Rashree Maharaj, Marketing and Communications Director for AECOM Africa
Rashree Maharaj is a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and a go-getter career woman. She is a mother of 3 and has been happily married for the past 30 years. She is currently the Marketing and Communications Director for AECOM Africa, a multi-disciplinary engineering firm.
Do you own any property?
We recently sold our family home of 15 years, as well as a holiday apartment in Durban, to purchase land and build our dream home in the beautiful Copperleaf Estate.
What is the most important room in your home and why?
Undoubtedly, the most important room is my bedroom. It is my sanctuary, and where I am able to leave the busy, hectic life behind, and just be me. For this reason, my bedroom in our new home has been designed to include a fireplace, a soon-to-be favourite spot where I can read a good book, warm up the room during cold winter nights, or simply enjoy a glass of wine with my husband. I have also included an outdoor shower (this despite having my bedroom on the first floor). There is something incredibly special in experiencing the sensations of having a cool breeze on your bare skin, together with hot water rolling off it. This outdoor shower provides full privacy, as well as a stunning view of the golf course. I can see them, but they can’t see me!
What is your outlook on investing in property?
Property is one of the most important assets a person can have. We bought our first home when my husband and I were in our mid-20s. The interest rate at the time was a whopping 25%, and I remember that there were times when we barely managed to scrape together our bond repayment. The profits earned from the sale of that home was what allowed us to invest in a better home in a better area. We have owned three homes since our marriage. We lived in our last home – which we renovated from a single to a double storey in order to accommodate our expanding family and growing kids – for 15 years. It was a huge investment that, when sold, together with the sale of a property we had purchased in Umhlanga, allowed us to buy land, where we are currently building our dream home in a beautiful golf estate. I believe investing in good property, in a good area, is the best thing you can do.
Could you tell us a bit about your own home?
It is our dream home – a place we can happily retire – but which is large enough to accommodate our three children and future grandchildren (I hope). The house has been designed with lots of light and glass. It is an open-concept living area with an indoor patio and gorgeous views over the golf course. The entrance is through a path flanked by water. I love the elements of water and fire, and have incorporated as much of these into the design as possible. The home is well thought-out and spacious, and blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor living.
Where would your dream home be located?
My dream home would be located in the Tuscan hillside, surrounded by olive trees and a vineyard, with a long dirt road leading up to it. I have, however, had to settle for a gorgeous dream home in a beautiful estate – not a bad compromise! A home that is not too far from work or the airport, but in an estate with lots of green space, streams, and lakes in-between the homes. Driving into the estate feels like driving into one of the many resorts in Florida in the US. It is warm, welcoming, open and fresh, and feels like being in the countryside, despite it being so close to shopping centres and other modern conveniences. I always tell my husband that the sun shines a little stronger in Copperleaf. One thing is for certain, they experience some of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen.
Do you have any interior style tips you can share with our readers?
Yes. Create spaces that make you happy. Whether it’s that little chair near the fireplace, or a swing in the sun, give careful consideration of what goes where. The kitchen is the heart of the home – my second favourite place in the house. It must be a space that is aesthetically-appealing but functional, and it must almost draw people in, inviting them to sit, chat, and linger for a while longer. I favour a neutral canvas (walls and floors), brightened by beautiful paintings, cushions, throws, accessories, and other objects d’art. Try to blend the old with the new, and the elegant with a more industrial/rustic look. Use textures and colours to soften/warm up a space, and use carpets to ground/define a space. I’ve never favoured the idea of having couches/sofas against a wall – better to bring it forward and place a beautiful table behind it with a beautiful lamp, family photos, etc.
How big of an impact do you believe has the woman’s right to vote had on South African history?
We are no longer second-class citizens, we are no longer disadvantaged – we are empowered beings. The right to vote has given South Africa many strong and determined women who many around the world today can aspire to, and be inspired by. Furthermore, the right to vote is also essential in the fight for gender equality.
What advice would you give to other women who wish to have a successful business career?
Do what you love, and you will succeed naturally. Without arrogance or ego, do not shy away from voicing your opinion and being firm in your beliefs. Also, help other women to succeed – stand by them and laud their successes, and you in turn will be amazed by the abundance of positivity you will create for yourself and others.
Do you have a role model? Who and why?
My mom is my role model. She was a beautiful woman with a wonderful heart. She only completed two years of primary school education before she was forced to leave to support her siblings. She taught herself dress-designing and sewing at a very young age, and became incredibly good at it, without any formal training at all. She made dresses for debutante’s balls, school proms and weddings and, even though she could not read/write, she was able to remember different styles/dresses for several people at a time, and never got confused. My mum also took care of our family financially during periods when my dad could not work. She looked after my three siblings and I, as well as her aging father (my grandfather), until he passed away. She was a great cook, a compassionate person who loved to entertain family and friends, and a very hard-working woman. I learnt a lot from her, and owe everything I am to her.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
I would like to be a full-time advocate for women’s rights in Africa – to inspire/uplift and guide women to achieve their full potential. I would also love to work with troubled teenagers to encourage and motivate them to believe in themselves, and not let their background and circumstances prevent them from living healthy and successful lives.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
I visited a local mall and as I walked towards my car after I was done with my shopping, a couple asked if they could follow me and use my parking. I agreed and pressed the alarm from afar so that I did not keep them waiting. As I reached my car and attempted to open the car door, it would not open. And when I looked up, I realised I was trying to open the wrong car and of course, the couple were right there, trying not to laugh.
What is your motto in life? / What is your favourite famous quote?
My motto in life is to live beautifully, with a smile and a good heart, and to always endeavour to be better than your best. My favourite quote: ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.’ – Steve Jobs
How do you conquer fears?
To quote Nike – Just do it! I don’t believe in spending too much time thinking about something, or over-analysing it. I have learnt over the years to trust my instincts, make myself vulnerable, and do that which scares me. I ask myself what is the worst that could happen, and often the answer is not as bad as one imagines. As I like to consider both sides of the coin, I also ask myself what is the best that could happen and, surprisingly, when you look at the positive side of the challenge, you go ahead and do it, with wonderful outcomes like increased confidence. I conquered my fear of heights by sky-diving and hot-air ballooning, and my fear of water by scuba-diving and walking on the bed of the ocean.
You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?
Actually, elephants are my favourite animals. I admire their sense of family, their wisdom, strength, and memory. I would make this elephant my friend and let him (or her) transport me, ground me, and protect me.
A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
Never do tequila shooters with a polar bear! On a serious note, I think he would say: “Live life and step out of your comfort zone!” And as for the sombrero, you always have to be prepared for new environments.
About Rashree Maharaj
Her previous work experience included 7 years spent with Hatch, a global engineering company, as its Head of Marketing and Communications, as well as seven years prior to that with PricewaterhouseCoopers as its Global Marketing Manager for the Mining Industry. Before that she worked in the legal and financial sectors for various law firms and banks.
She has a Marketing Diploma (with distinction), and an IMM (International Marketing Management) qualification. She is a public speaker, and has given motivational talks at various women’s groups, business groups, and schools. She enjoys travelling and experiencing new things. She is a published author, and have helped write/compile many annual reports and other business publications over the years.