Hyundai SA’s Yvonne Ayson on steering change in the automotive industry

Yvonne Ayson, Hyundai’s finance GM is passionate about cars and proud to be a woman leader.

Twenty-eight years ago, when Yvonne Ayson joined Imperial Holdings and the automotive industry, she was the only woman in the boardroom.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry was a huge challenge, she admits. “It was tough to be the only woman at a finance meeting and to be taken seriously. But as my male counterparts saw my work and got to know me, they started to trust and accept me.”

Boardrooms have changed, though, and progress continues. Now there are women in senior positions driving change and plenty of opportunities available for women. Yvonne is happy to work for a company that is taking progressive steps towards diversity and that encourages a representative workforce.

She also attended a Women in Business programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, and it was a great help to her as it improved her management style.

She describes her own team as lionesses and is proud to manage such a large and talented team.

“It is the greatest joy to see the team grow and to celebrate their achievements,” says Yvonne. “Every day before I leave the office, I write down something new that I learnt that day and I always have something new to jot down. I sometimes share my notes with the team to encourage them to also keep on learning and growing.”

As a car lover, Yvonne does not just love to drive (and enjoy the thrill of speed), she is passionate about the engineering and the workmanship of vehicles, and it was one of her motivations to join the industry.

“I love the diversity that the industry offers. The parts department is, for example, totally different to the service department. I remember when we brought in Citroën in 2001. It was a huge challenge to get all the systems set up, we had to establish dealerships, recruit staff, etc. It is an industry with constant change. I am blessed to be in this position and in the industry, and it is a pleasure to drive through our gates every morning.”

Working in the automotive industry has given her many incredible opportunities and not only the chance to test-drive the latest models and to be in a high-tech environment. “It is a privilege to work with a team that shares the same vision and to contribute to a forward-thinking, fast-moving company,” she says.

CFO Thinus Venter is one of several team members that she admires. “He is dependable, has an excellent ability to mentor and can make decisions very quickly, which is essential in the industry.”

Technology is now driving change
The auto industry is constantly evolving and Yvonne, as the general manager of finance at Hyundai’s head office, is actively involved with the implementation of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the company.

She recalls that they just started with the RPA programme when Covid-19 hit, but management reacted swiftly to the challenge and with the first lockdown, the team managed to be efficient at home in record time.

“We worked from home for just under two years. We found the period to be really productive, and we managed to complete a couple of successful projects. RPA was one of them and we are happy with the results.”

As RPA is ideal for tasks involving a high level of human data processing, a lot of processes that took time are now being completed by bots, she says. “The productivity potential is very promising, and it is already boosting efficiency in various departments. On the importing side, we are saving just under 1,200 hours per month. The team can now focus on tasks that add more value to the company.”

Chess and community
She works in an industry with long hours and many challenges but still finds the time to give back to the community. When it comes to giving back to the community, any action big or small can make a real difference, she believes and she is actively involved with outreach programmes at her church. She attended a counselling course a few years ago to be able to assist more people and often works at her local soup kitchen.

She is also a gardening enthusiast, and her garden is her happy place. “While I don’t often have the time to get my hands dirty, I enjoy planning a new border in the garden and shopping for plants. A garden can be a real joy.”

Yvonne enjoys a good game of chess and started playing from an early age. “I grew up with a dad and two older brothers who loved chess and they taught me the game when I was just five years old. I still enjoy playing.”

She is also a keen traveller, and Italy and the Maldives are on her travel bucket list. She has been to the Maldives before, and it was such a wonderful experience that she would like to return some day. She hopes to start travelling again soon and what could be better than a travel destination that embraces the automotive lifestyle!