HAVING bedded down the Fibre, Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M SETA) – the amalgamation of the forestry, clothing and media skills authorities – into the country’s most diverse and largest SETA (with 25 000 companies in its scope, more than a quarter of which are packaging, print and paper firms), Felleng liked it so much that she stayed. Eight years on and still counting, her reign is a testament to forward-thinking and innovative leadership.
Her style is a balance between transformational and transactional, she says. ‘I think of myself as empowering of my team, decisive but fair, and unflinchingly focused on results,’ she states. ‘I thrive on being a role model, which is possible only by taking full responsibility for everything I do.’
Felleng singlehandedly devised the business model that turned around the SETA, streamlined its operations and continues to keep it performing above expectations. Its performance surged from 49% in 2011 to 100% over the last two years – unheard of in the SETA environment. The Auditor-General returned four clean audit opinions in the last six years, another remarkable feat, denoting exemplary financial and governance systems. There’s no magic wand, Felleng says, just focused vision, openness to learn from mistakes, and surrounding herself with successful team players.
While keeping 13 sub-sectors in sight and in line, Felleng has clearly inspired her team of 80 into outdoing themselves year after year. The most outstanding SETA award the organisation scooped in 2019 recognises its achievements against targets of governance, compliance, financial sustainability, partnerships, innovation and creativity. For good measure, Felleng was also named most outstanding individual in skills development in that year.
Encouraging industry partners to develop strategies aligned to skills development plans has been a win, she says, as has a research partnership with Wits University that has put research at the foundation of all that the SETA does and enables it to accurately identify the critical skills and occupations that must receive focus.
The need for instruments such as big data analysis to assess future skills needs is particularly important in the digital age. So invested is Felleng in the modern way of work that she’s studying for a PhD in public sector leadership and management and fourth industrial revolution digital technology to keep her honours degree in social work and management master’s degree company.
Felleng does not close the door on commitment when she leaves her office. Her personal life is actually not personal at all. She serves pro-bono as director of the Sci-Bono Centre promoting careers in maths and science in Gauteng.
‘My coaching and mentoring of young leaders is particularly fulfilling,’ she stresses. ‘We touch on issues such as research, negotiation skills, brand marketing, strategic management and visionary leadership.’ She is an active member of a community-based People Opposing Women Abuse and regularly distributes clothing to children in informal settlements as part of an organisation in Bethesda, Soweto.
It’s not surprising that Felleng has no understanding of what it means to be a couch potato, but in her quieter moments, she finds solace in being part of a close-knit family group with strong Christian values and in her relationships with a small circle of trusted friends. ‘As a single parent, some of my best moments are spent with my children travelling, studying and generally supporting one another,’ she states.
In the office, she encourages input from everyone, on all levels, as success is a joint effort. This encouragement accompanies her home, where her children are urged and expected to behave responsibly, work hard, be honest and dedicated and ‘to dream big to reach for the stars’.
Certain that nothing can keep a strong woman down – that ‘empowered women leaders are empowered future leaders’ – she is well aware, having been involved in transformation at various companies, that females are still not given their due in business. She counts Nkosozana Zuma and Winnie Mandela among her role models for their personal sacrifices in putting the country’s needs first. ‘They have made a huge difference and that is exactly what I want to achieve for my organisation, she concludes.
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