The player: Vanessa Cox
The business: Ntirho Business Consulting (1999)
The concept: Professional recruitment and disability management.
Contact: +27 (0)86 518 0140 or www.ntirho.co.za
From when Vanessa Cox was in Matric, she knew she wanted to go to Joburg and have her own business. Since 1999 through hard work and perseverance, she has grown her professional recruitment services from a fax machine, Internet connection and cold calls in her 2-bedroom house, to a reputable company with offices in Hatfield, six permanent staff and over 30 temporary staff.
Besides excellent service of matching candidates with job roles and company culture rather than just job titles, Cox sets her company apart from other recruitment agencies through her dual focus on generalist able-bodied recruitment and specialised disabled recruitment and disability management.
Room for improvement
“In 2005 I started diversifying into recruiting disabled people for employment because while there are many disabled people in South Africa who have few skills, there are also others who are highly educated and are sitting with qualifications and can’t do much with it because people and businesses have a lack of understanding about disability,” Cox says. “Businesses are also required to meet disability quotas for Employment Equity.”
Cox explains that South Africa is also under-developed in terms of disability management systems, preferring instead to pay out employees if they become disabled, making them the responsibility of the state. “What I am focusing on now, which is fairly new, is to develop ‘return to work co-ordination’ to retain disabled people and to encourage companies to put into place support structures, and if the person can’t perform their original tasks, to look at reasonably accommodating them.” Cox realistically points out, “anybody can become disabled tomorrow. So having a company assist them with returning to work and performing successfully is something that I’d like to get out there now.”
Getting off the ground
“The early days of business were very hard, the rejection is something that is difficult to deal with, and in my third year none of my companies paid and I had to pay my staff, so there were times that were very difficult and I cried.” With advice from a business banker and help from her brother’s provident fund, Cox was able to get back on her feet. “Never once during that time did I think about giving up. I knew I had to persevere.” After five years of operation, Cox began breaking even.
Cox’s business model is based on earning through placements. “Depending on the kind of placement we earn a percentage of cost to company, and it’s higher with executive candidates.” But Cox has recently had to overcome a set back with recent COSATU upheaval and labour brokering issues: “We used to have more than 40 temporary staff but we had to convert some to permanent and some contracts ended because of the threat of banning labour brokering which scared a lot of companies. In the recruitment industry, that’s the area that sustains companies because you have income on a regular basis. On a permanent basis your income is based on what you place. So that’s had a major impact on the industry itself,” Cox explains
Cox took part in Microsoft’s Women Entrepreneur Development Programme in order to learn how to better manage her business. “I decided I needed to attend because I’ve always run my business the way I thought it should be run,” she says. “When I get an idea in my head it’s impossible to get me to do otherwise, I even proposed to my husband,” she laughs. “But the truth is, I suck at certain aspects of running a business. I’m excellent at the operational aspects, but when it comes to management of staff, finance, HR and strategic planning I am weak and I get a lot of advice from my husband and my accountant.”
Through attending the course Cox was forced to sit down and apply herself to writing a strategic plan, and pleasantly surprised herself when she realised she could do it and do it well.
Cox warns entrepreneurs in the start-up phase against compromising themselves. While she has never found herself in that situation she has had to deal with consultants who had compromised themselves with businesses and candidates. “Compromise is a chain reaction and once you compromise yourself once you can never get yourself out of it,” she warns.
“I am proud of what I’ve achieved through hard work and perseverance, even in the hardest times when there have been tears and sleepless nights. The most important thing is to persevere. And while you’re at it, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I did and it took me six months to get back from that mistake.”