Self-belief and focus: How Sharon Sijako became boss of East London port

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THE Port of East London’s Sharon Sijako is one of three women captaining a commercial harbour in South Africa.

Sharon Sijako has served as East London Port Manager since December 2017 – only the second woman in the port’s 120-plus year history to hold this position. The first was one Jacqueline Brown.

With over 20 years operational experience, coupled with a track record of strong leadership and strategic thinking, Sharon has a deep understanding of the port system and the challenges and opportunities faced by the maritime industry.

“My greatest priority is the development of the Port of East London,” she says. “This will create jobs and assist in growing not only our Metro, but the entire eastern half of the Eastern Cape.”

Under her leadership the Port of East London has developed and presented a strong socio-economic case to the Transnet Board for a major, long overdue port expansion in East London to stimulate greater economic opportunities and investor confidence for the region.

The 51-year-old Sijako, who was born in Mdantsane near East London. She is responsible for ensuring that everything at the port, which employs more than 350 people and can accommodate 11 commercial ships, runs like clockwork.

Her career with Transnet began nearly 25 years ago and she worked at the ports of Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth before moving the Port of East London in 1998.

She held various posts there and just before her appointment as port manager in 2017, she was the senior operations manager, a position she held for three-and-a-half years.

Having grown up near the harbour, Sijako says ships and the sea have always fascinated her and this helped her choose her career.

She says the maritime industry is exciting with new challenges every day.

After passing matric, Sijako moved to Cape Town where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences and an Honours Degree in Business Administration from the University of the Western Cape.

“It is important to have women in leadership positions across all industries and sectors to ensure we bring diversity to our management structures and to accurately reflect the communities in which we operate,” Sijako says.

Having women in top jobs will also send a message to young women that they can do any job and that there is no such thing as jobs for men or jobs for women.

It is hard, she says, to make time for your family while proving yourself at work but it can be done with determination and hard work.

“It is important to have women in leadership positions across all industries… to accurately reflect the communities in which we operate,” Sijako says.

Sijako advises those looking to make a career in the maritime sector to study towards a qualification in fields such as marine biology, maritime law and other relevant qualifications.

“I would also encourage women interested in the maritime industry to develop a skills in finance, human resources and business administration,” says Sijako.

She has also spearheaded the introduction of an expansive stakeholder engagement strategy both internally and externally, with the key objective of informing stakeholders of developments and soliciting support for the proposed port expansion.

The successful implementation of this strategy has ensured that the port’s key customers, stakeholders and employees have bought into the strategic direction of the Port of East London, thus ensuring long term financial viability for the port and its customers.

Sharon is passionate about women’s development and has actively championed for women to be fully developed in various positions inside and outside of the organisation.

“I am a firm believer in mentoring women in the workplace and continually seek out opportunities to steer and assist women in developing their skills and furthering their careers,” she says.

“I also place a high premium on self-belief, remaining true to myself and never compromising on my values of mutual respect.

“Even in the face of adversity, I have never deviated from these core principles, which have allowed me to prove that I am indeed capable of performing to the highest standards,” she concludes.

Sijako holds a BA (Social Sciences) and an Honours Degree in Business Administration from the University of the Western Cape.

She has benefited from numerous leadership training initiatives throughout her career and is currently enrolled for a post graduate certificate in Business & Strategic Leadership with the University of Cranfield.

  • This article courtesy of Buffalo City Tourism department and the GCIS Vuk’uzenzele magazine.


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