Most entrepreneurial stories include elements of overcoming adversity, struggling against the odds and (hopefully) achieving success through determination and hard work. But even among these inspiring journeys, you come across a story, every now and again that stands out as extraordinary. Zuki Nkuhlu’s story is one of these. Although she will tell you she owes her success to the input and mentorship of a range of people (and this is not false modesty – she has benefited enormously from external assistance), Nkuhlu is a living example of the self-made South African entrepreneur.
In 1999 she started working as a tea lady and cleaner at the Cape Artists Academy. “I had arrived from the Eastern Cape, with no matric and no qualifications, and I needed work,” she says. Eleven years on, Nkuhlu today owns the country’s only black female-owned actors’ management agency. She’s signed artists on international productions as well as local shows such as Generations and is determined to make her mark in an industry about which she initially knew nothing.
“Let me tell you – working as a cleaner and tea lady in a small office where there aren’t many people to make tea for is incredibly boring!” she says, explaining how the lack of challenge in her job prompted her to look around and start learning. “The owners of the business – Ana Feyder and Sean Higgs – encouraged me to find something to do and I started performing office admin tasks.
Without them I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” she explains. And although she says she wasn’t aware at the time that she was building a career, by 2001, Nkuhlu had taught herself all about the artist management business.
Spreading her wings
In 2008 it was time to make a move and Nkuhlu joined the Boss Models and Management Actors Division, where she was noticed for attracting new artists to the company’s books. “That particular division was struggling though,” she recalls. Recognising Nkuhlu’s drive and potential, Boss Models and Management suggested she spin out the division into her own company and Zuki Nkuhlu Artist Management was born.
It was the break of a lifetime, and an opportunity Nkuhlu was determined to grasp with both hands. But, like other entrepreneurs, she quickly learned that running an artist management company is very different to being employed in one. “My biggest challenge has been getting briefs from casting directors. It takes time to build your own reputation in your own company,” she reflects. In addition to a sound reputation, she believes the ability to manage the expectations of artists is critical to success in what is a notoriously competitive and high-stress industry.
“If you’d told me when I was younger that I’d own my own company one day, I would never have believed you. I didn’t do well at school and I had no skills to speak of – but I learned that if you’re hungry enough the world will teach you what you need to know,” says Nkuhlu.
And having benefited so much from teaching in her own career, it’s something she wants to give back to others. “I’m passionate about developing a platform for young black talent in disadvantaged and marginalised communities. There is such a wealth of creative South African talent out there but no one is able to tap into it,” she says. That’s why Nkuhlu has created Zuki Nkuhlu Township Talent Fund to which she channels a portion of her agency’s turnover.
“The idea is to develop the artistic talent of these youngsters for television, theatre and film,” she says.
Given her past ambition, it’s not surprising that Nkuhlu has big aspirations for the future. “I want to develop Zuki Nkuhlu Artist Management into the best agency in the country – one that’s recognised for its reputation for outstanding work, the representation of top professional talent and a commitment to taking care of the artists it represents,” she says. Given her past achievements, chances are good she’ll get there.
Company: Zuki Nkuhlu Artist Management
Player: Zuki Nkuhlu
Contact :+27 21 423 6962, +27 79 580 9227,