DR Martha Uumati recently took over the reins at Erongo Marine Enterprises as its Managing Director taking charge of the company’s horse mackerel business while providing strategic leadership so as to further develop and strengthen relationships within the fishing industry. Uumati has over 15 years’ experience and expertise in Marine Science and working offshore the Benguela. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Biology (Specialised in Fisheries Acoustics) from the University of St Andrews (Scotland), a Master of Philosophy in Fisheries Biology & Fisheries Management from University of Bergen (Norway), a Post-graduate Diploma and a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources from the University of Namibia. Uumati was previously a Marine Biology lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology and also worked at the Benguela Current Commission (BCC), Institute of Marine Research (IMR, Norway), and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Her passion in life is to empower, equip and transform lives thus addressing global and national issues which impact livelihoods is at the core of what she does. In an interview with Confidente recently, she talks about her journey in the fishing industry, her role at Erongo Marine and spending quality time with family.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I am a God-fearing woman with a passion to empower, equip and transform lives through addressing global and national issues, which positively impact local communities and alleviate poverty. I live by Gandhi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Making a difference is at the core of all I do; I believe the little we all do, will eventually contribute to achieving a greater purpose. I am a mother of a 19-year-old beautiful daughter, Angy. I was in my first year at University, only 20 then, when Angy was born and she has been the driving force for my persistence and appetite to succeed in life.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up in a loving and supportive home environment and community. My father was the breadwinner and disciplinarian whilst my mother was the nurturer, performing the minutiae of child rearing. Being one of five female siblings and with only one male sibling who followed nine years after me, my father literally treated me as his son until my brother’s arrival. My father is a firm believer in education and he worked hard to ensure that my mother and all his children got the best education he could afford. When I obtained my first degree, my mother was so inspired that she took on part time studies and completed her Diploma and Honors Degree in Biomedical Technology with Cape Technikon. Whilst I was pursuing my PhD in Scotland, my paternal aunt, Dr Ernestine Uumati Monama, who was an academic at UNISA was determined to remain exemplary and to inspire me to finish the PhD, she got her PhD at the age of 60.
Congratulations on your appointment as Erongo Marine MD, how did that come about?
I was headhunted. At that point in time, I was enjoying every moment of being a lecturer at NUST so I was hesitant to take on the opportunity. I had just submitted my Master in Business Administration (MBA) application at NUST; the plan was to acquire a MBA before I even considered trading the classroom for the boardroom. I decided to give this opportunity a chance, given that I am trained in Fisheries Biology and Fisheries Management. I was concerned that I did not have ample experience as an entrepreneur or corporate professional, however “entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art; it is a practice”. Like any other practice, entrepreneurship can be learned and the best way to learn is on-the-job. The idea of working for the leading African fishing company was appealing and I found myself in the office until late at night, researching and learning as much as I could on business management and corporate governance. I am now hooked on self-study and online resources have become valuable to me. The company’s strategic core objectives and values spoke to me. As a scientist I was attracted to the strong focus on Responsible Fishing practices and the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries implemented by the company.
What key areas will you concentrate your energy on?
A born and bred Namibian, I am committed to a sustainable Namibian fishing sector and to the numerous communities that the industry supports. One of my primary roles is to provide strategic leadership that will further develop relationships within the fishing industry. In addition to ensuring profitability, implementing effective marketing strategies, and managing organisational effectiveness, I am responsible for stakeholder, compliance and risk and supply chain management throughout Erongo. An exciting initiative started by Erongo, which I intend to further drive and which I am particularly excited about is the Fish-4-Business initiative, which supports small business entrepreneurship and skills development in rural Namibia. In 2016, Fish-4-Business launched six new shops and we intend to keep this momentum in 2017, allowing more shop owners in rural areas to grow their business and provide food security while simultaneously creating sustainable jobs within the community.
What is your general view of the country’s fishing sector, as well as challenges and opportunities facing it?
The fisheries sector is one of the key contributors to the Namibian economy, second after mining in terms of exports. Namibia is respected for having one of the best fisheries management practices in the world, which has significantly improved over the years. There exists an opportunity for further value creation for the Namibian fishing industry by finding innovative solutions such as alternative uses of fish products.
How has working for various entities helped prepare you for the MD post?
The MFMR marine industry is male dominated – I worked offshore on vessels amongst men. I specialised in fisheries acoustics. For my Masters and my PhD I was attached to the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen (Norway), which is also a male dominated environment. I never allowed my femininity to get in the way and there never a glass ceiling to be surmounted. In Norway, women are empowered so I got to see myself professionally as an equal, which is how I still see myself.
Having an understanding of fisheries and its operations makes a difference. My experiences and technical expertise will increase the efficiencies of business. A PhD prepares you for anything – a PhD tests your character and perseverance.
What advice do you have for those taking up careers in the fishing sector?
We all started somewhere – the great scientists or businesswoman you admire today, was once where you are now. Do not despise small beginnings. Do not wait for tomorrow to start being who you want to be, start now. If you humble yourself God shall lift you up. Honour your parents; your elders hold your blessings. Do not believe the standards set by others, set your own standards. Learn from others experiences – get a mentor/role model.
Just what do you do for a little fun?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends especially with children. My time with children is always priceless; I usually forget about work when I start having fun with the kids. My friends keep me level headed. Whenever time avails, we get together to catch up and have some fun. Reading good, empowering books on leadership – I hardly ever read novels. My morning runs will surely count as fun.
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