From grassroots to management: the journey of Matthew Motswakae


Matthew Motswakae’s 16-year journey from grassroots to management, as the Property Portfolio Manager, at the Johannesburg Expo Centre (JEC) embodies dedication and personal growth. Matthew’s initial role at JEC was grass cutting, but over the years, he progressed from handling lawnmowers to managing the entire premises’ landscaping.

This story unveils Motswakae’s remarkable journey and celebrates JEC’s commitment to nurturing and developing its staff from within. It highlights the values instilled by CEO Adele Hartdegen: a culture of training, inclusion, and diversity that empowers individuals.

On a Sunday in 2007, Matthew Motswakae accompanied his neighbour to the JEC, hoping to secure a job. Born in the North West town of Bloemhof, Motswakae’s experience was limited, but his eagerness to do a good job was immediately clear. He was asked to report for work the very next day.

In the sixteen years since then, Motswakae has grown from strength to strength, and his journey is testament to his work ethic, attention to detail, and commitment to his job.

“We are passionate about our people, and we believe in everyone having the opportunity to upskill, train, or certify themselves for whatever endeavours they might want to tackle in the future,” says CEO Adele Hartdegen.

Started at the Bottom, Now He’s Here

Motswakae’s first job was cutting the grass around the JEC on behalf of the landscaping team employed by the JEC at the time. Many other contractors came and went, but Motswakae remained dedicated throughout his first year, quickly becoming the man who trained the new hires every few months on the landscaping system.

While the JEC evolved as a Centre in 2008, Motswakae continued to show his value, taking on more responsibilities, including becoming the in-house tractor operator.

“We used to outsource the tractor work, but one day, I said, ‘I can also drive that tractor’. My boss replied, ‘Hoekom jy het so lang gewag? (why did you wait so long)’,” Motswakae laughs.

In 2014, after years of dedicated garden work, which saw the outside of the JEC looking pristine, Motswakae was asked into the main offices to meet with the head of the facilities maintenance team Ferdie de Wet along with the former CEO.

“He told me that starting Monday I would be joining his team. I asked him what I had done to deserve this opportunity. He said, ‘I always see you when I arrive here. I have always seen you. You are always focused, and I can see the difference your work makes,” Motswakae recalls.

His new role on the maintenance team taught Motswakae a whole new range of skills, including how to work pump stations, sprinklers, equipment and more.

After the pandemic of 2020, Motswakae was again approached by the executive team, who wanted to bring the landscaping duties in-house. They bought out the landscaping business, kept its staff and promoted Motswakae to the Property Portfolio Manager in charge of landscaping. After thirteen years, Motswakae was now the manager of the team he started on.

A Culture of Upliftment

The culture of upliftment and training at the JEC is an incredible example of how companies and businesses can promote growth amongst their employees for all the right reasons.

“Adele wants people to get training and certificates,” says Motswakae of CEO Hartdegen. “For example, if someone on my team wants to learn how to use a computer, they can go inside the building and ask, and they will be taught. You can approach the executives at any time to realise your dreams.”

Dreams Do Come True

Motswakae now leads a team of six and is involved in both maintenance and landscaping; he is a very busy man.

“The executive team at the JEC have all been my mentors. People like Adele have helped grow me. They have shown me the way, but seeing the light was always up to me. It’s challenging, but patience leads to glory. And I still love to cut grass!” says Motswakae.

Believing in Your People

“The importance of inclusion and diversity cannot be overstated in the current climate of our country,” says Hartdegen. “We believe in our people, and we want them to achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves. If we can help them on that journey, we have succeeded as an executive for our staff.”