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3 Core Lessons From Afrizan On Building A Better Business With Smarter Recruitment

Recruitment experts Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi believe the future of your business’s success lies in whether you’re treating recruitment as a strategic imperative, and if you’re upskilling your employees (even if they’re going to take those skills with them when they leave).

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  • Company: Afrizan, a business unit of Persaf Holdings
  • Launched: 2001 (purchased from previous owner)
  • Turnover:  Group turnover is R150 million
  • Visit: afrizan.co.za

Between 2001 and 2007, Afrizan’s turnover was in the R12 million to R15 million range. Today the group as a whole is a R150 million business, and continues to grow. Why? Because it focused on a niche. “When you focus you can really become the expert in your field,” explains Elvira Riccardi.

“For us, we recognised that South Africa needed a recruitment agency that specialises in affirmative action. This wasn’t driven by altruistic or political motivations — it’s an economic imperative.”

The company’s growth over the past ten years demonstrates how well this specialisation has worked. More importantly, the lessons that Afrizan has accrued as specialists in the field sourcing for industry leaders in finance, insurance and banking are valuable insights into how you can get the most from your scarcest and most valuable resource: Your people. Here are their three core lessons in building a better business through smarter recruitment.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

1. Recruitment and skills development are economic imperatives

“I have an economics background, and I’m passionate about transformation,” says Elvira. “Our focus tends towards top-down solutions only. If we’re going to grow South Africa’s economy, we need to see bottom up transformation, as well. If we transform South Africa’s workforce, we will transform the economy.”

This isn’t just transformation rhetoric for Elvira — there’s a strong business case for every company in South Africa to get on board. “If you’re interested in long-term growth, upskilling is an imperative,” agrees Donna Silver.

“Companies have the view that if you spend money upskilling your employees, they’ll leave and take their skills with them, and someone else will benefit from your investment. Our question is this: Are you in this for the short-term or long-haul? Because if you’re focused on the future of your business, then the economics are simple — increase supply and the salary/skill variances will stabilise; not over decades, but in a few short years. At the moment, skill shortages mean paying a premium for scarce skills. Increase skills, and salaries will become more realistic.”

Elvira and Donna have seen first-hand through the Cadet Academy, Afrizan’s youth development vehicle, how teaching and training can make an impact on the workforce, salaries and the economy as a whole.

“The current reality is that corporates go to universities and all compete to scoop up the top performing graduates. They’re competing with each other and international companies, and once those grads have obtained some experience in the workplace, they are head-hunted again by competing firms,” says Elvira.

But there is a solution. “The workplace doesn’t currently need another person with an over-subscribed degree, but we have learnt that the right degree from the right institution is a reliable predictor of ability,” she continues.

“The phenomenal success of our Cadet Academy proves this theory. We’ve placed over 1 000 cadets who didn’t necessarily have the requisite experience or a relevant degree and found that a graduate will often learn more in three months than a non-degreed person will learn on the job in five years — even if their degree isn’t necessarily related to the industry they’ve joined.”

“The academy channels cadets into admin-intensive roles that function as incubators,” Donna continues. “If you find a cadet with the right attitude, they are learning the business from the ground up. They get to know the brand, and, with the right attitude, are promoted. We only hire graduates who see the opportunity in joining an organisation in an entry-level position.”

Afrizan is convinced of the benefit of a developmental focus. “There are currently less than 50 black female actuaries in South Africa, but the needle is moving all the time,” says Elvira. “Female chartered accountants used to be a scarce commodity, now it’s a position that’s no longer on the scarce skills list. Things change. But you need to constantly work at it, and everyone benefits.”

One of Afrizan’s cadets is now head of graduate recruitment at a leading media house. “She drove here from Bethlehem to interview for our cadet programme. Her mother had to drive back to pick up her things when we offered her the job. She was willing and eager to start immediately. That’s the calibre of people we find through this programme, and they’re a great asset to their employers.”

2. Recruitment is strategic, not operational

afrizan

One of the biggest errors businesses make, according to Donna and Elvira, is treating recruitment as an operational function, instead of a strategic one. Although driven by operations, it shouldn’t originate at an operational level.

