You wouldn’t think to look at her that Keabetswe Molebaloa’s day job is to build some of the most macho bakkies on the market.
As plant industrial engineering manager at the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s (FMCSA) Silverton plant in Pretoria, 32-year-old Keabetswe has a huge list of day-to-day responsibilities.
She oversees several departments, including the body shop; paint shop; trim; chassis and final line; assembly quality assurance and the vehicle personalisation centre.
The vehicles turned out there are Ranger and Everest SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) and bakkies for the local and domestic market, as well as the Everest large SUV.
The Rangers have been a huge commercial success for FMCSA, becoming one of the bestselling vehicles on the South African market and, on occasion, deposing the Toyota Hilux from its top spot on the sales charts.
So, keeping that Ford quality flag flying is something Keabetswe takes very seriously.
Born in Ga-Rankuwa, in the then Bopthutatswana, she turned eight the day before the first Women’s Day on August 9, 1994.
She was inspired by her mom, Sophy Mathebula, whose drive for education saw her attain a number of degrees after her teaching qualification.
From her mom, Keabetswe and her sister, Remofilwe, learned the value of hard work and that there were no limits to what they could achieve.
After matriculating from Pretoria High School for Girls, Keabetswe went on to graduate from Tshwane University of Technology with a Bachelor of Technology in industrial engineering. And she is currently studying towards her Masters in engineering management.
In 2011, she was awarded a place in FMCSA’s two-year graduate trainee programme.
FMCSA saw immense potential in Molebaloa.
On completion of the programme, she became a salaried employee, and she hasn’t looked back.
“Ford has a culture to support, develop, and groom their people for career advancement,” she says. “The vision that I had for myself, Ford had the same.
“Through continuous learning, training, and development opportunities, I gained hard skills and soft interpersonal skills.
“I also interacted with people from all over the world, as Ford is a global company, and so I grew my network exponentially.”
Of her choice in career and her astounding trajectory, she explains that initially her goal was simply to “fit into any industry sector” – be it manufacturing, health care, banking, technology, or supply chain – and to “customise a profession” that matched her interests.
As it turned out, industrial engineering was the best fit.
“It provides those unlimited opportunities through basic technical and business management acumen,” she says.
Reflecting on her rise through the ranks, Keabetswe remembers how challenging it was trying to enter the working world as a new graduate.
“Everything is new,” she remembers.
“There is so much to learn, and due to my lack of experience, I definitely wasn’t ready for a professional, fulltime job.”
Of her career, she notes philosophically that “setbacks are inevitable”.
“You need to have some strong self-motivation to coach yourself out of challenges.
“But you should view them as lessons learned, rather than failures.
“As a woman in a male-dominated industry, you need to be willing to listen, you need to have the patience to understand.
“You need to have the heart to care, and you need to get your work done on time, as expected, and deliver beyond expectation.”
Interestingly, her husband Kebagane Molebaloa, also a graduate of the Tshwane University of Technology, is also in the engineering field, with a qualification in building science (construction management and quantity surveying).
Career success has had a huge impact on Keabetswe’s personal life.
“I now have my own house, and my own car,” she says proudly. “I drive a Ford Everest XLT.
“But my favourite Ford is still the iconic Mustang GT.
“It’s a comfortable muscle car with a potent V8 engine and stylish trim packages.
“The struggle to find a good balance between family, work, and school commitments can be overwhelming at times,” she admits.
“But I have learnt that, with proper planning and self-discipline, anything is possible.”