Grace Bema: Soaring new heights

PHILLIMON MHLANGA

For Grace Bema, a partner at Brian Colquhoun Hugh O’Donnel & Partners (BCHOD Consulting Engineers), the country’s biggest consulting engineering firm, she always want to see things evenly aligned and in order.

Her other philosophy in life is always ready to get out of the comfort zone and take on challenges.

It personifies what vibrant go-getters do.

The sort of approach opened opportunities for her.

And she has always been on the front-foot, stepping onto podiums that have so much pressure.

 

Apart from being a partner or director at BCHOD Consulting Engineers, Bema is also the board chairperson of  Zimbabwe’s leading property management and developing firm, Mashonaland Holdings, which is listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, a board member of mining giant, Kuvimba Mining House and a past member of Bindura University of Science and Education.

“…Even if you do not know how to do it, take on the challenge and learn how to do it later, growth always comes with change.

“This mental attitude has opened up a lot of opportunities for me because I take every challenge that’s presented to me and tell myself I have to either sink or swim, and who would let themselves sink but swim,” Bema told Business Times.

 

The award-winning executive also draws inspiration from her mother.

 

“She is such a hard worker and go-getter and I think I have a part of her in me.”

And last week, Bema, was appointed the president of the Zimbabwe Association of Consulting Engineers (ZACE), becoming the first woman to achieve such a historic feat in the organisation’s 59-year history.

“It’s such an honour. Being at the helm of the highest institute in our industry is nothing but humbling. It shows the level of trust and confidence that my fellow consulting engineers have in me as a person and as an engineer,” Bema told Business Times.

 

Bema, who holds BSc Honours in Civil Engineering, a MBA both from the University of Zimbabwe, MSc in

Engineering Sustainable System (Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania, USA, Certified Project Master (Institute of Project Management, Australia) and Prince 2 Practitioner, which is a certificate in Project Management — Project Management Zimbabwe, is bullish about the future of the association.

She promises to promote good corporate governance and responsive to the needs of members.

“I am going to take ZACE to the next level by leading a board that upholds good corporate governance and ethics, which is responsive to the needs of its members and the industry in general.

I want my presidency to be remembered , especially in this sad time we are living, for understanding the challenges being faced by our member firms and helping them navigate through the challenges and grow in the process,” Bema said.

Her engineering career started off as an intern at Murray and Roberts and Tower Construction.

 

Th e executive then joined Alpha Engineers as a junior civil engineer.

She was involved in the construction of the Borrowdale Brooke Shopping Mall and Swiss Embassy.

Bema then moved to BCHOD as a senior civil engineer.

After a year, she was appointed a partner of BCHOD, a position the executive still holds today.

“Projects I’ve been involved with at BCHOD include construction of the US$140m Unki Housing development and the Zimplats Baobab Stadium as Project Manager and was also involved in the design process.

“My biggest success story as a Partner as BCHOD Consulting Engineers was when I won the Project Manager of the Year award in Road Engineering in the whole of Zimbabwe.

“This was from the Chartered Institute of Project Managers Zimbabwe for road rehabilitation of the 0-13km Ngezi-Selous road which we managed to complete in a record time of two months.

 

When she moved to the United States of America for two years, she worked for New Castle Sanitation Authority and Macoskey Centre as a design developer in Pennsylvania.

 

She said her experience in the US taught her to handle pressure.

“My two years stay in the US was packed with activities as both a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and MSc student.

“I had speaking engagements at least once and at times twice a month at Rotary Clubs.

“The biggest was when I was keynote speaker at the Rotary District Conference

which is an annual conference for all clubs in the District. I also had radio, television and newspaper interviews lined up,” she said.

Bema said she also had good working experience in the US.

“One major lesson I learnt while working in the U.S. was how automation and technology greatly improve efficiency and maintenance procedures.

For example, I could see real time information on the condition of all sections of the sewer network pipe system for example the pressures, flows, velocities, and leaks from the comfort of my office computer at New Castle Sanitation Authority.

 

“Th is meant repair and maintenance work was more proactive than reactive based on information transmitted from the telemetry and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) Systems.

 

These are control systems used to monitor, gather, and process real-time data.

I vowed to come back home and advocate and implement the use of such.”

 

Th e executive also got a surprise when she featured on a huge billboard one of the  major highways in Pennsylvania, US.

 

“I thought to myself, I have never been on a billboard in my own country but here I am in a foreign land and being featured on one,” she said.

 

Despite all the successes in her professional life, Bema did not get it easy as a woman.

 

 

“..In meetings, I was almost always the only female and there was always someone to remark that ‘oh we have a female engineer amongst us’,” she said.

“My problem with that was why I couldn’t be recognised as just another engineer. Why ‘female engineer’, it’s the stereotyping that I’m against. “

Bema has read several books that have left indelible lessons and helped shape her views in life.

 

 

These included Make your bed by Admiral William H. McRaven and the Outliers (the story of success) by Malcolm Gladwell.

“Malcolm is one of my favourite writers, in this book he’s saying, to understand successful people look at their culture, their family, their generation, their peculiar characteristics, why for instance nearly all-star hockey players are never born in the fall and why in plane crashes where the pilot is born matters as

much as how well they are trained,” Bema said.

Currently, the executive is reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.

 

The executive said she never wanted to trade engineering for anything at any point.

 

“I love what I do and have never imagined doing anything different.

