As one of just a handful of young, African students on scholarship at a US university, Hepsy Mkhungo recalls feeling sorry for herself. “It seemed that for everyone else things were easy, particularly finances,” she says.
But the friendship and advice of the Dean’s secretary helped her learn an important lesson that she still carries with her today. “I came to realise that I alone was in control of shaping my future, and that if I worked hard I could create the future that I wanted for myself,” she says.
This informed a life-long work ethic that Mkhungo believes has opened doors throughout her career. “The author of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that the harder you work, the more opportunities will come your way, and I have seen this proved time and time again in my own career and in the careers of others. It might sound obvious but hard work creates success. Opportunities follow where hard work leads,” she explains.
As head of Enterprise Development and Community Partnership at SAB, Mkhungo comes into regular contact with young, historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. “I try to leave the same lesson with them. I tell them to focus on building a consistent work ethic because doing so will provide the opportunities they are looking for.
“I suppose what it comes down to is doing whatever you can to help yourself. Everyone needs to be given a chance – I was given a chance with my scholarship and at SAB we try to give other young South Africans a chance at success. But what you do with that chance can define whether you obtain the success you want. Every individual has the responsibility to make the most of the opportunities given to them, and that means working hard. There’s no replacement for it,” she concludes.
The harder you work, the more opportunities come your way.