2019 IOPSA Industry Lady of the Year

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This Women’s Month, Lorraine Mooi, co-founder of Just Plumbing Girls and winner of successive Iopsa Industry Lady of the Year awards, looks at what it means to be a lady in the rough and tumble of the plumbing world.

By Eamonn Ryan

Plumbing GirlsWhat helped her success was growing up in a family of strong women. She was born in Butterworth and moved at the age of three to Cape Town. “When I was growing up I knew one thing: whatever I was to become professionally, I was going to take over the world.

Yes, it sounds audacious, but I have always had ideas of grandeur. I was raised by very strong women – women I call ‘the Amazonians’ - my mother, Buyiswa Mooi, my aunt and my grandmother. They were my first role models as they are strong, independent and smart. They instilled the same values in me,” says Mooi.

Those values can be summed up as ‘hard work’. Her first job came at the tender age of just ten, working at her aunt’s shebeen. With her cousins, she worked two weekends a month. “My grandmother would say if you want to eat, you need to know where the money comes from. This job continued until I was 12, whereafter we worked on my aunt’s construction sites. Unfortunately, her business went belly up – an event which changed all our lives.”

Those values continued to be instilled: Mooi says when she was 16 years old and wanted her first cellphone, Buyiswa told her to go work and earn it. “So I became a waitress at House of Coffees at the V&A Waterfront, and waitressed until my third year at CPUT (Cape Peninsular University of Technology).

One of her Amazonian role models, her mother, passed matric at age 22 in 1989, doing so by working during the day, going to night school in the evenings and simultaneously bringing up two children. She got her driver’s license at age 24, and then completed a secretary’s course.

“In 1995 she started working for the Ellerines group as a cashier. After three days she was promoted to a junior credit manager. By the time she became a credit manager she was the youngest in the whole group of 500 stores. In 2002 she was laid off at the age of 35. She then started her own construction business.

“She got her first plumbing project in 2005, for which she hired the only plumber in Butterworth to help her. On the first day she played assistant to the plumber. The following day he didn’t come back to work, but as she still had his tools she proceeded to finish the job. That’s how the plumbing bug bit her.” At age 38, Buyiswa Mooi registered at the local King Hintsa Tvet College.”

By 2007, a 20-year-old Mooi completed a Financial Information Systems diploma but found she had no interest in pursuing a career in that field. “I needed a break at this point, but my mom, being mom, gave me two options: work in an office, or become a plumber. I chose the latter of the two.” They both qualified as plumbing artisans in 2013 at Olifantsfontein.

“At this point I started wondering what’s next. I did some research and registered with the PIRB.” She had her reservations as to how she would be welcomed in a man’s world, with its obvious potential for chauvinism. “In 2015 we were invited to the Border region Iopsa year-end function. The guys were welcoming, so I thought this might not be that bad. At that point a new chairman, Martin Kaschula, had been inducted. Steve Jones and Tony van der Lingen encouraged us (the Just Plumbing Girls business) to join Iopsa. In 2016 we did just that. It was then that Martin asked me to be part of the committee – which I thought might be interesting,” says Mooi.

A seminal year

The following year, 2017, was a pivotal one for Mooi and her mother Buyiswa. “There was a call for nominations for the PIRB board and I decided to nominate myself. I thought the worst that can happen is I don’t get in, but I was elected a board member in December. However, that same year my mother suffered a stroke. That changed everything, as she was unable to perform as she once did.”

While Mooi was receiving the highest acknowledgements the industry could offer, Buyiswa spent the year recovering from the stroke.

In 2018 she was awarded Iopsa’s Industry Lady of the Year award. “This came as a huge surprise, and the recognition from my industry was one of the best moments of my life. That same year, Iopsa asked all the regions who would like to join the transformation committee and I volunteered. I became the chairperson of that committee,” she adds. Mooi also become a compliance auditor, something she says she had wanted, ever since she found out about the inspectorate.

Mooi was the Master of Ceremonies at the Iopsa 2019 awards evening, as well as winning the Industry Lady of the Year for the second year in a row. “My awards mean a lot to both myself and my mother. Having your contribution recognised by your peers is an amazing experience. For it to happen twice has made me want to give back more, and hopefully inspire ladies that are in the Industry to get involved and make their voices heard.

Reflections on a burgeoning career

“As a business owner and being a woman in a male-dominated industry I have always found my gender as a positive factor. This is because as women, we are more inclined to see the minor details in comparison to the guys who mostly see the bigger picture. I love what I do. I believe if you don’t go into an industry with a deep-seated passion for your chosen profession you are wasting your time.

“I participate in the various portfolios because I believe that if you want to change anything you have to make your voice heard. Become part of the solution. It’s easy to talk from the sidelines but you have no real voice.

“The hardest part of running a business is trying to convince potential clients and your peers that you are here because you want to be and are serious about what you do. Every time I tell someone I am a plumber they laugh – until they realise I’m serious. I get that’s is ‘surprising’, but I hope that in the future it’s not such a surprise,” says Mooi.

She lists Steve Brown, Adriaan Myburgh and Brendan Reynolds as having been instrumental in her progression as a plumber. “I value their mentorship and support,” she says.

“The women I have always looked up to are my Amazonians; my aunt Nokwanda Mahlati; as well as more generally British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth I, Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Doreen Morris and Estée Lauder,” concludes Mooi.