 

“I wake up every morning looking forward to work and interacting with the network I have built around me because every day is different, different challenges and different opportunities. What I like about engineering is, it’s not routine hence not monotonous. It is basically changing as the world itself is changing.”

Bema  has interest in flying not as a career “but to be able to fly myself one day when my dream of owning a jet is fulfilled”.

I have a Private Pilot Licence (Ground School),” Bema said.

 

“No one influenced me into engineering but what I know is I’ve always wanted to

be different and always believed that what men can do, I can do too.

“I would say that’s what influenced me into engineering.

“I have always been a fi rm believer in equal rights and equal representation right from a young age and this is because I have a twin brother and we are very close and growing up we were inseparable. We

would do everything together.”

 

Asked about her regret in life both personal and professional life, Bema said: “I have no regrets in life. I believe all things that happened in the past were either lessons or opportunities that have

led to where I am today.

“Everything happens for a reason, the hard times we go through build character making us much stronger hence the famous saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.”

 

Given her successes, Bema has become a treasured example of success to many young ladies out there because of her excellent work.

Her message to them is: “Never give up, you can change the world, the foundation for the United Kingdom to be such a dominant economy in Europe is Margaret Thatcher’s reforms way before the world

got gender sensitive. My advice is follow your heart, it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

 

In her spare time, Bema is an avid golfer.

 

“I can be in the course all day every day.

Hitting those balls just has a way of letting off pressure. I also love shopping, on a lighter note, those who say laughter is the best medicine have never tried shopping,” she told Business Times.

 

She concludes by quoting the late Maya Angelou, the legendary author, poet and

activist: “Nothing will work unless you do”.

When she moved to the United States of America for two years, she worked for New Castle Sanitation Authority and Macoskey Centre as a design developer in Pennsylvania.

 

She said her experience in the US taught her to handle pressure.

“My two years stay in the US was packed with activities as both a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and MSc student.

“I had speaking engagements at least once and at times twice a month at Rotary Clubs.

“The biggest was when I was keynote speaker at the Rotary District Conference

which is an annual conference for all clubs in the District. I also had radio, television and newspaper interviews lined up,” she said.

Bema said she also had good working experience in the US.

“One major lesson I learnt while working in the U.S. was how automation and technology greatly improve efficiency and maintenance procedures.

For example, I could see real time information on the condition of all sections of the sewer network pipe system for example the pressures, flows, velocities, and leaks from the comfort of my office computer at New Castle Sanitation Authority.

 

“Th is meant repair and maintenance work was more proactive than reactive based on information transmitted from the telemetry and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) Systems.

 

These are control systems used to monitor, gather, and process real-time data.

I vowed to come back home and advocate and implement the use of such.”

 

Th e executive also got a surprise when she featured on a huge billboard one of the  major highways in Pennsylvania, US.

 

“I thought to myself, I have never been on a billboard in my own country but here I am in a foreign land and being featured on one,” she said.

 

Despite all the successes in her professional life, Bema did not get it easy as a woman.

 

 

“..In meetings, I was almost always the only female and there was always someone to remark that ‘oh we have a female engineer amongst us’,” she said.

“My problem with that was why I couldn’t be recognised as just another engineer. Why ‘female engineer’, it’s the stereotyping that I’m against. “

Bema has read several books that have left indelible lessons and helped shape her views in life.

 

 

These included Make your bed by Admiral William H. McRaven and the Outliers (the story of success) by Malcolm Gladwell.

“Malcolm is one of my favourite writers, in this book he’s saying, to understand successful people look at their culture, their family, their generation, their peculiar characteristics, why for instance nearly all-star hockey players are never born in the fall and why in plane crashes where the pilot is born matters as

much as how well they are trained,” Bema said.

Currently, the executive is reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.

 

The executive said she never wanted to trade engineering for anything at any point.

 

“I love what I do and have never imagined doing anything different.

 

“I wake up every morning looking forward to work and interacting with the network I have built around me because every day is different, different challenges and different opportunities. What I like about engineering is, it’s not routine hence not monotonous. It is basically changing as the world itself is changing.”

Bema  has interest in flying not as a career “but to be able to fly myself one day when my dream of owning a jet is fulfilled”.

I have a Private Pilot Licence (Ground School),” Bema said.

 

“No one influenced me into engineering but what I know is I’ve always wanted to

be different and always believed that what men can do, I can do too.

“I would say that’s what influenced me into engineering.

“I have always been a fi rm believer in equal rights and equal representation right from a young age and this is because I have a twin brother and we are very close and growing up we were inseparable. We

would do everything together.”

 

Asked about her regret in life both personal and professional life, Bema said: “I have no regrets in life. I believe all things that happened in the past were either lessons or opportunities that have

led to where I am today.

“Everything happens for a reason, the hard times we go through build character making us much stronger hence the famous saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.”

 

Given her successes, Bema has become a treasured example of success to many young ladies out there because of her excellent work.

Her message to them is: “Never give up, you can change the world, the foundation for the United Kingdom to be such a dominant economy in Europe is Margaret Thatcher’s reforms way before the world

got gender sensitive. My advice is follow your heart, it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

 

In her spare time, Bema is an avid golfer.

 

“I can be in the course all day every day.

Hitting those balls just has a way of letting off pressure. I also love shopping, on a lighter note, those who say laughter is the best medicine have never tried shopping,” she told Business Times.

 

She concludes by quoting the late Maya Angelou, the legendary author, poet and

activist: “Nothing will work unless you do”.

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