Buhle Hanise is helping Chinese auto giant BAIC achieve its destiny on the African continent.

A new name, a new era – Gqeberha will soon regain its preeminence as an auto manufacturing centre thanks to BAIC. No newcomer to the automotive industry, this Chinese manufacturing entity has been setting the pace for more than 56 years on a global scale. Now BAIC has set up shop in the Windy City – and it falls to Chief Financial Officer Buhle Hanise to ensure that finances run smoothly in accordance with BAIC International’s vision of expanding its cross-border businesses to build a Global BAIC.

A qualified Chartered Accountant, Buhle previously held positions as a Senior Business Rescue Specialist at the IDC. Her remarkable work and invaluable skills soon saw her being hand picked to join a pilot initiative for IDC employees to form part of the IDC’s Credit Committee. This afforded her the opportunity to assist deal makers in identifying early distress signals in IDC-funded businesses so as to trigger timeous intervention and support.

Buhle has completed a Development Finance Programme at University of Stellensbosch Business School, a Business Rescue Programme at the Law Society and Unisa, and a GIBS Leadership Development Programme in association with SAICA. She also holds an Advanced Certificate in Insolvency Law and Practice from the University of Johannesburg and an Advanced Certificate in Emerging Markets and Country Risk Analysis at Fordham University in New York, USA.

Buhle explains that she is driven by the purpose of “returning the heart and soul of the automotive industry in South Africa”: “As a new comer in the Automotive Industry, our focus is to ensure growth of the industry whilst contributing to the South African economy at large. Our plant is in Coega, near Gqeberha, which is a growing economic hub in the Eastern Cape. Our vision is aligned to that of the Group which is to focus on the export of finished vehicles and individual components. We are proud to be one of the businesses that will increase job creation in that area, especially since the Eastern Cape is where I was born and bred.”

As CFO, Buhle is responsible for ensuring that the business is financially managed and reports to the relevant governance bodies. Currently, she is also supporting the project team driving the final construction of BAIC’s plant in Gqeberha.

Buhle also has another, more unusual responsibility: “I also serve as a support structure to my CEO, who is a Chinese national, and assist and guide him in the South African way of doing things. He is a very supportive CEO who is open minded and enjoys being in this country and making the impact that the Group requires.”

Buhle is confident that BAIC vehicles will continue to find a market in this country. “Our cars have everything you need – driving with pleasure, comfort and features all in a stylish package made for you. Safety is a priority for us as our cars offer ABS, EBD, driver and front passenger airbags and ISOFIX child seat anchors. It’s the perfect family vehicle to get you anywhere safely.”

She describes BAIC’s target market as being “the overall SA community”. The D20 is suitable for “a youngster who needs a small car” while the X25 is ideal for families. For the high end market, the B40 Plus SUV is launching soon.

“This car has been tested for all conditions including rough terrain, high humidity, snow and heat,” says Buhle. “I quite enjoyed it when we went for the photoshoot and saw its capabilities. This car was originally designed for the military but it has now been perfected for you.”

Buhle believes that BAIC vehicles will soon be a household name in South Africa as the company builds its brand by manufacturing a “made in South Africa” BAIC vehicle for the South African consumer and the world.

“We are committed to being a trendsetter, not only in terms of vehicle design but also in delivering a reliable, stylish and comfortable product. Our brand has already been established – every day I see a BAIC car on the road. With the coming launch of our latest model, you are definitely going to be seeing a lot more of our cars on the street,” says Buhle.

In addition to consumers, South African workers will benefit from the establishment of BAIC’s new plant in Gqeberha. In fact, the job opportunities are set to breathe new life into the region.

“With the exit of GM from South Africa – and their plant was in Gqeberha – a lot of people lost their jobs. We hope we can restore our industry in this area and hopefully create and maintain job opportunities – not only at the vehicle plant but also in our supply chain of component manufacturers.”

Buhle continues: “BAIC hopes to bring smiles to people’s faces and help grow the South African economy. During a recession, many manufacturing companies feel the pinch. However, BAIC is playing a pivotal role in assisting the automotive industry in South Africa. From a developmental impact, it is critical to increase the employment rate.”

BAIC’s partner in South Africa is none other than the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) – a distinct advantage for the Chinese manufacturer. “Having an SA partner has shown its benefits as this is the first time that the Group has ventured into the African market, let alone in South Africa. The IDC is a very important stakeholder in ensuring that our vision is achieved – because it’s a vision shared by the BAIC Group as a whole. In return, as a business we are more than happy to assist the IDC in fulfilling its mandate of developing the SA economy.”

It comes as no surprise that this dynamic black woman wears a number of different hats. In addition to serving as an independent non-executive director on the boards of companies like Transaction Capital Limited, Outsurance Holdings Limited, and Safcol, to name a few, she is also the Deputy President of the African Women Chartered Accountants Forum (AWCA). As such, Buhle is well positioned to raise the profile of women in the automotive industry.

“In every area of my life, I strive to make a difference especially in ensuring women empowerment. This principle is quite important in my place of work as well. I do believe that the auto industry has made great strides in implementing the changes that are needed. More and more women are entering the engineering, technical and manufacturing space, and BAIC is no different. Our team is always working on ensuring that the focus on women is not lost in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. I think we are on the right track.”

For Buhle, the auto industry is no longer the male-dominated environment that it used to be. “Previously for a woman to be wearing coveralls and having a hammer in their hands was a peculiar thing, but nowadays that narrative is changing fast. Women are taking their rightful place in those spaces that were always male dominated, and our industry is no different. The challenge for me would be that we need to own those spaces more without any reservations.”

For companies seeking to emulate BAIC’s enviable social contract, Buhle has some words of advice: “Don’t look at transformation as a tick the box exercise but rather as simply the right thing to do.”