“Recruitment and marketing should work hand in hand, and it should absolutely be at the centre of every company’s strategy,” says Elvira. “As a business, you’re competing for skills and clients — every person who walks through your doors is potentially both. What is your strategy to attract the best, keep them, and ensure that you not only have a strong employer brand, but a brand that customers want to support?

“How you treat people, from those you’ve employed to people who you’re interviewing, all interlinks in the market place with your customer pool. Your employees are future customers, and they can either be brand ambassadors in the market place, or spreading discontent based on how they and their colleagues were, or are treated. Your market cares about how your employees are treated, and your employees can directly impact customer goodwill.”

In order to achieve this, Donna and Elvira believe that businesses need to start by changing their corporate vision, mission and identity. “This all speaks to how you meet people, mentor them and grow them,” says Elvira. “Get this right and it will absolutely impact your bottom line. Where’s the result? What did you achieve? It’s a business objective — so is it filtering down? The future is skill. Your business’s growth depends on it, so are you finding the right skills, growing them and nurturing them? Because that’s your competitive edge when no-one else is doing it.”

Donna and Elvira believe the most successful businesses must have a strategy parallel to skills development. “Hire the best and most skilled, and in addition develop internally, and grow your industry and business,” says Donna. “For the first three years many of the people you train and upskill will be stolen, sure. But by then there will be new skilled individuals in the market, you can concentrate on hiring again, and salaries won’t continue to be driven up by scarce skills.”

There’s an added benefit to this strategy too. “Consider what this is doing for your brand in the meantime,” says Donna. “You’re earning BEE points, plus you’re developing a robust training policy that you can use to keep your employees by agreeing to payment terms if they leave the company within a stipulated time frame. You’re also building a good employer brand known for having and training the best people in the industry that all your competitors are trying to poach. People will always feel brand affinity for a company that upskilled them, even if they leave — and they’re sharing that affinity with their friends and family — your potential customers. It’s a simple sustainability strategy, and you’re training people into your culture, systems and processes.”

Elvira agrees. “We’re not focused enough on development. It’s perceived as a cost. So many companies view this as a negative, and so people aren’t trained or retained. Top executives agree that to survive today you need skills, but that doesn’t filter down through the organisation. Procurement and learning and development just tick boxes. And the result is that you miss out on a real strategic differentiator.

“What we’ve experienced in the market is that too many businesses don’t have enough respect for recruitment. What is your recruiter doing, whether they’re internal or an agency? They are procuring a valuable skill. This should be viewed as a selling opportunity. Depending on their skill level, you aren’t doing candidates a favour — you want to attract them. Does your ethos support that?

“Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe, and yet they’re not given nearly enough strategic focus — not in recruiting them, upskilling them, or keeping them.”

3. Use the skills development levy to your advantage

The new BEE Codes of Good Practice came into operation in May 2015 and included significant changes in terms of skills development. The target for spend increased from 3% to 6% of the leviable amount (your annual payroll). Donna and Elvira have seen a shift in the market because of this B-BBEE qualification. It’s working — but are companies making the most of it?

“Procurement will drive BEE, because it’s a mandate” says Donna, “This means businesses bring learners in, but too often they are under-utilised because we are too busy to train them. This is just one instance where you could be using a mandate as a competitive edge, instead of just ticking a box.

Related: The Key To Hiring The Best Employees

“Not only do you get points for training people, but if you keep those learners and employ them, you get five bonus points. SMEs through to corporates qualify for these points, and it’s an excellent way for SMEs that are not majority black-owned, in particular, to reach level 2, 3 or 4 status.

“What are you doing to achieve this in your business? Essentially, you just need to focus on creating skills that you need anyway. This shouldn’t be a grudge spend. It’s a real business solution.”


TOP TIPS

Interviewing for success

Here are Donna and Elvira’s top tips for interviewing — and hiring — the best candidates for your business.

