Interview with Haydee Antezana


Leadership speaks to Haydee Antezana, recent winner of the highest international recognition for a professional speaker—the designation of Certified Speaking Professional —and a woman who, against all odds, is pregnant with twins at the age of 46.

Please tell me about your job, company and career so far.

After obtaining my BCom (Business Economics & Industrial & Organisational Psychology) and completing an International Advertising & Branding degree with honours, I started a 10-year career with leading brand L’Oréal as Product Manager and then became Marketing Manager of the world’s leading cosmetic prestige brand, Lancôme.
Born in Bolivia, I founded Professional Impressions, a corporate image and etiquette training consultancy in 1999. I am an internationally certified impression management specialist and co-author of You’re on Stage! Image, Etiquette, Branding & Style.

In 2012 I also became a partner and Director of Universal Designers – a cosmetic company designing and supplying cosmetics to leading retailers. My role began with product conceptualisation, packaging innovation, managing production and distribution.

I represent South Africa on the Board of Advisors of the Professional Woman Network (based in the United States) and am a professional member of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa.

I served as a past President of the Association of Professional Image Consultants of SA and was a Founding Member of the Professional Image Association of Africa.

I have 21 years’ experience in the fields of personal branding, corporate image and etiquette. As a sought-after corporate trainer and motivational speaker, I have addressed thousands of men and women across South Africa, and I hope I have managed to do this with some charisma, an honest outlook, humour, and in an impactful style with a powerful message!

I contributed toward launching the first South African Idols contestants to fame and have coached Miss South Africa and the other pageant finalists for the past 10 years.

On a yearly basis, I train and develop thousands of delegates from the A-Z of national and international companies.

What was the award you won, and what is the entry criteria, if any?

CSPs are individuals who have verified, extensive experience as self-employed, income-earning professional speakers. It indicates to prospective clients that the speaker has proven experience and will deliver with utmost excellence. This designation is earned through demonstrating competence and professional standards in the following areas:

Speaking performance & platform skills for at least the last five years

Client performance evaluations

Business management & revenue earned

Continuing education – attending conferences, conventions

Association membership

How significant is the award, particularly for a South African woman?

Being one of only two certified women CSPs in South Africa and a handful worldwide is highly significant. Less than 10% of the speakers who belong to the International Federation for Professional Speakers hold this designation, so now being one of a total of eight CSPs in SA places us on the international map when it comes to speaker recognition.

Having the letters CSP behind my name will provide any potential client with the peace of mind that they are hiring someone with a proven track record of speaking expertise, professionalism, outstanding service, success and ethical behaviour.

For me, this award indicates my profession’s recognition of my dedication, hard work and commitment to my profession and clients for the last 15 years.

What does your role as a professional speaker entail? What sort of audiences do you address, and what is your core message?

My role as a professional speaker is to provide delegates with focused solutions and valuable skills to create ongoing success and opportunities in their lives, while entertaining them. I call it INFOTAINMENT.

My audiences are groups of employees ranging from graduates to executive management working in the finance, professional services, mining and government department sectors.

My passion is assisting men and women in unlocking their unlimited potential through managing the impression they create in the minds and eyes of others.

I provide audiences with the skills to make their impressions powerful and lasting, by commanding presence and credibility.

How do you feel about leadership in South Africa today, at a political, business and other level? As a country, do we still have leaders who set the right agenda, and lead by example?

I believe there are many leaders today who have abused their power by being focused on their personal agendas rather than serving the public.

At the same time, our rich history and culture has produced amazing local and international leaders who have deeply influenced and contributed to our heritage.

What about female leaders? Do we have enough women in the top echelons of politics and business? If not, why not, and how can this be addressed?

I believe in SA today we have formidable women leaders in media, mining, finance and politics. Sadly, not enough, if you study Grant Thornton’s Women in Business 2013 research. It revealed that only 28% of SA senior management positions are occupied by women; this has been static since 2009. Just over one quarter of top decision-making roles in SA businesses are filled by women – a long way off from government’s objective to ensure 50% of senior management positions are occupied by women.

I would like to see a firm commitment by government to uphold the Bill on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, which seeks to ensure a 50/50 representation of women in decision-making roles in the private and public sectors. Improving the status of businesswomen should remain a critical priority for government.

Businesses should also become more innovative in attracting women into top roles by providing compressed work weeks, part-year work, flexitime and child care facilities.

What qualities do women bring to leadership positions that men, generally, do not possess?

This is an age-old question and one I always find challenging to answer, as it involves stereotyping. In my mind, many women in leadership positions exhibit the same qualities as male leaders. However, in several leadership studies, women leaders were found to be more empathic, flexible, possessing a nurturing spirit, stronger in interpersonal skills, and with an ability to see all sides of a situation and be more responsive.

