If it is true that the success of a South African business is inextricably linked to its passion for the success of the country, it’s little wonder that Amabubesi Investments has done so well. Talking to CEO Sango Ntsaluba is a lesson in boundless passion.
From black chartered accountants and the lack of development in rural areas, to personal ethics and the education of the country’s youth, Ntsaluba speaks expansively on many topics close to his heart. This is a man who understands what it means to say, “If South Africa fails tomorrow, we all lose.” His passion for the success of the country clearly spills over into his business, colouring how he deals with the clients in his portfolio and the strategy of the business going forward.
All this passion, however, in no way makes Ntsaluba a hot-head. In answer to questions about what keeps him awake at night, he answers: “I never want my name to be associated with failure. Some people say this makes me conservative, but I think it just makes me cautious.”
A bit of caution clearly doesn’t go awry in the game Ntsaluba is in. Amabubesi Investments, of which he is both a founder and CEO, takes something of a leap of faith every time they agree to partner a business entity looking for an investor. So a key strength of the company is the fact that all three founding members (who are reflected in the company logo of three lion heads from which the company derives its name) understand business on the intimate level that only personal experience can bring.
Ntsaluba and Peter Moyo are both chartered accountants, and Moyo is also deputy managing director of Old Mutual South Africa. Thabiso Tlelai is CEO of The Don Suite Hotel Group and Bulelani Ngcuka is Executive Chairman.
Ntsaluba started one of the biggest black accountancy firms in the country and was previously Executive Director of Transnet. It is a source of great pride that his credentials are business rather than politically orientated. Which brings us to another of his passions: black economic empowerment. “I think it’s unfortunate that BEE has a reputation in this country of being exclusively for those with political connections,” he says candidly. “There is place in the BEE playing field for professionals as well, for people who have succeeded in business.”
Amabubesi Investments is premised on sound business principles. “We’re a professional team here – we work hard,” he says.“I regard myself first and foremost as a professional businessperson and issues of ethics are very important to me, so we try to manage conflict of interest;one of the challenges BEE faces in this country.”
On his role as CEO, he bears in mind his staff, shareholders and businesses he has partnered with. And although it can’t be described as the key driver, Ntsaluba also tries to remain mindful of struggling entrepreneurs who need to be given a chance to succeed. “The three of us needed someone to give us a chance when we started Amabubesi and I know how hard it is in SA to get a foothold when no one knows your surname,” he says.
Taking calculated risks reaps rewards, however. “An entrepreneur in telecoms came to us the other day and put forward a compelling case. I said to my colleagues: ‘This guy is an entrepreneur, all that he doesn’t have is a name that is known; let’s invest in him.’ He now deals with MTN, Ericsson, he’s here, he’s in Uganda, he’s running a successful business.”
It’s this kind of case that excites Ntsaluba: not only is the company rewarded for its investment, he also gets to be part of the success of another local business. About the future, Ntsaluba says: “South Africa has done well for me and I am grateful. From a personal point of view, I would like to give something back, especially to my community in the rural Eastern Cape.”And the future of the country? “It is bright!” he enthuses. With people like him around, how can it be anything else?
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