Reshmi has worked her way up the corporate ladder through grit, hard work and always showing up as prepared as possible.
Today, Reshmi Bhala is the Marketing & Communications Business Partner at Sasfin, but her career started when she was just 12 years old. “I was a packer at the local Spar,” she says. “I used to earn R4.50 an hour. That was my start. I always had a part-time job, from standard 6 until matric.”
During her matric year, her mother was retrenched, putting a halt to any plans she had to study. She says: “The question is, do you feed your family or do you educate yourself? Do you become a member of the workforce and assist your family? Or do you try to get bursaries and student loans and study?” Reshmi chose to join the workforce and help her family. A decision, she says, she would not change. “We've had to deal with a lot to get to where we are, including my two sisters,” she says. “I'm quite okay with where I've ended up. There's a lot of positive things that have come from my journey and there've been some bad chapters too. But if nothing was ventured, nothing would have been gained.”
“Do you become a member of the workforce and assist your family? Or do you try to get bursaries and student loans and study?”
Her first formal job was as a receptionist at HKLM. It was there where she met Sean McCoy, who’s been her mentor ever since. “I was a nobody, but he gave me my first chance. I will always be grateful for the grit and determination he instilled in me from my early career days. I still meet him once a year”
From there she worked her way up, learning as she went and being schooled by the University of Agency life. She went on to work at The Jupiter Drawing Room, Joe Public, FCB and TBWA. It was at Joe Public where she met her second key mentor, Pepe Marais, who taught her about design thinking, trusting yourself and your gut. “He taught me how one shows up matters. If I'm struggling with a brief or not understanding something or I'm feeling like I don't have it all together, he's somebody I call upon any time,” she says.
When it comes to mentorship, Reshmi believes it is a two-way relationship. “It is a two-way street. The mentee and mentor relationship is that of deep collaboration. One is able to unpack personal and professional challenges in a manner whereby both parties learn from each other.”
During her time at FCB, she was part of the advertising team that worked with Sasfin. It was where she was introduced to the Sasfin marketing team, found an opportunity and the rest, as they say, is history. She joined Sasfin as a full-time employee in April 2020.
Throughout her career, Reshmi has always put herself out there and been willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s the advice she would give someone who may not have the opportunity to study further but still have aspirations of a corporate career. She shares: “It's all about attitude. One of the things I learned very early in life is that if you are willing to go the extra mile and you're willing to show up [you can achieve]. You can't be everything to everybody. You don't have to be the smartest in the room. You don't have to fill the silences. You just need to be present and interested.
“You don't have to be the smartest in the room. You don't have to fill the silences. You just need to be present and as prepared as possible.”
It’s advice she lives by, and shares that being present and having an honest opinion has worked for her. More than that, it’s about being true to your word, she says. “You don't have the qualification, all you have are your words. So be true to what you say you're going to do. That's how you build trust.”
It hasn’t always been easy. One of Reshmi’s biggest challenges has been not having the technical language like those who went to university. It’s something she is working on – she is currently doing her Digital Marketing diploma through the Red and Yellow School.
Studying while working full-time and being a wife and mother is a juggling act, and right now, balance is her biggest challenge and she doesn’t always get it right. “Sometimes you're trying to be so many things to so many people, you forget you in the process.” She continues: “I wake up at 4 am most days so I can either study or work. By 9 pm or 10 pm, I'm finished, but I have evening lectures. I have to be kind to myself and leave it where it lies. Some days I'll fail at being a parent, some days I'll fail at work and some days I'll fail as a student. I'm learning to accept that.”
As a natural caretaker, taking time to care for herself is something Reshmi is still learning. For now, getting dressed up and looking good is her form of self-care. “If I look good, I feel good,” she says.
Her biggest priorities are also her biggest cheerleaders: her husband – “My husband is my biggest fan. He's my ride or die”; and a 10-year-old son – who, she adds, is her biggest accomplishment. “Those are the things that fill my cup, those two humans.” At work, her cheerleaders are Keabetswe Nkete, Sharesce Akaloo and Elisheva Gilbert.
What gets Reshmi up in the early mornings is the drive to always be moving forward. “I come from very humble beginnings. What drives me every day is that I don't want to end up where I started. It would be a wasted life.” That has been further highlighted by two life-defining moments, both dealing with the health of her and her family. It taught her that life is a journey, not a sprint and that she is much stronger than she thinks she is. Health is wealth, and this is something she and her family have prioritised. ”
Another thing that drives Reshmi is her passion for small businesses, the backbone of the economy and the future of the country. It’s what has made working at Sasfin so special. “I drank the Kool-Aid when I started working [at Sasfin] because I know we can make a difference. It's a purpose-led brand. I've been surrounded by brands my whole life and I've never experienced one that genuinely cares as much as Sasfin does for small businesses.
“I've been surrounded by brands my whole life and I've never experienced a brand that genuinely cares as much as Sasfin does.”
When it comes to leadership, Reshmi draws on a quote from the movie, Wonder. “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kind.”
She says: “I think you can be a firm leader with kindness. Feedback is very important but how that feedback is delivered can either break someone or build someone, and that's where kindness comes into play.”
To Reshmi, success is a healthy and happy life. It’s being content with the people in your life, your circle and your surroundings.”
When it comes to being it all, Reshmi says it's complicated. “As a woman, one of the hardest things is that you are expected to work like you have no children and still be a mother like you have no job. My way around this has been my support structure and learning to trust the process of life and being okay with it.”
“As a woman, one of the hardest things is that you are expected to work like you have no children and be a mother like you have no job.”
Reshmi calls her journey one of grit and hard work. There are days you need to allow yourself to fall apart, knowing that tomorrow you’ll be able to start over. “I'm finally starting to learn how to be more comfortable with myself, not a specific role, not a mother, not a wife, not a daughter, not a sister. Just being comfortable with me. No expectation.”