Male leaders can also be exceptional in these areas but, as a rule, women leaders set a new standard.
Who are some of the South African women you most admire over the ages, and why?

Basetsana Kumalo, an admired entrepreneur, businesswoman, ex-Miss South Africa (Miss World runner-up) in 1994. At the age of 20 she started Tswelopele Productions, and not long after she and Patience Stevens persuaded the SABC to produce Top Billing independently – the first independent licence granted by the broadcaster.

She has her own eyewear and cosmetics range, and was the face of Revlon. Among many accolades, in 2011 she was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

What I admire the most about Bassie is that she is so REAL… every time I interact with her; she gives you her undivided attention, even when in a room full of people demanding her time.

Wendy Ackerman is another person I admire. She didn’t dim in her husband Raymond’s shadow; she was instrumental in developing Pick n Pay into a socially responsible retailer. Staunchly opposed to apartheid, Pick n Pay was one of the few companies to promote black employees and was the first company to start supplying free antiretrovirals to HIV-positive patients in the early 1980s. My list is endless… Thuli Madonsela, Gill Marcus, Nicky Newton-King, Maria Ramos, Jane Raphaely, Helen Zille…

Please tell me about your being pregnant with twins at the age of 46. What is the story behind this, and what does it mean to you? What are the risks involved, and how are you handling them? Do you have other children?

By the age of 39, I was still single but I had dated Mr Cheat, Mr Sleazy, Mr Cheap, Mr Handsome most Handsome with no brains and many more. That’s when I decided to write my letter to God and specify exactly the qualities I was looking for in my dream husband. I believe miracles happen when you “let Go and let God”. Fifteen days later I met Nicholas Alexander – he was everything I had asked God and so much more…. Six months later I was married for the first time.

We wanted to start a family pretty soon because of my age (Nic is seven years younger than I am). After some tests, the doctors assured me that I was fertile – but little did we know I was already two months pregnant!

In 2008, our gorgeous, 4.5kg baby girl Andrea was born. A year later we decided to have another baby; this marked the beginning of a roller coaster four-year infertility journey. During this time, I suffered three miscarriages; an operation which led to the doctor accidentally removing one of my Fallopian tubes; and thousands of rands in fertility treatments, homeopathic remedies, hypnosis and Eastern cures. I was given the shocking fact by fertility specialists: I had a 1% chance of falling pregnant at 46.

After much soul searching, I decided I wasn’t giving up and persevered in my faith. I am proud to say that I am now five months pregnant with twins. God gave me double for my trouble!

Tell me a bit about your husband. What qualities do you most admire in him?

Nic’s wealth lies in his quiet strength and ability to look over all my flaws with patience and understanding. He is a partner in my business and we complement each other fantastically well. His personality type is the Enneagram no. 9, “The Peacemaker”, and I am “The Challenger”. I don’t believe I would have achieved the level of success I have without his ongoing encouragement and assistance – not only in my career but at home too.

What worries you most about our country’s future, particularly as it pertains to women?

A patriarchal society, rising levels of poverty, unemployment and brutal violence directed at women and girls.
Statistically, more women are poor in South Africa than men. The majority of black women still live in rural areas that lack socio-economic development, employment opportunities for employment, limited access to education and skills training, which further contribute to a life of poverty.

Caregivers are mainly women, who look after children and the elderly. Dr Vusi Gumede cites these women are more likely to contract HIV at a younger age than men.

Thus, the social fibre of communities and the country as a whole is threatened. There is an urgency for government to be committed to implementing policies that will bring drastic changes and improvement to the lives of these women.

What do you most love about South Africa? What are some of the things that set our country apart from the rest on the global stage?

That we can laugh at ourselves, despite all our differences. With the passing of Madiba last year, I was once again reminded of the solidarity we have as a Rainbow Nation. Working together, we can rise to be a force to be reckoned with in the global arena.

What advice do you have for young South African women, particularly those battling issues such as poor education, poor living conditions, poverty, drug abuse, sexual abuse etc?

Find a female mentor who has risen above her raising.

Find the lesson in your circumstance rather than the problem – go from victim to victorious.

Are you your worst critic or best cheerleader?

Realise the power of your self-talk – stop saying “I’m not clever enough, I’m too old, I’m too poor...” It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not.

You were born to stand out, not blend in.

Don’t let your circumstances determine your future – you have the power of choice. Say, “The past is over... it can touch me no more”.

Have an attitude of gratitude – if the only prayer you say is “thank you”, it’s enough. 

David Capel


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