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“Women are not out of place in the automotive industry” Meet Tarryn Knight- Head of Product, Marketing and PR for Audi South Africa

Written by Editor

September 13, 2022

By Sinazo Mkoko

Tarryn has worked in the automotive industry for almost 16 years across three brands, she now directs the product portfolio and marketing campaigns of the Audi brand in South Africa. By marrying her love of powerful brand purpose to her passion for effective communication.  She has invaluable experience across the complete chain of marketing. With assignments that have included structuring the product offering, conducting marketing research studies, designing communication strategies and translating them into tangible operational plans across the full marketing mix – brand, PR, events, sponsorships and digital marketing. Key in these undertakings has been the management of multiple agency relationships and the initiation and development of partnerships in various countries around the world. She recently oversaw the successful restructuring of the Audi product range and is part of the global network of professionals responsible for integrated marketing management of the Audi brand identity.

Tarryn shares with us on how she navigated through the automotive industry for 16 years and counting. 

Firstly, please tell us about your career path that led to you becoming the Head of Marketing, PR and Product for Audi South Africa?

After completing a B.Com Honours in Communication Management, I spent a year working as a strategist at a small consultancy. When the opportunity to work in London for two years came up, my boss and mentor at the time suggested that I gain experience as a Brand Manager when I return to South Africa. 

The two years in London were spent in communications and project management across companies like Ernst and Young, Deloitte, and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Upon returning home to Johannesburg there was only one brand I wanted to work for – a brand I had represented in my student days on their stand at Johannesburg International Motor Show: Volkswagen. 

As fate would have it, there was a vacancy for Volkswagen Brand Manager when I returned and I was successful with my application. After five years in that position I was promoted to Marketing Research Manager for the Volkswagen Group of Brands. I was then appointed Marketing Communications Manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles for five years, during which time I acquired the role of steering the Product portfolio in addition. 

At the beginning of 2020 I was appointed Head of Marketing, Product and PR at Audi South Africa. In May this year I celebrated 16 years with this company – it’s been a fantastic experience thus far. 

What does your job entail?

I’m fortunate to have a job that really exercises both the left and right sides of my brain. In Product there is a lot of analytical thinking and planning, scenarios and indexes. In Marketing, it’s the exploration of concepts, behaviour, emotions and creative execution of ideas that excites me. Then there’s PR, which is all about relationships and clear communication. 

Most of all my work is about people, particularly taking care of my team. A quote by Simon Sinek reflects aptly how I feel about this duty: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Helping my team members grow is the least I can do given how much they teach me every day!

Please share some of the challenges you’ve encountered as a woman in this industry and how you overcame them? 

There have been some interesting situations, for sure, but I choose not to remember or dwell on them. If I had, how much of my energy would’ve been lost to focusing on them instead of focusing on learning, growing and pushing the boundaries of my profession? 

Whilst I appreciate that I’m often complimented for “making it in a male-dominated industry”, I feel that giving women this accolade is outdated and we should be more deliberate about where we place emphasis. My perspective is that I have an equal place here as any other person. My achievements and skills should not be viewed or appreciated through the lens of gender in the context of the industry I’ve chosen. Women are not out of place in the automotive industry.

Perhaps that’s how I overcome the challenges: by refusing to acknowledge them and choosing to live my desired future state of equal gender value in this industry today and every day.

What are some of your proudest milestones in your career?

There have been some magical moments which I’ve been honoured to facilitate. One was the “Farewell Citi Golf” campaign where we took the last Citi Golf that was produced in the VWSA Kariega Plant on a road trip around South Africa for fans to sign. It now sits in the AutoPavilion museum. 

Another special project was launching an international off-road driving competition with SA rally legend Sarel van der Merwe called the Spirit of Amarok, and going on to produce an international marketing campaign for the Southern Hemisphere markets. These collaborations with my counterparts around the world created professional connections that I still cherish today. 

Arguably the most exciting given where we are in automotive history was launching the future of mobility with Audi. In February this year we introduced Audi’s electric vehicle offering to South Africa. It’s incredible to think that the vehicle industry is on the cusp of dramatic change after 120 years of internal combustion engine technology and we get to be a part of that movement. 

Why do you think Audi is the best car brand? 

There are many brands and many qualities that I respect across all industries, including other car brands. True growth comes from recognising and being inspired by strengths in others. 

What I love about Audi is its pioneering spirit, the passion for progress and the premium yet authentic nature of the brand. That’s what it means to me to be an Audianer, and I am grateful to be in a position to share that passion with others through Audi’s products and marketing in South Africa. 

Are you fanatical about the motor industry? Where did it all begin? 

It was the mechanics of engines and drive trains that first enticed me into the motor industry. As a young girl I enjoyed building things with my father and watching friends work on cars. I’d even read books about how engines work. A little ironic given the shift to electric mobility and how much that excites me now too.  I wouldn’t describe myself as a fanatic – don’t ask me to recite power and torque outputs or tell you about classic cars. Rather, I have a healthy respect and appreciation for these incredible and beautiful machines and I love experiencing their performance. 

What is your “why?”

The most rewarding part of my days are when I can facilitate someone else’s growth, exploration and achievements. If I can help another develop their professional and/or personal journey faster than I could, then my journey has been worthwhile. 

What are some of the exciting plans Audi has for the coming year?

We’ve got so many exciting things yet to come. The RS3 Sedan and Sportback have just been launched, and there’s more to come in the e-tron product range in the coming year. In addition to progressing the conversation around electric vehicles, Audi is supporting the growth of charging infrastructure in and around South Africa. Also on the horizon: we’re looking into reintroducing a particularly exciting driving experience. 

What does the future of the motor industry look like?

Things are going to get incredibly interesting with a greater variety of drive trains in general. In the premium segment of the market however, we believe that fully electric cars are the future. The efficiency and performance cannot be beaten, and the design and digitalisation possibilities are so exciting, particularly when you consider autonomous mobility. 

We’re only at the genesis of the technology and yet an experience of fully electric driving today is enough to convince me that this is the way forward. It makes so much sense when one considers a lifestyle of emission-free mobility with smooth, immediate acceleration that recharges overnight whilst you sleep. I’m incredibly optimistic about electric vehicles and won’t stop talking if you get me started. 

What is your advice to young women who want to join and excel in this industry? 

My advice for any young person wanting to excel would be the same: soak up as much knowledge as you can by not being afraid to ask questions and learn, even if it’s in fields outside of your portfolio. You never know where the acquired knowledge may come in handy. 

Be prepared to work hard – put in the hours to showcase your value – and say yes to opportunities that come your way. Nothing should be expected or taken for granted. Have patience where it is required and entrust a mentor to help you keep sight of the bigger picture of your career. 

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