AS Acting CEO of the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU), Elizma Theron represents a true minority in an arena dominated by men. She has however arguably established herself as the most influential female in local rugby managing a workforce and helping drive the institution to greater heights. In an interview with Confidente recently, Theron talks about her role at NRU, plans, and spending quality time with her loved ones as a way to unwind.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I grew up in a beautiful small town called Montagu, close to Cape Town. I studied towards a B.Com.-degree at the University of Stellenbosch and moved to Namibia in 1997. I have background in Marketing and Finance. I am also a mother of four children aged between 18 and 6 and I am married to an extremely supportive and loving husband.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
I am the youngest of three sisters, a ‘laatlammetjie’. I grew up with the example of soft-hearted but very strong women in my family. I was taught that you can be kind and strong at the same time, contrary to popular belief. From an early age, I learnt the value of hard work. Talent might get you going, but it is not worth much without doing the work. I was taught respect for others and that is a principal I try to apply to everyone who crosses my path. No one is any better than anyone else, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. I have learnt that there are no problems, only challenges and that there is always a solution. Sometimes it just takes a bit longer to find the solution.
Congratulations on your appointment as Acting CEO for the union, how did that come about?
Thank you! I have been with the NRU for the past 18 months. When the previous CEO pursued other ventures, I was asked to assist until a permanent candidate can be appointed.
As a woman leading a male-dominated sports institution, what challenges do you face?
I have to confess, I prefer working with men. Females tend to think with their hearts more than with our heads but you need to keep a check on your emotions and learn to focus on the facts and the job at hand. I don’t know everything about rugby, but I know business. You don’t have to be the expert, as long as you surround yourself with experts. I do believe though that females have qualities that add special value to any workplace. One challenge is to get out of the changing room fast at the end of the game.
What five key areas are you concentrating your energy on?
Financial management, strategic planning, communication with all stakeholders, human resource management and balancing a career and family.
Namibia has never won a single match at the World Cup, are there plans to turn this around?
Everything we currently do, is aimed at our goal for RWC2019. The aim is to win a match at a World Cup and climb in rankings. Namibia is currently ranked 20th in the world, already having moved up one place during the year. The Namibian national team has played six tests this year and won five – only one lost against Romania, ranked 16th. Our participation in the Currie Cup is part of developing local players and exposing them to a higher level of playing. The first part of the competition was very difficult, but we have already groomed a number of players for the National team through this process. The NRU is in the process of establishing a National Academy, which will focus on teaching the necessary skills with a holistic approach in developing rugby players for the future.
What don’t people know about you?
I love singing along at the top of my voice to my favourite songs when no one listens. My favourite subject at school was Maths and I am not a morning person.
What advice do you have for the youth on taking up Rugby?
With rugby turning more professional during recent years, there are amazing opportunities around the globe in this sport. Anyone becoming involved in the sport will know that the team becomes your family. It teaches you to play with others and for others. Find a hero that you can copy. Practice makes perfect and have fun.
Just what do you do for a little fun?
I started a charity project earlier this year to feed children at school. It is extremely rewarding to see what difference one sandwich can make. If I could have my way, I would permanently travel the world and explore new places and cultures. My greatest treat is to spend time with my family. From travelling together to watching movies or having dinner. We always have lots of fun and a few good laughs. And I love a glass of good red wine.
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