When Catherine Constantinides was in Grade1 she sold the shells of pink pistachio nuts to other students. “I’d make myparents buy and eat bags of them. I’d collect the shells and stick Prestick onthe inside of them and sell them as false nails,” she recalls, laughing. Thislittle business venture, one of many that she was to embark on throughout herlife, was a sign of things to come. It illustrates the ability that some peoplehave not only to conceive a simple money-making idea, but to put it intoaction. And if there’s anything Constantinides does well, it’s making thingshappen.
Today, she runs SA Fusion, an events, PR,publicity and branding company that she started while still in high school. Atonly 24, she has an impressive track record that includes organising the 70thbirthday of Winnie Mandela, the annual SABC Kellogg’s Kids Awards, the launch ofthe Ingrid Jonker: Her Lives and Times documentary and book and the SouthAfrican leg of the Miss Earth programme. Constantinides’ great passion is communityupliftment and SA Fusion started as a way to finance her community projectsthrough entertainment and fashion events. Soon the company took on a life ofits own; while her university peers were focusing on partying and paying thebriefest of attention to their studies, Constantinides was organising launches,small luncheons, gala dinners and fundraising projects for a range of corporateand NGO clients, while studying Law and Anthropology. Two years later shefollowed a childhood dream and launched Fashion Fusion magazine, whichshowcases South African talent in the arts, music, film and theatre industries.“I had no funding, backing or capital but I really just wanted to see ithappen. So I structured it over a year, getting people to print it and give mesix months to pay, and in the end it was a success.”
The magazine opened up doors for the eventsand publicity side of SA Fusion. “We made connections and started doinglaunches of new bands, musicians, artists, models and South African films. Thecompany started to really grow. At the same time, those people would use ourservices for the various publishing needs of their campaigns or events so wewere able to offer a complete set of services to our clients,” she says. They say that the mark of a trueentrepreneur is the ability to identify opportunities and turn them intobusinesses that create wealth. In this respect, Constantinides is a trueentrepreneur. She lists her ability to network as one ofher strongest points: “Think of all the business cards you collect in a yearand how many people that gives you access to. Most people don’t follow up withthe people they meet, but I really try to and this has opened up so many doorsfor me. Then it’s just a matter of grabbing the opportunity and running withit.”
Thinking on her feet has been anothercritical success factor. With no background knowledge in business or finance,Constantinides has had to learn everything along the way – and this has meantsome hard lessons. “I made mistakes and trusted people who I shouldn’t have,giving them ideas without making them sign certain documents and then seeingthem run with those ideas. It’s a difficult personal lesson because it knocksyour faith in people,” she relates. But such experiences have only served tomake her more street-smart: “I now consult my lawyer at any given moment!” She’s also found people’s perceptions ofher age a challenge: “No matter what my track record of success, when peoplefind out how young I am, all of the good work I have done seems not to matter.” But she’s quick to point that this isn’talways the case. The substantial growth and success of her company is due inlarge part to word-of-mouth marketing by satisfied customers. And there arethose people who have noticed her obvious ability; she’s been invited to speakat conferences including the 2004/2005 World Youth Summit at the United NationsUniversity in Tokyo and, most recently, the South African Top 100 BusinessmenAwards, where she addressed the unique challenges facing young South Africanstoday. She made such an impression that Patrice Motsepe, who was sitting at hertable that night, has become her mentor and one of her biggest supporters.Zindzi Mandela is another individual who has recognised her potential. This is not really surprising, asConstantinides’ energy and enthusiasm is infectious. “There are a million thingshappening in my head at any one time. I’ve had to learn to take a step back,absorb everything and plan. I have so many plans.” We watch with interest tosee where these will take her next.
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