  1. Red flags. One of our favourite questions is ‘Tell me about when you missed a deadline.’ It’s an immediate red flag if they say they never have; either they’re lying or they’re not accountable. We’re looking for an answer that says they had an issue, what that issue was, that they recognised it, and how they found a solution — solution and accountability are key. We’ve found that a person’s belief system dictates how they answer this. Everyone believes they’re right. No one is trying to give you a terrible answer, but what they say gives you real insight into their beliefs.
  2. Uncover values. There’s one sentence that will also give you huge insight into your candidate and their values: ‘What’s the one thing your parents said to you that you will always remember?’
  3. Hire for attitude. Look for phrases like ‘I’m prepared to do anything,’ and ‘any work experience is positive’. You’re looking for candidates ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and build their careers — even if it’s from the ground up.
  4. Find motivators. One strategy that will reveal how determined a candidate is to join your organisation and to prove themselves is to offer a lower salary with potential for growth.
  5. People don’t change. Interviewing is a psychological science. Past behaviour is absolutely a predictor of future behaviour, so you want to uncover that past behaviour. People change, but you can’t change a person’s wiring. People may grow and mature, but there are fundamental behaviours that won’t change. If you’re always late, you’ll likely always be late, for example.
  6. In control. As recruiters, we’ve found our biggest successes are often the children of entrepreneurs, because they’ve learnt that they are the architects of their own destiny.
  7. Interviewing is a skill. Most managers aren’t good interviewers; it’s not a skill that’s been practised or that they’re focused on. It’s not what they do. They are specialists in their fields. If you’re a manager or business owner interviewing people, think through your questions and interview process carefully, and upskill yourself. In other words, take it seriously. This is the foundation of your entire staff strategy and complement.
  8. Use technology. Technology can make the whole process easier, particularly if you are stretched for time. Spend time designing questions and then get someone else to ask them. Video each interview, watch the interviews in your own time, and then select the top candidates for face-to-face interviews.
  9. People lie. Don’t rely on CVs or take them at face value. People lie. One of the most common issues we see is people who take the job spec of the position they’re applying for, and copy and paste it into their CVs. They’re not truly representing themselves, they’re just trying to be what the company says it needs. This makes the interview particularly important. People make up stories, and if you don’t know how to interview, it’s not always easy to catch them out.
  10. Use references. Make sure you have qualifying questions to double check everything interviewees claim to know. One of the best ways to still do this is through reference checks. Many people think reference checks are a waste of time, but they’re actually your greatest tool — if you ask the right questions. Be direct. Don’t ask open-ended questions. We think people won’t say bad things about someone else, but they also won’t put their credibility on the line. If you state what the job entails, and if the candidate can deliver, that’s a yes or no question. Ask for an example of what they have delivered based on specific requirements. In particular, ask the question ‘If you were going to develop the candidate, what would be your recommendation?’ You’re not looking for a negative answer, but it will give you insight.

KEY INSIGHTS

Skills shortages are driving up salaries — if you want to compete in the future, upskill now

You might invest in employees who leave, but if upskilling is integral to your long-term growth strategies, you’ll not only increase the pool of skills in your industry, you’ll become known as the company in your sector with the most skilled employees (that everyone’s trying to poach and where everyone wants to work).

Recruitment is strategic, not operational

Operations drive recruitment, but the company’s focus and mandate must be determined at a

board level. Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe — are you giving them enough focus?

The skills development levy is a boon, not just a compliance issue

BEE legislation now requires that 6% of an entity’s leviable SDL salary spend (your annual salary bill) be spent on training. You can either use this to your advantage, or view it as a grudge purchase.

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Third Prize Winner Of The Workspace/MiWay Competition Shares Top Lessons Learnt

Mpho Mpatane recently won third prize in The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance Entrepreneur Competition. Her company supplies general and women-specific protective personal equipment and clothing in the mining and construction industries. This is her story.

Entrepreneur

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Two months ago, I won third prize in an entrepreneur competition. It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever undergone, as it ran over a seven-month period. Minatlou was the only start-up in the top 10 finalists and mentally, I had to motivate myself daily to keep going, and to keep growing.

I’ll be honest: It wasn’t easy. I relied on family and friends to keep me motivated. There were times I doubted myself but then I would get a phone call from my dad asking me how business was going… and then I would snap out of my doubting space, get refreshed energy and get back into my competitive mentality space.

Lessons Learned On The Start-up Journey

In retrospect, the lessons I learned on this journey are invaluable. I learned that in business there are certain steps you cannot skip or try to cut corners in order to try and move ahead. As an entrepreneur, you constantly have to work on the business itself and also for the business. You must have your house in order before you invite other people to come and visit. I know now that one must be willing to learn and once you have learned, put those lessons into action.

