Driven to Success: Former Taxi Operator Builds Sales Career Through Listening, Learning

Mar 18, 2024 10:15 AM ET
Happiness Ngwenya leaning on a railing outside of a building.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, Happiness Ngwenya couldn’t have foreseen how his conventional path through school and higher education would lead to an unconventional journey of career choices. His tenacious and entrepreneurial mindset ultimately helped him find and excel in a dream job at Viatris drawing on his diverse background to lead and inspire those around him.

Happiness quickly learned from his early work experiences that making mistakes was part of the development process, a mindset that further helped him explore new opportunities and take risks. After studying how to run a taxi business, he took the leap to purchase secondhand cars in the United Kingdom, driving them from the port of Durban and exporting them into Zimbabwe where he ran his taxi service for 12 years with some success.

After high school and tertiary studies, he moved with his family to South Africa. Networking for Happiness became second nature: he was inquisitive, open to hearing about other people’s experiences and what they did professionally. Learning from them was an opportunity to gain insight into what might be possible. He worked a series of jobs ranging from a college teacher, a retail food franchise and a dairy company; eventually, he moved into sales for an office furniture and stationery company, all the while continuing to expand his networking circle.

Through an ex-colleague, Happiness learned about a job as a driver for Viatris in South Africa, a perfect role for an ex-taxi driver with ambition.

This was the opportunity that he had been looking for: an international organization with prospects to grow and develop.

“Starting at Viatris was a game changer for me,” he recalled. “As a driver, I was the first person every guest and company executive met in South Africa. I shook every hand and asked a lot of questions. I wanted to learn how they became successful, and they told me their stories.”

While still driving for Viatris, Happiness earned greater responsibilities in office services management. He took the opportunity to sit in company sales and training meetings while waiting for the executives that he’d driven to the meeting, listening attentively to learn more about what the sales team did. At one company conference, he shared accommodations with a sales representative colleague.

“I wanted to learn from him, I was curious and asked so many questions, trying to put together the things I was learning from observation and the conversations I was having,” Happiness said.

In 2014 a sales role opened, and Happiness applied and interviewed with an executive from the primary care division. He was delighted that he was able to share some of things that he had learned and got the job. He knew he was on a new path, one that meant a lot for his family’s future. Without formal training, he shadowed his colleague, went to every meeting, read every sales brochure and observed the important work they were doing.

He worked hard over the ensuing months and years to exceed targets, grow the business and become an exceptional member of the team -- but he knew there was more to do.

“I’ve learned from being uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s been a journey; not an easy one, but perseverance and sustained focus is what has helped me develop in my roles.”

By 2020, Happiness was heading up sales for the Retail and Detail divisions, leading a team of eight representatives. He progressed to secure a more senior role as National Sales Manager, leading 12 colleagues. From 2016 to 2019, he won Sales Rep of the Year or was named a runner-up; in 2022, he took home the prestigious Sales Manager of the Year award in South Africa.

He thinks of three pivotal moments in his career: making the leap into sales when he was younger, getting the job at Viatris, and then his move into management.

“I learned to pay attention to detail,” he said. “It’s not easy coming from a different background, so you need to be agile and determined.”

The role at Viatris has not only impacted Happiness’ professional life, but his personal life as well: “What I’ve learned and the skills I’ve developed through work has strengthened me as a person, it’s changed my mental outlook. I’ve been able to provide for my family, I own properties and I’m proud my teenage son sees my motivation.

The advice I’d give my 20-year-old self today is to be patient, be resilient, be attentive. Your future personal and professional success revolves around development; you can’t be stagnant and you must always keep learning.”