Refilwe Rundofa: Leading Operations Management Professional Powering Africa’s Aviation Industry at Shell

Refilwe Rundofa
Refilwe Rundofa

With an impressive 16 years of experience under her belt, Refilwe Rundofa has emerged as a trailblazing force in Operations Management. Currently serving as the Head of Aviation Operations for Africa at Shell, her strategic vision and comprehensive management acumen has set new standards for excellence in HSSE and quality compliance, operational project planning, and extracting optimal efficiency from technical teams.

At the heart of Refilwe’s remarkable career trajectory lies her tenacious commitment to robustly managing and mitigating risk factors in terminal operations. Her unwavering focus on securing the safety of people, assets, and the environment has been the cornerstone of her prolific career. Notably, during her illustrious tenure at Shell Downstream South Africa, Refilwe has impressively progressed through the ranks with four well-deserved promotions, ultimately landing her in her current role as Head of Aviation Operations at Bryanston (Johannesburg) at Shell Downstream SA Headquarters.

Versatility and Leadership

Refilwe’s remarkable career at Shell has been marked by an impressive tenure, during which she excelled as a terminal manager across multiple Shell depots in South Africa, deftly handling diverse operating models.

Currently, she takes immense pride in her role as a Director & Shell’s Shareholder Representative, actively contributing to the success of both OR Tambo & Cape Town International Joint Venture boards.

In addition to these pivotal responsibilities, Refilwe has had the privilege of serving as a Business Opportunity Manager, a position that afforded her the opportunity to explore and capitalize on new avenues for growth and advancement. Through these varied roles, she has honed a comprehensive skillset, empowering her to adeptly navigate complex challenges and lead teams towards achieving remarkable results.

Adaptability in a Changing World

Refilwe has garnered a reputation within her organization for her exceptional managerial abilities, exemplifying a profound awareness and confidence in her leadership skills. Her journey to success has been a unique one, beginning at a young age in a predominantly male-dominated industry.

Despite being surrounded by seasoned professionals who had already established themselves, she faced numerous challenges while forging her own presence in this environment. These challenges have been invaluable learning experiences, propelling both her personal and professional growth. Throughout this process, Refilwe forged meaningful relationships and earned the trust of her industry peers, showcasing her determination and passion for success.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa brought about a swift and drastic transformation for essential workers, including airport staff like Refilwe. Her previously bustling travel schedule came to an abrupt halt, dropping from 100% to 0%.

Nonetheless, this unforeseen shift presented her with an opportunity to embrace a new chapter that demanded adaptability and innovation. Refilwe rose to the challenge with enthusiasm, employing inventive ways to motivate and uplift her team, leveraging technology as their primary tool for collaborative engagements. Throughout these trying times, she ensured her team felt valued and appreciated, reinforcing their high morale.

Navigating through these unprecedented circumstances not only strengthened her resilience but also deepened her commitment to effective leadership.

She discovered the immense power of adaptability and emphasized the importance of nurturing team spirit, even in the face of adversity. Refilwe takes immense pride in the innovative solutions they crafted together, which solidified their bonds and transformed them into a cohesive and supportive unit.

Fostering a Culture of Excellence

Refilwe’s leadership approach is rooted in empowering every member of the teams that she serves whilst fostering a culture where leadership is defined by actions and contributions rather than positional titles. This environment encourages everyone to express themselves freely and recognizes that each person has the potential to lead and make a meaningful impact.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my leadership philosophy with esteemed executives in Africa and Europe. The impact of these interactions speaks for itself. Recently, I returned from an invigorating leadership session in Krakow, Poland, I led a session on front-line empowerment &competencies. The positive outcomes and transformational experiences I witness motivate me even further.

A key aspect of Refilwe’s leadership style is prioritizing consistent and open communication with her teams. She actively engages with them through both digital platforms and in-person interactions during site visits, ensuring that she stays attuned to their needs, challenges, and aspirations. In the face of obstacles, Refilwe ensures that proactive and workable solutions are readily available, fostering a mindset of preparedness and problem-solving that is essential for maintaining a high-performance culture.

Safety and compliance are non-negotiable pillars in their business at Shell. Refilwe takes great pride in cultivating a safety culture that is embraced by each member of her team. This collective commitment ensures the well-being of their workforce and ensures that all operations meet the highest standards of compliance.

By valuing the input of every team member, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and upholding the importance of safety and compliance, Refilwe and her team create an environment where individuals can thrive and contribute their best. Together, they strive to exceed expectations, foster innovation, and drive the success of their organization. With a commitment to empowering each team member, they are well-positioned to embrace new challenges and shape a brighter future for the industry.

Effective Communication and Collaboration

Refilwe prioritizes effective communication, collaboration, and unity within diverse teams. Structured working methods enhance productivity and achieve objectives efficiently. She values transparency, accessibility, and active engagement to nurture innovation and collective ownership.

