Kay Vittee started her career as a secretary, but with ambition and a business degree, she worked her way up to become the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions in Johannesburg. And that’s no mean achievement, considering Quest is among the country’s top staffing solutions providers specializing in the recruitment and management of white-collar staff.
Vittee credits her success to another woman: her mother, who during South Africa’s apartheid era, with no formal education, became “the first Indian woman to hold a managerial position at a retail store”.
“I come from a background where I had a subdued father but a very ambitious mum,” says Vittee.
Being brought up in an Indian home at the time meant she was to get married as soon as she finished school. Vittee’s parents did not have the means to continue her studies, so right after matric, Vittee got engaged to her boyfriend, today her husband of 28 years. Her dreams of studying further were placed on hold as Vittee started looking for work.
“I remember opening the newspaper and seeing ‘regret, whites only’ [everywhere]; the one position open was an administrative position. I remember I had this lovely pink skirt on with a drop top and as I walked in for the interview, I smiled because I was so excited. There were four other candidates and I secured the position earning R383 ($33).”
Life was not easy.
“When I got married, my room had a second-hand carpet, we didn’t have a dining room, we didn’t have a kitchen. When people came to visit, I remember getting a little box for them to sit on and I was so scared they’d fall, I do remember my humble beginnings,” she says.
Thus, at age 19, she embarked on a career, always keen to learn, and in a year, was promoted.
“I always made sure I read quite a bit on being the best I could be. It was important for me, I took my work seriously, I had a good work ethic.”
Vittee soon worked for ABSA bank, and despite being a young wife and mother, also got a few academic degrees under her belt. She was promoted as the executive of the bank’s contact centers. Quest soon offered Vittee the position of CEO.
After 14 years of corporate experience, she had no difficulties stepping in, managing a staff of 15,000. “One of the things that stood out was emotional strength, my ability to work with a diversity of people and manage change.” Regarded as a sound business leader, Vittee inspires her employees to impart superior customer service, and is a sought-after motivational speaker. Retire she will never.