Whether it is in the “world of pretty things” or in the academic field, alumna Michelle D is driven to achieve success. Working in tandem as a part-time lecturer at UP and as an entrepreneur, she has done just that. With her sights now firmly set on attaining her PhD, and her Macaroon Collection a run-away fashion hit, expect more fireworks from this dynamic business owner, soon. Read more about her achievements, hopes and dreams below.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: After graduating from the University of Pretoria with a BCom degree in Tourism Management, I started my career as a wedding planner (not as glamourous as the movie, I must add). As the owner of Silver Lining Coordination, I planned and coordinated over 150 weddings and am proud to have a few awards to my name for the time spent in the industry.
In 2009, along with the decision to return to UP to complete my BCom Honours in Marketing, I also decided to slowly move into corporate events and marketing and for the five years that followed I experienced the world of big corporate events, TV shows and much more.
In 2012, with the need to get back into the world of pretty things, I decided to take my obsession with handbags and turn it into a business. Macaroon Collection started as a small business selling bags on Facebook and at ‘handbag parties’. Within a year the concept grew into a fully-fledged online store and in April 2014 I decided to open a beautiful retail outlet in Pretoria.
Following the completion of my master’s degree in Marketing in 2015, where the focus was on the online shopping experience, I wanted to take Macaroon Collection to the next level in terms of online shopping. This goal was achieved when Macaroon Collection was not only nominated as one of the Top 50 e-Commerce sites in South Africa at the 2015 e-Commerce Awards, but it also garnered various nominations for the Price-Check Tech Awards in 2017.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: My studies at UP helped me to get onto the path I am on today. I did not know it 16 years ago, but I have a passion for marketing and a love for teaching. I have always returned to UP, be it to study further for my honours and marketing degrees, or to lecture and share the knowledge I have gained from my experiences as a business owner.
Each time I have studied at UP, I have not only gained valuable theoretical knowledge in the world of marketing, but the time spent enriching my mind has always helped me to grow and develop as a person, thus guiding me towards the next part of career journey.
Q: Can you single out a special mentor/trusted advisor who played an indispensable role in your life/studies/career?
A: Cyril Francis. He was one of the lecturers from the Tourism Department who played an unbelievably important role in my undergraduate experience. It was Francis who inspired me to study tourism.
At the UP Open Day, I remember sitting in one of the presentations for tourism and this man talking to us just made me so excited about the industry. He continued to do so throughout the three years of my undergraduate studies.
Dr Liezl-Marie Kruger (now van der Westhuizen), our advisor for our Master’s research article, was another source of inspiration. Were it not for her patience, understanding and guidance, I do not believe my research experience would have been as wonderful as what it turned out to be.
Lastly, Dr Felicity Fairer-Wessels, who was a lecturer in my undergraduate years. However, over the years Felicity not only became a supporter of my career in the academic world, but also a trusted friend.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Learning is a journey. And, as with most journeys in life, we are more focused on the destination that the actual time spent getting there.
The process of learning – the classes, the tests, the exams and the assignments – are all part of the journey. We all want that degree – we all suffer from the “are we there yet” syndrome. However, the saying “life’s a journey, enjoy the ride” is a cliché for a reason…. because it is so very true.
So my advice to current students would be to enjoy the journey of learning. Absorb as much of the scenery as possible. Stop and smell the flowers. Treasure the moments in between the milestones, because while having that degree is just fantastic, it is the process of getting that degree that enriches you as a person as well.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Personally I am a very goal-driven person. I like to know what I want to achieve, then I set out my plans and activate those plans to achieve those goals. The intrinsic reward of achieving what I set out to do, is what motivates me – be it with my studies and academic career, my business, my fitness or even just saving and planning for my next great travel adventure.
Inspiration is a different thing – the fire that starting burning inside comes from various different places. I draw my inspiration daily from music, cooking and gardening. Those are my creative outlets and I feel that is where I find the inspiration and ideas for what ultimately gets me motivated towards my goals.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: There are three pillars that contribute to the success of a business. The first is commitment, especially for an entrepreneur. The commitment to get up every day and drive your new idea towards becoming a successful business, is key.
The second pillar would be people. No success can be achieved on your own. You need people, be it your family and friends to support you through the struggles and triumphs of a new venture, or the team you work with within a larger organisation. It all comes down to relationships between people.
Lastly, there must be passion. You need that ultimate love for what you do; the belief in the idea and the drive that what you are doing is for a purpose. It does not matter if you have the most committed and amazing team of people surrounding you; without passion your foundation for success will be lacking.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: I recently watched the documentary titled Becoming about Michelle Obama. I was so inspired by the whole story including her journey to the White House and how that experience transformed her. But more importantly, main take-outs are the belief in the power of education and aspiring to be more than what the world expects you to be.
The entire time I was watching that documentary I found myself thinking: “Wow, I would love to sit and talk to this woman”. I believe she has so much more to share that could not be encapsulated in a documentary. It would like to discuss so many aspects of her life with her, from her days as a student, to practicing law, to her time in the White House all the way to educating the young women of today and how we can empower them to not only expect more of themselves and their lives but also how we can give them the tools to do exactly that.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: Macaroon Collection is still my passion and my goal for my business is to grow it each and every year. When I look back at how the business has grown over the past nine years, I am so excited about the growth and changes to come in the next nine years.
Personally, one of my deepest desires is to do my doctorate. It is something I have wanted to do for many, many years, and it is a goal I do want to achieve (and soon). On a more adventurous note, another goal I have is travel-related. I would love to hike and cover part of the Great Wall of China and then catch the trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to Moscow to see that beautiful part of the world.
Q: In 2020, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. What is the biggest ‘lesson’ you’ve learnt from this pandemic and to what extent did it change your mind-set?
A: The biggest lesson I learnt in 2020 was that the ability to ‘pivot’ was a new life skill we all need to acquire. If anything was ever more evident than it was in 2020 – it was that change is inevitable. If we – as people, as communities, as nations and, in my case, as an entrepreneur – cannot have the flexibility and fluidity required to change, adapt and thrive in a new environment we find ourselves in, we will not only stagnate; we will become obsolete. We need to be able to ‘pivot’ into a new direction – a better direction – at any given time.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for South Africa and its people for the rest of this decade...and beyond?
A: I have always had a strong belief in our country and its people, and as a lecturer, I am always amazed at the wonderful talent and bright young minds we have in South Africa. Here at the bottom tip of Africa, we actually have so much to offer the world – and as a nation I think we are undervalued and overlooked.
My hopes and aspirations for our country for the rest of this decade is that we can really get down to the business of building: Building a stronger economy, building better basic infrastructure for our people, building the minds of tomorrow through world class education and building communities that support each other.