On the morning of October 31st in 2001 a new dawn broke over the R71 as you enter the sleepy hollow of Tzaneen. A bright haven for motorists in the area outshone the morning sun as Excell opened its doors. Under the ownership of Willemien Roettgers-Schulte and Sharon de Reuck this new fuelling station answered the call long before the birth of what is now the much-loved Lifestyle centre on the hill across from it. Three years later the Excell underwent a rebirth and since then has become known as the Sasol R71.

At the turn of 2011, De Reuck took early retirement and left the care of the fuelling station and its amenities in the capable hands of Roettgers-Schulte who to this day, guards over it with the fervent passion of a proud mother. In the years leading up to the present, many changes were seen at the site which included the addition of a Steers takeout in 2005, two ATMs, an amazing coffee offering, and an increase in staff compliment to 45 hyper diligent attendants – of which 37 have been at the company for longer than five years and 24 of those have been in the employ of Sasol for longer than a decade.

A few elements are quite unique to this specific fuelling station, however. One of the most prolific, is the fact that it is almost entirely run by women, barring a single male bookkeeper. This would explain the almost pedantic attention to detail and customer service which they have become renowned for. Most of all though, the success story can be attributed to the vision and drive of their visionary leader.

Willemien Roettgers-Schulte has always had a keen business mind. In the early 1980’s after returning from a tennis scholarship in Alabama in the United States, she studied law at the University of Stellenbosch. Her agricultural roots in Modjadjiskloof however called her back to the family farm where she settled and entered the avocado and macadamia nut industry. She is still involved in that operation 30 years later.

Besides the fuelling station, she branched into other service industries and today owns Debonaires, Fish Aways and Geramundo based in the Lifestyle Centre. Her staff will tell you that the “Boss Badge” is not one worn by their employer and despite employing in the region of 160 people, she is able to greet most of them by name.

“Willemien has a great ability to delegate tasks. But what makes her most successful is her way of empowering those that work with her and for her,” said Sasol manager, Cordi Botha. “She understands how hard you work, the challenges you face, and it makes her incredibly proud when one of us succeeds. Whether it is in saving to put your child through school or building a room – your success makes her so happy. She thrives on helping people.” She helped most of her staff buy water tanks as she knows the struggle they have in accessing clean water.

Most recently Willemien completed a project 12 years in the making when she succeeded in constructing a road to link the R71 to Boundary Street. The construction of this road has eased traffic congestion and opened a large portion of unused commercial property for exciting future developments currently in the planning phase. The beauty of the new road project is that it cost the municipality not a single cent as Willemien bore the costs herself through negotiations with developers and the municipal manager of the time, Thapelo Matlala.

The future looks bright for Willemien and her team as they celebrate their 20th year of existence this weekend. The celebrations kicked off on Tuesday evening when she took the unpresidented move to completely close the fuelling station for the entire evening and treat her entire staff compliment to dinner at The Meet and Greet as a way of thanking them for contributing to the success of the business.

>