Gary Redmond’s position as Director of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s (FMCSA) Information Technology department is demanding enough without adding impaired vision to that list of daily challenges.
However, what might seem like impossible obstacles to others have become quite normal for Gary. Overcoming these routine tasks, as well as managing IT aspects of Ford’s international business is what makes Gary’s story so inspiring and another valued inclusion to Faces of Ford – on this World Braille Day, 4 January.
Gary was born in England and arrived in South Africa when his parents immigrated in 1971. He was educated in Gauteng, focussing on his academics to further his qualifications with a BCom in accounting at Stellenbosch University. Reflecting on this period, Gary vividly remembers his passion for speed and the outdoors; motorcycling and surfing were amongst his favourite pastimes.
At the age of 21, Gary realised that his sight was deteriorating – the problem was diagnosed as internal bleeding as a result of tumours in both eyes. It was not realised until later that Gary’s weekend hobbies of surfing and high-speed enduro biking were countering the progress made by the eye specialist.
“The time came when I realised that I could no longer drive safely and that other aspects of my life were being affected,” says Gary. “Following a visit to one of our country’s best specialist I regained some of my sight but was warned that the situation was going to get worse. Around this time, I had to look for employment that I could manage with greatly reduced sight.”
Faced with a life-changing medical condition for which there was no cure, Gary’s optimism and determination created a new path and presented other opportunities. It began when Gary was sponsored by the Rotary Club for an aptitude test as a computer programmer. He passed the test, wearing high magnification glasses, and unknowingly took the first step on a remarkable career.
In the early 1908s Gary worked in a government military organisation, and it was during this period that he was also spending his leisure time building customised Ford Transit vans – which came as a great coincidence when Ford (SAMCOR as it was known then) offered him a job as a systems analyst in the IT department, despite his vision impairment.
The support that Gary received on that day has been returned throughout a long and rewarding career. “I soon realised that without the aid of sight, the accuracy and descriptiveness of verbal communication between myself and colleagues greatly improved. This has become a leadership strength, rather than a disability,” says Gary.
Gary has made extensive use of modern technologies now available to visually-challenged people, many of which are smartphone-based and readily available. Gary explains: “I make use of apps such as text-to-speech and AI as well as a variety of GPS-based systems to help find my way around. In addition to these tools, I rely on heightened senses such as touch and smell to help me understand my surroundings and even to pursue hobbies such as cooking and woodwork.”
Gary’s career has taken some extraordinary steps within Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, including international travel and his responsibilities towards factories operating in a variety of languages. He is currently responsible for Ford’s entire manufacturing IT operations for Africa and South America.
This career success would, of course, not have been possible without the combination of Gary’s fortitude and the culture of Ford Motor Company which has always supported him as a valuable expert in his chosen field. For Gary it is important that his appraisals pay little or no heed to his disability and he is measured and rewarded by the same criteria as his colleagues.
“Gary Redmond is an inspirational man, supported by a committed company and a successful career,” says Neale Hill, MD of FMCSA. “We truly value Gary’s ongoing contributions to Ford, and hope that his story will inspire determination among communities with similar challenges.”