and I learned about discipline, security and had my first introduction in human resources in the area of recruitment and vetting. Little did I realise that my background and interest in people was starting me on my journey. I left and became a personal assistant in commercial organisations, extending my role into management for the first time. This gave me more grounding in people skills and an interest in development. I moved from here to international sales in the IT education field. Here I was working on skills development and it made me realise that technical skills are important, but without the people skills it is difficult to assist people with the technology. As I was beginning to understand my passion to work in the area of people development I prepared myself to start my own business. All I knew I was good at was sales so, with a colleague we started at a telephone sales organisation. My goal was to make an organisation that I could be proud of, where I could provide jobs for other people, train and develop them and to provide a good future for myself. When I look back I see that my parents were my first role models. They worked hard, managed to find time for us children at the end of their busy day, and they were naturally good at building relationships and trust. They were also generous. They allowed credit to those who needed it and always put something a little extra into their shopping bags, or gave the children free fruit. That taught me the gift of giving without a need for reward.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
My original company was growing and we had started by testing the waters for telephone marketing for large organisations. One of them. General Foods was so impressed they asked me to recruit and train a department for them. This was so exciting. I said yes even though I had never officially been a trainer before. Oh I loved it so much. Seeing people who started off quite nervous about selling, gain confidence in themselves and their skills that it opened up new thinking about not only their work but other areas of their lives. This is when I decided that my vocation was to help people to learn about themselves and be more confident and comfortable in their lives. I moved my focus to leadership training and it had the enormous benefit for me, that I was always learning myself on the journey. I consider myself a lifelong learner.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”
Building on what I have already said, I think that there is an independent streak in me that has always wanted to run my own business, like my parents. I also think of a sense of challenge to see if I could do it. Also, I thrive on change and that has made me want to continue learning and growing, and adding to my knowledge and skills. I am not an academic but I love learning. This ability to adapt and seek new paths has meant that I have changed directions over the years with my business. My focus now is on change and growth through coaching and mentoring, rather than training, although I still do that sometimes. The fact that when I started my first business, we were only the 13th telemarketing company in the UK, shows I like to be at the leading edge and I am prepared to take risks. My current business is called Chameleon Skills and that talks to my appreciation of my strengths around adaptability, creativity and communication.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
The initial challenge was around finance. I was divorced and having to manage my finances whilst building the business. This was very stressful and it was a good lesson in terms of prioritising my spending. In retrospect it would have been useful to have saved some money first as a buffer, but the opportunity arose to gain a small office space so my partner and I grabbed it. The worst challenge was when the partnership did not work out. I married and had two children. My business partner was not married and wanted children but did not have them. It became a battle of her making me feel less committed because of my family. Actually I was the one travelling, training and consulting and she was the office based one. We eventually parted and not on very good terms after nine years in the business. The learning and advice I would give is that if you go in with a partner, be very sure that you have the same objectives, contract effectively and do not allow yourself to be taken over by the other person. Over the years I have learnt that it can be very challenging working on your own. You can get lonely. You may feel that it is great to be your own boss, but actually the more clients you have the more people you have a responsibility to, so keep that in mind. If you don’t have a partner it is important to have someone that you can think with. A mentor or coach, or a good friend. Not necessarily to give advice but more to help you to clarify your thinking. My current business partner and I do that well together and the result is better than one of us can do on our own. The challenge of course is to find clients/customers. You need to accept that even if you are busy you must still be looking for more clients. They come and go often and it is too late to fill the gap when you run out. The key to effective client relationships is communication and connection. Build a trusting relationship rather than look to just make sales.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
On a professional level COVID was a disaster. 95% of our business was face to face coaching and facilitation. That stopped immediately and left us with nothing to do. My partner and I decided to be strategic about it and we offered our services free to a couple of large organisations to support some of their leadership staff through the pandemic. The focus was on supporting them to deal with their challenges so that they could in turn support them team members, who were thrown into remote working and the challenges or being at home, with children who needed schooling, whilst still delivering to the organisation. This resulted in us getting exposure in those companies and it resulted in significant work for us later in the pandemic and has continued after that, expanding back into some face to face interaction post pandemic. The challenge of going online was not so difficult for me from all those years ago when I was involved in telephone marketing. I was used to dealing remotely. I just had to get the hang of the technology more effectively for working with large groups. Personally, the impact has been huge. I was very happily living in Cape Town, South Africa. My husband passed away 9 years ago and my children had moved back to the UK, where they were born. I had no plans to leave. When COVID hit we realised that I could no longer assume I could get on a plane and visit my children, or they visit me. They were unable to get to SA in time before my husband passed away, so now they were concerned about me. I made the decision to relocate back to the UK and was on one of the first plans that left SA. After 26 years it was so hard to leave. I have been through a huge transition and am beginning to settle here but really I missed SA, my friends and community. However, I love having more regular time with my children.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
Because I am not an academic I have been really proud to achieve qualifications in the areas that I care about. I am a Professional Certified Coach and coach mentor with the International Coaching Federation, a Master Certified Coach with Coaching and Mentoring South Africa, where I am the Vice President, and A Diploma in Coach Supervision. I see my move to South Africa in 1995 as an achievement, never having lived abroad before and it brought me such great opportunities and learnings. Perhaps the most important achievement is my three children. They are all very different, but they are finding their own way in life, standing on their own two feet and handling the challenges that life throws at them with resilience. So I celebrate their achievements.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I would like to see a world where there is more compassion and a desire to understand each other. We talk about diversity and inclusion but we need to make it something that we live. We will know we have made progress when we no longer need to talk about it. I love this quote: “Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.” Andres Tapia.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
I have learnt that you need to have a direction, something that guides you but you need to not be blinkered. You need to have your eyes open and be aware of the opportunities that are around you. My motto: If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together. (African proverb)
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
Women leaders are a powerful force. They must lead like women and not try to lead like men. Women bring the ability to create nurturing environments which are what we need to be successful for the future. That does not mean that they are soft. Women have been tough, they have been warriors, they often have to make tough decisions in their lives. I think that women have the ability to walk along the continuum from nurturing to directing and they can do it with grace.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
It all starts with you and it ends back with you. Spend time to know yourself first so that you can stand strong and withstand the challenges that will come. Do not be afraid to ask for help and to give it where you can. If you do not get it right the first time, that is not failure, that is the learning that will take you forward to do it better next time. I have failed, but I have not been beaten or given up. The world needs what only you can do.