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Survive or thrive during the pandemic

An interview with Melicia Labuschagne, South Africa Country Director for Liqui Moly

Melicia Labuschagne launched the Liqui Moly premium engine oils and additives brand in South Africa in 2008, in the midst of a global recession, and built it to the success story it is today. Now, she is guiding her team at Liqui Moly South Africa through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with the same courage and positive attitude.  One of only a few women leading businesses in the male-dominated automotive, industrial and mining industries, Melicia remains focused on thriving, rather than just surviving, through this time. 

You launched Liqui Moly in South Africa during a recession. What gave you the confidence to achieve this?

The key learnings I gained from my experience working for Herbalife prepared me for the challenge. These were to always focus on developing myself; that it’s not about fitting in - it’s about standing out; and that selling should be about value, not just price. When we launched Liqui Moly, many people were said that with so many other lubricant brands out there, we were not going to survive as a premium product as customers want the cheapest option.

I however had a clear vision of where I wanted the brand to go. I saw the brand in ten years and fifteen years and twenty years, and made sure that everything we implemented at that time supported our long-term goals. I was determined to build the brand based on value, not price, and continue to build trust with some consistent fundamentals in place – one price increase a year, superb service delivery and always adding value to the customer. Our exceptional products speak for themselves and this approach continues to work very well for us.

Tough times require firm leadership – is it more challenging leading in a very male-dominated industry?

I think that in male-dominated industries, your gender makes you distinctive and makes the value you can add that much more memorable. Be proud of being female – it’s not an obstacle but a useful advantage. You don’t need to change to fit in, rather use it to stand out! I believe that how you do anything is how you do everything, and, irrespective of your gender, make sure you do everything well.

Many people are just focused on survival during these unprecedented times. What does survival mean to you?

I have a problem with the word ‘survive.’ For me, that is a word that focuses on just barely making it. When Liqui Moly was launched, if our focus had just been to try and survive through the recession, we wouldn't be where we are today. Also, if you need to survive, you need to know what the end point is, and what you need to get to that point. We're in a situation where there is a lot of uncertainty, and we don’t know when this is going to end.

I believe we should focus on adapting and thriving in our new circumstances.  We need to be able to lift our heads and still focus on where we want to go. Much like mountain-biking, if you're looking at the big rock, that's exactly where you're going to end up! Rather focus on the trail ahead of you.

How do you believe we can thrive in COVID-19?

COVID-19 exposes the cracks in our foundations – business and personal. If you were already not controlling your weight, you’re likely to come out heavier. If your relationship wasn’t good before lockdown, you’re probably worse off now.  We need to focus on fixing those cracks in order to thrive.

We must also learn skills to reinvent ourselves and adapt. Those who can adapt to the changes are the people who will thrive. Everything is going to be different, and you can’t just focus on trying to get back to our previous reality the same skills and tools. You need to evolve to thrive in a new reality.

I know you believe in empowering everybody in your team. How do you keep the morale up during lockdown?

We’ve focused on staying connected, developing new skills and having gratitude for everything we have.   As a team, we’ve kept in touch with each other every day. We’ve made sure that everybody uses the time to learn as much as possible and develop themselves. Whether it be learning languages, cooking, writing or exercise challenges – new skills and working on our health keeps our morale high.

The whole team also shares what they’re grateful for – it creates the opportunity to have a positive state of mind.  We now have many good news stories of people learning new skills, getting things done and starting new exercise routines – so we’ve all been able to grow during a challenging time.

What is most rewarding advice you’ve received that you would share with others?

If I look at the really low points in my life, those are the times I grew the most. The best advice I have ever received is to work harder on yourself than you do on anything else.

I saw that I was expecting to have financial abundance, but I didn't learn as much I possibly could from people that were financially abundant. I wanted to grow a business, but I never learnt from someone that had properly grown a business. I wanted to be healthy, but I never studied health. When I learnt from others and implemented these things, I could succeed. Now, every single day I work on myself to be better today than I was yesterday.

That is also what I would advise others. As Einstein said, you can’t fix a problem with the same mind that created it. Whatever you see is not working well in your life, finances, work or relationships, go and learn as much as possible about it and consistently implement the changes.

You also don’t get anywhere by blaming. You’re not in this situation because of our government, or because of your boss, or because you’ve been dealt a bad card. If you can take true responsibility for your own life, your business, your family and your relationships with people, your life is going to be different, because you realise it’s in your hands to change it. It takes some time, but it's worth it. Success is something you attract by the person you become.

What is a day in the life of Melicia – how do you stay on track?

I have a routine I follow every single day, to be able to make sure I stay positive, I can lead my team, I can keep creative ideas coming and be in a state of mind where I can add value. I get up in the morning at three o'clock. I make sure I get onto the bicycle and train for an hour.  While I'm on the bicycle I send the quote for my team for the day and listen to podcasts. On my way to work, I listen to a book. I then do affirmations and get to the office early. Learning, meditation, gratitude exercises -  everything I do before six o'clock sets my day up for magic. I then connect with my team in person or on Zoom.  In the evening I watch something that makes me laugh, and I end the day with gratitude.

If you could have any superpower, what would that power be?

My superpower would be to enable people to see themselves in twenty years, if they change the things that are holding them back. To see what they would be if make better choices that allow them to really thrive – not just survive.  I think that would change people's lives.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I would love to visit NASA and Disneyland. I still have that little part of me that will never grow up!