Auto industry veteran Dayle Walker knows a thing or two about crashing and getting patched up again.
No matter what challenges life throws at her, she finds a way to stay the course and come out all polished on the other side.
This year she is celebrating her 37th year in the sector and her 17th at the Kelston Motor Group, where she heads up the provincial aftersales division for parts and services.
It is not only that Walker has had to fight tooth and nail to succeed in a male-dominated space. Nothing has ever come easily to her and the tragic death of her husband in 2011 proved yet another setback for the Gqeberha mother of two.
It was one of the most difficult periods of her life as she juggled work commitments with raising a then teenage son and 12-year-old daughter alone.
However, Walker was no greenhorn when it came to facing adversity.
Unable to study after matric due to financial constraints at home, she found a filing job at a luxury vehicle dealership in 1987. At the time, her late husband was an apprentice in the trade and through him she “fell in love with cars”.
Petrolhead passions ignited, she knuckled down to work her way up the ladder from administration to procurement clerk and beyond.
She stayed with the company for two decades before doing a complete about-turn and trying a new career as an estate agent.
“I didn’t last six months!” she recalled with a laugh.
When a colleague her husband knew from way back told her about the vacancy at Kelston, she instantly understood that the motor trade was where her heart truly lay.
With her career in the industry jump-started, she settled in as an administrative practitioner in the parts division but quickly grew thanks to the support she received from management and staff.
In 2021, Walker ascended to the top position in her department from where she oversees 16 service centres across the Eastern Cape.
She praised the Group for its compassion towards staff members and the sense of community it encouraged.
“I am very grateful for what I have, especially after losing my husband. Kelston was there for me,” she said.
Financial director Sally McNaughton also had been a revelation in terms of advancing women within the business, she added.
“Being a woman at Kelston has never been an issue. We are all seen as equals – from service managers to parts managers and dealer principals.”
It goes without saying that the industry has changed significantly over the years, and aftersales is no exception. Customers have evolved in terms of their knowledge of vehicles as information is widely available on the internet.
“They will simply go elsewhere if you can’t help them, so the demand is greater,” Walker said. “This means that we’ve had to evolve with our customers.”
One of the unexpected perks of Walker’s job is that she now gets to work on the same floor as her son, even though they are in different departments.
Kelston wanted his talents as an IT design specialist and she was asked to speak to him about the possibility of coming on board.
“Otherwise I had nothing to do with it!” she said.
“It’s really nice though because he drives with mom to work now. But we don’t have anything to do with each other in terms of our actual jobs.”
There is no question that Walker and her family had encountered their fair share of stop-goes along the way. But, through sheer drive and determination, she turned each stop into a fresh start.