Before The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance, I was focused on setting up the business; I was not big about marketing or social media. So now I know that in order to have the right people know about my business, I must reach out to them and not rely on word of mouth only to create a sustainable client base.

Right now I am busy changing my company name, from Minatlou 251 to Phepha Solutions Group, and after that first step, I will create a social media presence, a brochure and an online presence such as a website. I’m also creating a small clothing line for corporates to see the calibre of our out of the box designs of corporate uniform and our standard of manufacturing.

Assistance From Winning The Competition

What’s amazing is that The Workspace has come forward to assist me where possible and as much as they can. The CEO, Mari Schourie, actually reached out to me while away on maternity leave to ask me personally what they can do to assist me in addition to what I won in the competition.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

This made me feel motivated and it also demonstrated that what I am offering is of good value and that I am going to succeed, this business is going to grow and thrive.

I won a beautiful office for a period of three months, which comes with administration support from The Workspace in Selby, with undercover parking, boardrooms to use for meetings and so much more. I have also gained a family in the process.

I won sessions with a business strategist who is helping me develop a formal strategy to move my business forward and help it grow. I have also won consultation sessions with a marketing company to help me grow my business and help me have a proper marketing plan in place plus help me improve on my sales. I won services of a cash flow specialist to help me in that area. My prizes are priceless and what I love the most is the fact that they are helping me build and strengthen my business from within.

My Next Steps

In the short-term, I’m working hard to add at least six retainer clients to our books, gain entry into the highly competitive mining industry and manufacture for them as well. I want to boost sales and get more clients. Proper brand awareness and getting industry related accreditation is on the cards, as is renovating our factory.

In the longer term, I now have a five-year plan, with goals and steps along the way. The next five years will be about growth and scale if possible. I want to be able to do cross border transactions and also export our merchandise to Africa, starting in the Southern parts and expanding slowly.

So yes, I have had to work incredibly hard, but the most comforting fact is that I am not on my own. I have support at my back and mentors challenging me to grow and develop. This period of time has been the most brilliant period of learning and growing in my entrepreneurial journey so far.

Top Tips For Entrepreneurs

To all those entrepreneurs in South Africa working their tails off to succeed, these are the lessons I have taken to heart:

  • Be bold. Take chances.
  • Do research and always try to stay ahead of your competitors.
  • Try to have fun, enjoy what you do.
  • Have passion and be willing to work hard for what you do, people will believe in your vision.
  • Be honest in your business dealings, if you can’t deliver on your promise for any reason inform the client and do your utmost to correct the challenge, don’t lie.
  • Be willing to learn, invest in your own knowledge base. Expand your thinking, explore, and ask questions.
  • Be willing to help other upcoming entrepreneurs. Share information with them, as they don’t have to struggle long and hard like you did. This will help with the development of sustainable businesses and a better quality of future entrepreneurs.

Note: To celebrate their first-of its-kind collaboration at Village Road, The Workspace and MiWay ran a competition for South Africa’s entrepreneurs that saw the winner/s given a major advantage to further grow their business. The Workspace and MiWay joined forces at The Workspace premises in Village Road, Selby where they have launched an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

5 Crucial Start-up Lessons From Sibongile Manganyi-Rath Founder Of Indigo Kulani Group

Sibongile Manganyi-Rath quit her corporate job at 26 and established infrastructure and real estate development company Indigo Kulani Group. Today her business has expanded to include IKG Start-up Capital, which is dedicated to creating world class entrepreneurs throughout the African continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
  • Company: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
  • Established: 2006
  • Turnover: Over R100 million
  • Visit: indigo-group.co.za

Being born into an entrepreneurial family didn’t immediately lead Sibongile Manganyi-Rath down the self-employment path. “My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” recalls Sibongile. “He had a small business in Soweto where he sold used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”

It was the early exposure of working in her late father’s small businesses that taught Sibongile the crucial principles and values that have helped her build the successful business that Indigo Kulani Group is today.

Here are her start-up lessons:

Lesson 1: Starting small doesn’t mean staying small

I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up in a family that was considered financially and materially poor. The fundamental principles my father taught me of running a small operation — such as financial discipline, hard work, sacrifice and persistence — were extremely valuable.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

I learnt the importance of customer service when I was 12 years old and ran one of my father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. I had to observe why our sales were declining or increasing and each evening I had to report the daily revenue to my father. It was often in the region of R150 per day. I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls.