“Through effective communication, structured methods, and a shared commitment to our objectives, we create an environment where individual talents shine and collective achievements thrive. I am grateful to be part of an exceptional team that collectively drives our success through their unique strengths and expertise,” says Refilwe.

Leading Positive Change

With over a decade of successful leadership experience in various sectors of the Energy industry, Refilwe has developed a profound understanding of the end-to-end

Supply Chain and proven expertise in leading diverse teams. As she embarks on the next phase of her career, her aspirations extend globally. Refilwe is driven by a passion for the industry and a strong desire to make a meaningful impact on its growth and sustainability.

Open to new opportunities and positions that align with her skills and aspirations, Refilwe eagerly seeks roles where she can contribute her strategic thinking, leadership acumen, and cross-cultural competencies. She is motivated by the prospect of expanding her career on a global scale, embracing diverse perspectives, and fostering meaningful partnerships.

Refilwe’s commitment to driving positive change, delivering exceptional results, and continuously learning and growing propels her forward. With her extensive background in the Energy industry and unwavering passion, she is confident in excelling in any new role she undertakes.

Approaching the future with anticipation, Refilwe is ready to embrace new experiences and leave a lasting impact in this dynamic and ever-evolving industry. With every opportunity, she aims to make a difference, driving progress, and shaping a brighter future for the Energy industry.

Approach to Customized Leadership

As an experienced leader, Refilwe understands the significance of adapting her approach to each unique team. She crafts customized strategies and tactical plans to foster clarity and focus. Engaging the team through initiatives like team engagements, recognition programs, and succession planning keeps them motivated and inspired.

Authentic leadership plays a pivotal role in creating an environment where team members feel safe to share their ideas and perspectives. Actively listening and valuing their contributions foster a sense of belonging and empowerment. Refilwe’s learner mindset has been effective in upholding safety standards even without direct supervision.

Supporting the growth of her team is a top priority for Refilwe. She encourages their personal development and facilitates succession planning. Collaborating on long-term aspirations, providing exposure opportunities, and supporting further education programs are integral to ensuring every team member can pursue their desired roles.

By combining tailored strategies, authentic leadership, continuous learning, and a strong focus on personal development and succession planning, Refilwe cultivates a motivated and high-performing team. Together, they strive for excellence, achieving both individual and organizational goals. Witnessing the growth and success of her team members brings her immense satisfaction and reinforces her dedication to their advancement.

Award-Winning Achievements and Lasting Impact in the Energy Industry

Throughout her career, Refilwe has received esteemed awards that recognize her exceptional performance and contributions. Within Shell Downstream South Africa, she has been honored with awards for Outstanding performance in HSSE & Social Performance, Best Mentor in Women in Leadership, Winner in Develop the Talent, Women Leading in Empowerment, and Deliver the Cash & Returns. These accolades reflect her unwavering dedication and commitment to excellence, defining her career.

One achievement that fills Refilwe with immense pride is how her Shell Aviation team stepped up during a fuel shortage crisis, going above and beyond to support customers outside of Shell’s portfolio. Their commitment to service excellence and resilience made a lasting impact.

Refilwe is also proud to have received the prestigious Shell Vice President Award in the Delighted Customers category, highlighting her team’s customer-centric approach and dedication to delivering exceptional experiences.

Working alongside such talented individuals has been truly inspiring for Refilwe. Together, they have navigated challenges, leveraged opportunities, and consistently delivered exceptional results. As she reflects on her 16-year journey as a leader, she is grateful for the experiences, growth, and achievements they have accomplished together.

In 2022, Refilwe was the recipient of the Health & Safety Award at the Aviators Towers Awards, nominated and voted for by the industry.

Excited to continue this journey, embracing new challenges and making a lasting difference in the Energy industry, Refilwe takes pride in being part of a team that consistently exceeds expectations and positively impacts the industry.

She was nominated as one of the top 100 influential global women in the supply chain in Africa 2023 and she looks forward to the future with enthusiasm and a commitment to ongoing excellence.

Shaping the Future

As a forward-thinking company, Shell places a strong emphasis on staying ahead of the curve. This mindset resonates deeply with Refilwe, as it fuels her perpetual drive for knowledge and growth, motivating her to pursue excellence in all aspects of her work. Knowing that her team actively shapes the future of the industry empowers her to make meaningful contributions and drive innovation.

Regularly engaging with the exceptional team at Shell and embracing diverse perspectives inspires Refilwe to continuously push the boundaries of innovation. The collaborative environment fosters a dynamic exchange of ideas, enabling them to anticipate market shifts and seize emerging opportunities. Refilwe expresses deep gratitude for the abundant resources and supportive network provided by Shell, which enables her to lead with confidence and adaptability, successfully navigating the complexities of the industry.

Together, Refilwe and Shell strive to set new benchmarks and lead the way in driving positive change within the sector. Refilwe feels honored to be part of a company that wholeheartedly embraces progress, fuels innovation, and propels the industry towards a sustainable and prosperous future.