Estelle de Beer has always been a risk-taker who likes to challenge the status quo. “I'm a risk-taker. I like to push the boundaries and see how far I can go.” Her beginnings, however, were humble. She grew up in a small farm town, later moving to the West Rand. At 17, she left home and worked at SABC for a year. “I wanted to explore, experience other countries and cultures.” She then spent a year backpacking around Europe before coming home and joining Absa. There she was selected out of 15 000 people to join the SAA recruitment programme in Australia, one of her proudest achievements at the time. She had wanted to become a pilot and had already completed a couple of hours of PPL in matric. She made it to the final 30 applicants before being dropped and never completing her licence, an event she now calls destiny. “I'm so glad that I didn't become a pilot; I think I would have been so bored. I'm a total extrovert. That's the beauty of growing up, becoming wiser and getting to know yourself.”
At Absa, she climbed the ladder quickly, working hard to prove herself, and met the late Chris Botha. He became a mentor to her and had an enormous influence on her life. “He saw something in me which I didn't even know myself. He gave me the environment and opportunity to grow and do what I am good at.” She left Absa because she needed to do something new and, not one to be wary of risk, started her own business publishing a local magazine called Who, What, Where. “I did that for three years. What I learnt very quickly is that I need people; I was very lonely. I’m also terrible at sales – I kept feeling sorry asking people for money.”
It turns out she wouldn’t have to. An opportunity to work as a project manager opened at Sasfin and Estelle grabbed it. That was 12 years ago, and she went from project manager to head of the Project Management Office, to head of IT Transformation & Strategy, to her current position as IT COO. “I'm strategically driven beyond technology with a passion for people, the bridge between IT and business and support Josh Souchon, group CIO and Maston Lane, group COO in their roles.”
What’s kept her at Sasfin is her ability to take risks, she says. “I have the opportunity to challenge the status quo. My voice is heard. Sasfin fits my personality because I have freedom, and when you feel free, you can excel.” In addition, she says, I am able to wear lots of different hats, allowing you to spread your wings and grab opportunities
“Sasfin fits my personality because I have freedom, and when you feel free, you can excel.”
One of her proudest accomplishments is pursuing tertiary education last year, completing her post-grad in leadership development at Stellenbosch. “I'm very proud of it, especially being a single mom of two. It’s like an addiction now, I don't want to stop studying.” She has plans to do her master’s degree in change leadership and additional courses in strategic innovation, or something to do with people. “I love having influence on people. Making a meaningful change. ”
However, before you can influence others, you need to know yourself. It’s a lesson she learnt from her mentors. “You've got to find yourself. You've got to understand who you are, what you are good at and what you're not good at. You need to have self-respect and self-love before you can influence others.”
“You need to have self-respect and self-love before you can influence others.”
This lesson was highlighted during her studies in leadership development. “It starts with you, then we, then us and then the world. The more you get to discover yourself, the more you get to understand the world. The more at peace and happier you become.” A phrase that really touched her is from the French philosopher, Bordieu who said we have to live life by “Exoticizing the Domestic”, simply put this means creating a fascination with reality, and when you do that, you start seeing the beauty in the small things you see and the beauty in the brokenness. If you can start here, she says you can start growing that self-love and self-confidence.
It’s also why gratitude has become one of her biggest drivers and she has immense gratitude for all she has: “Gratitude is one of the biggest energies that you can ever feel and experience. It’s what drives me and gives me so much that I can then give others. I am constantly thankful for what I have.”
Along with gratitude, it is her desire to grow that gets her up in the morning. “I want to grow. I want to learn. I want to achieve. I want to make an impact.”
She calls her two children her proudest personal accomplishments. “They’re the biggest gift God ever gave me. The three of us are extremely close. It's one of the best things that ever happened to me.” They’ve taught her what intense, unconditional love is. They've taught me love on another level that I've never experienced.” Her children have also taught her to be humble, and they often challenge her.
She feels adamant about not being pitied as a single mom. “Everyone has their own challenges and views are based on perceptions”. Yes, it has been tough, but it's amazing when they grow up – how much easier it becomes. It's about getting up each day and giving your best.” She’s been exposing her kids to nature as much as possible by often going camping, fishing and exploring new adventures – so much so that they both want to pursue studying agriculture.
While she loves to work and is a workaholic by nature, she makes sure to set aside time during December holidays to spend with her family and a close-knit group of friends that have become family and her support structure. Travel, the ocean and a good dose of adventure are always on the cards. Estelle is always keen on adventure and adrenaline activities such as parachuting, bungee jumping, paragliding, and abseiling. She is an experienced diver and loves going deep-sea fishing.
When it comes to success, Estelle explains there are two parts: “The internal – yourself, which is being totally content, at peace and happy with who you are. Then there is external success, which is being able to impact others.”
On the topic of leaders, Estelle says it comes down to creating an environment for individuals to thrive. But before they can do that, they need to start with themselves. “Once you can see the light of yourself, you have the ability to see the light of others.” Leadership, she says, is “the light of me and you together and the environment we’re in”.
“Once you can see the light of yourself, you have the ability to see the light of others.”
As a leader, she says she tries to influence people to be the best they can be: “I try to create a place for them to say what they feel and voice opinions and believe in themselves.” She is also a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion. “I’m very independent, I did everything for myself and had to survive at a very young age. I thought everything was about me and I could do it all. Once I realised the beauty of brainstorming and collaborative thinking, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.” Diversity and inclusion, she adds, allow you to have different ideas and perspectives come together to create something beautiful.
With a passion for people and adding value, Estelle sees a future in leadership development. Helping people with internal and external changes, having a meaningful, balanced life and improved well-being. But right now she says she’s happy with where she is. “I love what I do, I feel I make an impact. I'm so blessed.”
“You don't have to have a degree, but never stop learning.”
If she had to go back and give that 17-year-old girl who just left home advice, it would be: “Learn to love yourself. Make peace. Find yourself. Discover. Start studying. You don't have to have a degree, but never stop learning.” She may not be that same 17-year-old girl, but Estelle is proving it’s never too late to live your own advice.