How a student receptionist became a dealer principal

When Yoshika Naidoo set out in the early 2000s to study at Rhodes University in Makhanda, she could not possibly have imagined what the move would mean for her.

23 Kelston Isuzi DP1

Like many students in the town, she worked part-time to earn extra cash. And as luck would have it, one of these jobs was as a receptionist at the then Kenrich Motors, a car dealership known to generations of families in the Makana district.

During January this year, Yoshika became the Dealer Principal at the business that is now Kelston Isuzu Grahamstown – some 16 years after she first set foot in the building as an industry greenhorn.

“I really thought it would take a few more years before I was given this position. It is not something I really anticipated – an Indian girl from Durban now living in a small town in the Eastern Cape,” she quipped.

Yoshika Naidoo, who started out as a student receptionist in the early 2000s, has been promoted to dealer principal of Kelston Isuzu in Makhanda.

If she seems surprised at her success and where she found it, it’s because it’s all very surreal.

The industrial relations graduate was convinced she would go on to a career in human resources, but destiny had other plans for her.

“After I finished my degree, I stayed on and worked my way up through the dealership. I did a bit of service advising when the gentleman in that position was on leave. I also did a bit of work in the parts department and was given the opportunity to do sales,” she explained.

“I then tried to leave. I went to my boss at the time and said, ‘You know I studied industrial relations and it is more in the HR field that I need to work’. But then he wanted to give me the HR function as well.”

Such was his faith in Yoshika that she was even made general manager.

“Unfortunately, my mother passed away from cancer, and I had to move back to Durban to be with my family. That’s where I spent the next six years. But in all those years, the DP kept asking me, ‘When are you coming back?’”

The Kelston Isuzu dealership in Makhanda (previously Grahamstown).

While she was in KwaZulu-Natal, General Motors pulled out of South Africa, necessitating him to downsize the business and move premises. From that point on, its focus would be Isuzu alone.

Finally, her former boss’s pleas for Yoshika to return, worked and she re-joined the business in October 2019 as operations manager.

What she did not know was that he was in negotiations to sell to the Kelston Motor Group.

On the inside of the Isuzu dealership.

“They took over on 1 March 2020. We were so lucky because [COVID-19] lockdown started on 26 March. They literally saved our bacon.”

At the time, Naidoo was a sales admin manager, later becoming sales manager running the parts and service department for the Isuzu dealership.

That portfolio was expanded to include the dealership next door, which suddenly meant Naidoo was managing parts and services for multiple brands. It would also prove to be the springboard to greater things.

“In October or November last year Mr Mike McNaughton, the Kelston MD, called me in to say that I had been earmarked for the DP job at Isuzu. So, on the 1st of January this year, I became the DP.”

She says the Kelston takeover has been wonderful for the dealership. Not only was there a more structured environment, but more stability and support were offered.

“I was sent on a management course, and that has really done so much for my career. I’ve got a sales manager who started off as an apprentice mechanic, while my service adviser started off as a driver. Everyone has a great story to tell.”

Because Yoshika came up through the ranks herself, she is able to understand what staff members do, as well as their challenges.

The dealership which also accommodates Isuzu Trucks.

“Everybody has conversations about what’s going on in their day and because of that, we can handle any issues immediately. I have had such incredible support from each and every staff member. It boils down to the fact that each person has respect for the other.”

She loves the fact that Makhanda is a place where “everybody knows everybody” and the bonds between her 15 staff members and the community are as strong as ever.

But she is also excited that, under Kelston, the dealership can start reaching other areas outside its traditional farmer, game reserve and student markets.

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