Change the world


Denise van Huyssteen is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

Success is about partnerships and focus.

That was the central theme that emerged in an interview with the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber’s popular and energetic chief executive, Denise van Huyssteen, who is the business category winner for The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizens of The Year.

Van Huyssteen said the accolade meant a lot but she recognised that it was not for her alone.

“I feel it is for the collective and in particular some incredible people who represent various businesses in the Bay.

“We have come together during a time of crisis and at a point where our city is at a tipping point.

“We have determined that we do not want to give up and are committed to combining our resources and skills to do everything possible to save investment and jobs in our city.”

She said she was proud of what she and her team had achieved at the chamber so far.

“These achievements include the activist approach we have established to deal with operating environment challenges in our city, our adopt a leak and adopt a school interventions where businesses and others are tackling water leaks at community level, and our humanitarian partnership with Gift of the Givers.

“Underpinning those interventions we changed the narrative of the Bay’s water challenges from ‘just a drought’ to ‘water management crisis’.”

She said she was also proud of the chamber’s establishment of geographic clusters to get businesses to collaborate to begin addressing issues of common interest.

“Linked to that strategy we established a renewable energy cluster which has drawn together 24 of the city’s largest companies.

“This is a trailblazer initiative for SA.”

She said another milestone for the chamber was implementation of the adopt a substation initiative which enabled businesses to extend their own security units to substations to protect them from cable theft and vandalism.

“There has also been the formation of the Eastern Cape Climate Change Coalition, which is rallying businesses and stakeholders around problems like prolonged water scarcity, storm surges and flooding and how they can be mitigated.

“It has been an incredible learning experience and I feel so privileged to be in a position where I can work with people who share the same values and want to make a difference in our city.

“In particular, I would like to commend chamber president, Loyiso Dotwana, for his courage, strategic insights and active involvement in supporting me.” She said Nelson Mandela Bay was blessed with an array of excellent business people.

“They are not only skilled and experienced at what they do, but they have the will to overcome the many challenges which we face in our environment.

“A strong spirit of collaboration and innovation is emerging post the Covid-19 restrictions and as economic rebuilding efforts commence.”

Van Huyssteen said when she matriculated from Victoria Park High School in Walmer she had no idea what she wanted to do and ended up embarking on what seemed to be the “least worst” option studying public relations management at Nelson Mandela University.

“The final year required internship training and I ended up doing it at the business chamber. It was the lowest paying opportunity — but I realised that I wanted to be in the organised business space.

“That was the start of my passion for business and taking positive action to support the local economy.”

She was subsequently headhunted into the automotive industry and spent more than 20 years there, eventually leading General Motors teams in SA, Kenya, Egypt and Dubai and acquiring cultural and global insights.

During that time she continued to play a role at the Bay business chamber, sitting on its board and getting involved in some of its structures.

She said when she was not working she liked playing tennis, going for long walks and spending time with family and friends.

On the work front, she was acutely aware of the challenges that had to be tackled.

“I worked on the General Motors exit project for almost three years before it happened, so I know how international investors look at our environment.

“In the past few years, our environment has become even more high risk from an investment perspective as the basics such as water and electricity have become unreliable.

“In the short- to mediumterm my vision is to retain investment and jobs in Nelson Mandela Bay.

“Longer-term I believe our city has the potential to become a world-class port city and investment destination.”

The top 10 category winners will be celebrated at a formal black-tie gala awards ceremony on Friday September 9, at 6.30pm at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Corporate and single tickets are available for supporters who want to join the celebratory event.

Contact The Herald’s marketing manager, Berna UlayWalters, to book your seat:

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 15 August 2022 written by Guy Rogers

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