At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company.

Lesson 2: Passion for what you do is vital for a start-up, but it also carries you through the hard times

It is my belief that even in the era of digitisation, there are still fundamental principles about business that will not change. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand their market and the needs that they are addressing. You need to have a strategy that continues to evolve with the needs of your customers, particularly in our current digital era where needs of the customers change very rapidly through the options that they are presented with.

Passion gets you through the loss-making period, often referred as the ‘valley of death’. It’s during this time where your passion gives you courage to persist.

Financial literacy and discipline in working capital management is important because at this stage the business needs a lot of growth capital to generate more revenue before the start-up can reach a break-even stage and make profits.

Lesson 3: Collaboration and partnerships are vital

It’s my passion for what I do that gave me the courage to build a company that seeks to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. We make a positive contribution to our society through our various infrastructure projects, including delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas.

We have also been involved in building and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities. The passion to extend this positive impact fuelled the growth of the company where my partners and teams come from very diverse backgrounds — ranging from investment banking, engineering, project management, healthcare and education — to ensure that our services to our clients offer a holistic approach.

However to succeed in this, entrepreneurs need to understand that collaboration and partnerships are important. Empires are not built by individuals but take a collective mindset with a single vision.

Lesson 4: Aim for profitable growth through bold inspirational leadership

  • Our holistic approach to the sector in which we operate has not only been beneficial in offering our clients an integrated service, but being a multi-disciplinary services company also gives us access to diverse clients and revenue streams.
  • Our company’s business model is ‘intrapreneurial’. A divisional organisational structure ensures quick decision-making and response to market.
  • We have highly skilled individuals, and our overheads are cross-subsidised by complementary skills sets across projects. We remain profitable by managing our resources cost-effectively.
  • Most importantly, we manage our resources weekly through EXCOM and reporting.
  • Incentives are critical and linked to project performance and achievement of targeted revenue and profitability, managed through quarterly performance reviews and targets reviews.
  • Inspirational leadership means leading by example. This inspires the collective that achieves its strategic objectives.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

Lesson 5: There is always someone out there trying to beat you at your game and take away your customers

Knowledge about your customer is fundamental because without your customers you have no business. Integration of technology into your business enables you to understand how customers use your services and products, which offers key insight into your customers’ needs.

This building of digital customer relationships provides your business with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in the tough market we operate in today. I still embrace the physical human relationship where I stay close to my customers and ensure that I understand what is troubling them and how they can be better served.


Sibongile’s game-changing advice for budding entrepreneurs

Keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible. Collaborate with other people, find advisors that don’t cost you money. Talk to venture capitalist and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.

Nicole Crampton

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Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order

  1. Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
  2. Charlotte Aubin
  3. Rapelang Rabana
  4. Lynn Baker
  5. Dylan Kohlstädt
  6. Noli Mini
  7. Stacey Brewer
  8. Nonkuthalo Thithi
  9. Daniella Shapiro
  10. Xoliswa Daku
  11. Lorren Barham
  12. Allegro Dinkwanyane
  13. Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  14. Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
  15. Michelle Royston
  16. Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  17. Magda Wierzycka
  18. Jennifer Da Mata
  19. Thuli Magubane
  20. Tracy Kruger
  21. Monalisa Zwambila
  22. Keri Stroebel
  23. Claire Reid
  24. Ramona Kasavan
  25. Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
  26. Donna Rachelson
  27. Mahadi Granier
  28. Liesl Esau
  29. Prudence Spratt
  30. Joyce Mnguni
  31. Janine Starkey
  32. Shamila Ramjawan
  33. Busi Skenjana
  34. Benji Coetzee
  35. Jerusha Govender
  36. Lauren Edwards
  37. Ouma Tema
  38. Annabel Biggar-David
  39. Jennifer Glodik
  40. Ntsoaki Phali
  41. Tara-Lee de Wit
  42. Kim Coppen-Watkins
  43. Mogau Seshoene
  44. Andy Golding
  45. Lien Potgieter
  46. Ezlyn Barends
  47. Rabia Ghoor
  48. Katy Valentine
  49. Leah Molatseli
  50. Lynette Ntuli 

“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.

The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.

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