Melicia Labuschagne launched the world-renowned German lubricants brand Liqui Moly in South Africa 12 years ago and has built it into a success story that has weathered the storm of the pandemic.

Now the country director for South Africa, Labuschagne’s unorthodox approach and true passion for changing lives shines through, whether she’s line-dancing with her team, visiting far-flung customers or reaching out with initiatives for children in need. She took her first entrepreneurial leap and started trading in the automotive sector in her twenties, this was her first career link to her personal passion for vehicles.

Here, the authentic and feisty female entrepreneur shares more with us for Women’s Month and imparts valuable advice for anyone wanting to step outside their comfort zone.

Melicia Labuschagne, Liqui Moly South Africa's country director

Tell us more about your role as country director for Liqui Moly in South Africa.

Labuschagne: My role started off very differently 12 years ago. Back then I was the receptionist for the packing department and ordering department, I also offloaded containers, learnt to drive a forklift and developed customer relationships. I smile when I think of those days, it was hard work and I had many doors closed in my face, but I learnt so much.

Now, years later, Liqui Moly has a strong foundation build on ethics, consistency, service, trust, partnerships, and an amazing team. Today, my biggest focus is on empowering my team to be the best versions of themselves that they can be, as well as striving for constant growth and innovation to continually stand out and never fit in, so that our partners, fans and clients can all benefit from the value we add.

How did you become a female business leader in a male-dominated world of cars, planes, bikes and boats?

Labuschagne: I have asked myself this question many times. I have always loved cars, business, and new ideas. I think I had a goal; I was looking for a brand that I could take from nothing to something. I was not sure what that brand would be, but I knew with fundamental principles I needed to implement to grow and not be a ‘fly by night, here now and gone tomorrow’ brand. When I was clear on this goal, can I say the brand found me?

The male dominance in the field never bothered me, as I used it to my advantage. I could clearly see when we started, where we would be in 10 years, and I now have a vision of where we will be in 20 years. Working in a largely male environment was just another challenge that made it exciting.

What do you think can be done to break down barriers that prevent women from professional development?

Labuschagne: I think we should start developing women when they are still young. I don’t think the barrier is in society, I think it is created within us. If I see my gender as a barrier, I already create limits for myself. When I know my strengths and my abilities and focus on becoming skilful and deserving, rather than considering my colour or my gender, I can achieve anything.

We need to make sure we teach our daughters that life will give you what you deserve, not what you need. So become the best possible you and go out in the world and make an impact.

Liqui Moly was launched by you in South Africa during a tough economic period. What motivated you to achieve this?

Labuschagne: When you start at the bottom, there is only one way and that is up.

I have had difficult times in my life, and I would not change anything, as these times taught me the most valuable lessons. When I launched the Liqui Moly South Africa subsidiary in tough economic times, I had so many people tell me that I’m crazy, it’s not the right time, and that it won’t be a success.

Every negative comment made me more determined to make a success of Liqui Moly in South Africa. Diamonds are made under pressure, so when times are tough, smile and know that if you learn to swim in stormy waters, imagine what you will be able to do when it is calm.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a female in the automotive industry?

Labuschagne: When I was approaching clients in the automotive industry, there was a mindset of ‘what does a woman know about engines, pistons, open gears, oil, transmission’, especially in the beginning when the brand was unknown.

I experienced the rejection, the questions to ‘prove’ the idea that I did not know anything. However, this was also an amazing learning experience for me and it forced me to know and learn far more than I would ever need in the industry to ensure that I was prepared to answer any question and show that I’m if given a chance, I could add value to the industry.

Take us through a day in the life of Melicia Labuschagne.

Labuschagne: I wake up at 3:15am and then get my water, green tea and shakes ready for the day. Then get on my bicycle to start my workout, with a podcast of business leaders or mentors on my ears.

I then get ready for the office, I have my audiobook playing from one of my many favourite authors. I meditate, do my gratitude journal, and get into the right state before I leave my home. 7am at our office, I review the goals for the day, and at 9am we have a team Zoom catch up.

My days are full, depending on requirements and goals. On Mondays and Fridays, our team is in the office at 7:45am, we talk about the highlights of the week, I show a motivational clip and then we dance. We start and end the week with high energy and some fun together.

I believe in constant growth, so a big part of my day is making sure I improve myself and everyone around me, so we are better today than we were yesterday.

What do you think can be done to address the pay disparity issue for women in South Africa?

Labuschagne: Women have to believe in their worth and demand more. Be the change you want to see in the world. If you are a woman that can have an influence, can create impact, then start there.

Pay women what they deserve and what they are worth. We can change this, but we need to do this together. We need to start teaching our daughters this from a young age, so they grow up expecting what they are worth.

Since we celebrating Women’s Month, what words of encouragement do you have for women?

You need to start with yourself. Look in the mirror, look at what you see and take notice of what you think of yourself. You need to see your worth before anyone else will.

There is nothing more impressive than a woman full of confidence, knowing what she is capable of and knowing that she will keep on improving herself, to climb any mountain. We should never think that we will get what we want because we are entitled to it. If you are a woman, know that you need to work, grow, and develop with as many skills as possible so your confidence will grow and you will attract the career opportunities that you deserve.

Life rewards ‘deserve’, not ‘need’. Become the woman that deserves as much as the world can offer. There is work involved, discipline, great habits…but the work is worth it.