At the helm of Legal, Governance, Risk & Compliance in one of the largest logistics companies in the country, Verna Douman is a force to be reckoned with
It's not every day that you learn about women making waves in law, especially in corporate settings. Verna is an Executive at Barloworld Logistics who has proven that hard work pays off. She admits that as a woman, she has had to work harder than her male counterparts and as a woman of colour, even harder.
“Don’t underplay the fact that the playing field is not levelled. It’s unfair but my response is - so what? Who is getting better? Certainly, the person who is working harder”.
Born and bred in Bosmont, south of Johannesburg with three siblings, she was raised by her strong father and phenomenal mother. Her father was quadriplegic for most of his life and her mother was the breadwinner and pillar of the family. It is this upbringing that has instilled so many values and principles in her. Affirming her as a strong-willed individual, striving for excellence at all times and refuting mediocrity in everything she lays her hands on. She is a mother to 20-year-old twins who inspire her to be a great mom and career woman. “You achieve success when you do everything at your best. In my house, I never accept mediocrity – if you get 90% in an exam and it is not your best, then that is mediocre. With that principle in mind, my twins also never accept mediocrity from their mother”.
AN ACTRESS IN COURT
Although she has proven her pedigree with a remarkable career that spans over two decades in corporate, Verna admits that law was not her first love. With aspirations of being on screen as an actress, her father urged her to opt for a career that would afford her financial stability.
“My dad told me to study law, that way I can act in court while I make money”.
Law gradually grew on her - it was a perfect love story and she excelled at criminal law. It took her one criminal case for her narrative to change. She had gotten so immersed in her craft that she had started adopting her client’s criminal way of thinking. Although that made her a great lawyer at the time, her expertise were changing who she was as a person. This was the point in her life where she decided to part ways with the courtroom to pursue commercial law in the South African banking sector. Before joining Barloworld Logistics, she had been in banking for over 20 years, working for giants such as Standard Bank, Barclays and Absa Capital. She notes that her plan has always been to break boundaries and have her voice heard. She joined Barloworld Logistics in 2014 and hit the ground running, taking responsibility for protecting the interests of the company as well as all its stakeholders.
SITTING AT THE TABLE DISCUSSING AN AUTHENTIC CHANGE AGENDA
To this day, she believes she made an excellent choice by joining the Logistics division of Barloworld. She notes a revolution taking place at Barloworld and she has been fortunate enough to witness the positive tremendous change that the division and Group at large have been going through over the years. “This is an exciting era for Barloworld where we have a Group CEO supported by divisional Chief Executives that are driving an authentic agenda of transformation – committed to fairness and equality”. She believes that women are still shackled by old thinking, they are subject to being patronized and need to fight hard to be noticed. She notes that at Barloworld, the tone that sits right at the top has made way for more women to sit at the table and have their voices heard.
THE SCOPE IS BROAD
Verna believes that law touches on every sphere of human-kind and teaches one imperative skills that they can use in any industry they venture into. She notes that studying law does not mean one needs to be a lawyer – the discipline broadens one’s spectrum and sharpens one’s skills and knowledge in negotiating, engaging, thinking on your feet, finding solutions, how to reason…the list goes on. She always encourages young people to pursue a law qualification if they find themselves at loggerheads with their own future as the legal discipline is broad – which covers various aspects such as commercial, constitutional, criminal, family law etc. of any human life. Thereafter, they can assess their capabilities and go further into what they truly enjoy.
A GROUND-BREAKER OF NOTE
Verna attributes her success to her deep faith and strives to embody the biblical principles of servant leadership. She strongly believes that God has blessed her with incredible teams who share in her success.
“I have a phenomenal team made up of brilliant, strong professionals. I look good because of them”.
She is extremely passionate about empowering young black talent and her team is indicative of that. She has a handful of brilliant professionals she mentors and grooms irrespective of their age and gender. She is deliberate in her choice of taking black talent under her wing to develop and advance in their careers. In her team, she has a lady who started as an administrator and she groomed her until she attained a paralegal qualification.
“In every leadership position I hold, I believe that if by the time you move on from my leadership and you are the same person you were when you joined my team, then I have failed”.
She concludes by stating that she has been called to nurture, grow, mentor, encourage and positively impact people’s lives towards excellence.
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