Interview. Edwine Endundo: “I like challenges and diversity in work”

Cover story

Appointed General Manager of Vlisco DRC in March 2020, at the dawn of the pandemic, Edwine Endundo has reoriented her professional career, moving from being a lawyer to being the regional manager of an international textile brand. All of the objectives she set for herself when she took up the position were achieved. The company recorded a profit in 2021, for the first time since the existence of Vlisco Congo.

Could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Edwine Endundo, 37 years old. I am the proud mother of two children.  I have a master’s degree in public law from the ULB, and a master’s degree in international business law from King’s College.  I was a lawyer at the bars of Brussels and Kinshasa Gombe before joining Vlisco Congo.  I am an avid reader, politician and have developed a recent passion for Congolese art.

You went from a law firm to managing a textile company. Why did you choose to join Vlisco DRC and how did this transition from law to the management of a textile company go?

I am a woman who likes challenges and diversity in work. After nearly 7 years in the legal world, I felt the need to reinvent myself professionally by taking on new challenges.  The proposal to take the head of Vlisco DRC came at the right time.  I chose Vlisco Congo because this position allowed me to evolve in a leading company in the fashion sector and offered me the opportunity to take up the challenge of demonstrating that the DRC was a high potential market full of Congolese talent and executives capable of working to international standards. In addition, leaving the world of law for a commercial enterprise offered me the opportunity to belong to a company, and to defend only its interests.  This transition required the rapid acquisition of certain knowledge and therefore a lot of hard work. However, I was able to rely on the constant support of the group and my mentor and predecessor Mr. Eric Loko.

Could you describe your daily work in your company? Your missions and your working environment?

My job requires an understanding and involvement in the work of the 6 departments that make up Vlisco Congo.  In addition, my job requires regular communication with different interlocutors at headquarters, both in terms of reporting and strategic discussions and adjustments. My days are therefore divided between urgent and important operational issues, reporting sessions with headquarters, and exchanges with various members of my team.  I can spend a morning thinking about marketing strategy and an afternoon asking about the location of our stock and end the evening discussing the market situation over dinner with a client.

I also travel within our beautiful country to meet with our different resellers and in Africa in general to meet with my counterparts in other countries.

You became Director of Vlisco/DRC in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. How did you adapt to this exceptional situation? And what were your priorities when you took office?

My first priority was naturally to take stock of Vlisco Congo both commercially and financially. The priorities that emerged were the need to destock our distributors and our market, the need to clean up the financial situation of Vlisco Congo; the reconsolidation of our distribution network and the reconstitution of a dynamic team.

The pandemic has disrupted this agenda. This inauguration got off to a flying start in a climate of global uncertainty.

I was pleasantly surprised by the resilience of our distribution network, which is almost exclusively composed of women. We have been able to count on the unfailing cooperation of our female distributors and have been able to carry out the necessary commercial reforms.  As far as my new team is concerned, the priority was to get to know each person and to put a name to a face; creating this closeness with each person is my way of working.  The objectives resulting from these priorities have all been achieved. For example, in 2020, we cleaned up the market through a policy of destocking and managed to perpetuate the benefits of this situation through a strictly controlled ordering and inventory management policy during 2021.

What is the size of Vlisco DRC today? Turnover, number of employees, etc.?

Vlisco directly employs 22 people. However, many indirect jobs are created by Vlisco’s operations in the DRC. Shopkeepers, store managers, tailors, accountants. The ecosystem of Vlisco Congo is difficult to measure but is, in any case, much larger than what is presented in our organizational chart.

Given our expansion ambitions, we plan to create two departments during 2022. Vlisco Congo distributes its products mainly in the DRC; however, our ambition is to expand our market to other countries in the cluster covered by Vlisco Congo.

The textile market is constantly evolving, how do you plan to support Vlisco DRC in this context?

Vlisco has been in existence for over 175 years and that is where our strength lies! Our production techniques and know-how, the special relationships we have with our distributors and our customers are a comparative advantage. Healthy and fair competition is a positive element that drives everyone to innovation and excellence.

The Vlisco Group is constantly thinking about the best way to surprise its consumers. This is why new products, different from our best-seller Grand Super Wax, are regularly developed and distributed by the Vlisco Group. This constant innovation must however face a scourge that is the unfair competition of some economic operators, but also that of counterfeiting.

The DRC’s contribution to maintaining the Vlisco brand as a market leader will be through actions aimed at confirming Vlisco’s position as a luxury product.

This will be achieved by continuing to support our distribution network in drastically improving the Vlisco retail landscape. We want to offer a shopping experience to our consumers that meets international luxury standards.

What is Edwine Endundo’s typical day as Director of Vlisco/DRC and what are your work habits?

My day starts around 5:30am with a workout or yoga/relaxation or reading.

Spending time with myself and then with my children, all before 8:00 am, gives me the energy to face whatever challenge my director’s hat puts in my path during the day. As I mentioned, no two days are alike, but I make it a point to have daily contact with my closest collaborators.

What are your daily motivations in your work?

My primary motivation is my patriotism. I want Vlisco Congo’s results to demonstrate consistent excellence, unfailing integrity and a high sense of innovation. My second motivation is to perpetuate Vlisco’s place in the hearts of Congolese consumers.  Finally, I will end with the desire to identify and create talent, both within Vlisco Congo and in our distribution network.

As General Manager, what principles guide your decisions?

Social interest, intellectual rigor, and collegiality are the key words of each decision I take.

What meaning do you give to the word leadership and how do you put it into practice with your direct collaborators?

I try, as much as possible, to be in constant dialogue with my colleagues. This is necessary to make my vision understood, but above all to integrate their opinions on it.  Getting my teams to agree on the most important strategic decisions is fundamental for me.  Furthermore, my leadership is inseparable from my desire to create experts and other leaders around me.  Continuous training is a priority.

What are the challenges you face and what is the most difficult part of your job?

My biggest challenge, which is probably common to many leaders, is undoubtedly that of finding the right balance between short and medium term operational management, which implies reactivity and sometimes immediacy, and long term strategic thinking, which implies distance, hindsight and risk taking.

The second challenge is the operational reality of the DRC, which still needs to improve in many respects. Drastic reforms are necessary to improve the business climate in the DRC and thus allow a real serene blossoming of all economic operators active in the DRC.

How do you manage your stress as a leader?

Meditation and perspective are the best ways to manage the stress inherent in this position.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have received?

“Don’t confuse speed with haste.

How will Vlisco/DRC evolve? What are your ambitions?

Vlisco DRC wants to continue to have a strong relationship with its distribution network.  We will invest at all levels. Training local market traders in leadership and entrepreneurship. Training of our eco-system, stores, saleswomen.

In addition, in 2022, we plan to establish a Vlisco Foundation in the city of Goma to begin with, which will also employ staff and contribute to the empowerment of young, disadvantaged women in Goma.

We are committed to modernizing our distribution channels.

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