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Female-Power Getting On With The Business Of Building The Nation

Dr Thandi Ndlovu of Motheo Construction on her dramatic career change that made her a powerhouse.

Standard Bank

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South Africa is a country where gender and business stereotypes are rapidly disappearing. Although it still comes as a surprise that one of the nation’s leading social housing developers with more than 75 000 units to its credit is owned, managed and run by a woman.

In fact, Motheo Construction has been breaking down stereotypes since opening its doors for business in 1997 under the leadership of Dr Thandi Ndlovu, a medical doctor who has seen the company complete projects valued at more than R5.5 billion.

With headquarters in Randburg and offices in Durban, Kimberley, East London and Johannesburg, Motheo has successfully completed building projects anywhere in the country where their skills have been required.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top

Clues of how a doctor, once schooled in Soweto, ends up running a successful construction company lie in Dr Ndlovu’s background. She is a woman of strong convictions who, when committed to a course of action, cannot be easily swayed.

While studying and acting as Secretary of the Student’s Representative Council at the University of Fort Hare in 1976, she was forced to abandon her BSc, because of the oppression that followed the Soweto student’s uprising. Her brother, Hastings, fell victim to shots fired at the students on 16 June 1976 – the same day that Hector Pieterson, a symbol of the revolt, died from the violent action.

Dr Ndlovu spent the next few years actively fighting apartheid as part of the ANC’s MK military wing, moving into exile in Angola. She undertook several tasks, including that of running literacy and education programmes, and assisting as a medical officer before moving to the USSR. Later, she moved on to Lusaka in Zambia, where she enrolled at the University of Zambia in 1984 and completed her BSc (Human Biology) and MBchB degrees, finally realising her medical ambitions.

After the regime change, she returned to South Africa and identified a need in Orange Farm informal settlement, where she set up shop as the only doctor assisting a population of about 200 000 people. And there she could have remained, living out what she describes as “her life’s work”, and educating people on the benefits of preventative and community medicine.

The event that changed the direction of her life came when she began working with local health committees, pushing for improved housing to replace the shacks that exacerbated the health problems in the area. Dr Ndlovu’s first challenge was to find suitable premises for her medical practice.

Motheo-Construction-Dr-Thandi-Ndlovu

“I found a half-built shack and began working with some men to replace it with properly built medical rooms from which I could treat people,” she recalls.

She learned a lot about building, but saw her investment rewarded as patients came from other townships to consult and admired her building and facilities.

“I read about a former MD of Premier Milling who was introducing the art of brickmaking to rural communities. After seeing what he was doing, I got excited and phoned government to find out how I could get involved in building houses for the people. Eventually, I received six large files on the processes and rules to be followed to build homes.”

Not knowing the meaning of “impossible”, Dr Ndlovu drove to Pietermaritzburg to meet with a builder, and by the end of a weekend session she knew that what they wanted could be done.

“If you could persuade a professional team to work at their own risk, it was possible to get the drawings and engineering services planned and approved. Then government would provide a subsidy that could finance the required project, and that was the birth of Motheo Construction.

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

“We began to target chiefs in rural areas of Mpumalanga who could give permission for building. I realised that we needed people of vision to assist us, so I contacted Matthews Phosa, Premier of Mpumalanga, who arranged for us to do presentations. The chiefs were fascinated by our model for building 1 000 units, as we did not only concentrate on building, but used the activity as an opportunity to train and develop people.

“We proposed coming in with a competent professional team to train people in these areas to build houses within the subsidy guidelines. Once we left, they would have the skills necessary to add rooms and improve the houses as needed.”

Phosa responded by asking her to build 10 000 houses. Political pressure and suspicion about Motheo’s model led to auditors being brought in. After a full audit, and three years later than scheduled, Motheo began their work. The medical practice in Orange Farm was sold to another doctor, and Dr Ndlovu began structuring Motheo for the future.

The result is an enterprise where women own 52% of the equity and work in the business on a daily basis. They also represent professionals ranging from quantity surveying, project management, and water and civil engineering disciplines.

“Like their male colleagues, Motheo’s women work on site in both rural and urban environments. The success of our empowerment initiatives can be measured in the achievement of the 20 Motheo Trust beneficiaries who progressed from newly qualified, inexperienced individuals to full members of Motheo. Today they manage projects and departments within the business.”

The agenda to develop and empower those with talent is undertaken by the Dr Thandi Ndlovu Children’s Foundation, which currently supports 20 orphaned and vulnerable children through their schooling and tertiary education. The Foundation covers education fees, accommodation, meals and provides the support that the children would normally have obtained from parents.

The career paths chosen by the children are as diverse as their backgrounds; they are pursuing professions as chartered accountants, musicians, chemical engineers and agricultural economists.

The development of small- to medium-sized enterprises is another passion that is served by Motheo, assisting identified companies with bridging finance, technical skills and guarantee facilities so they can undertake projects on their own account.

Going into the future with a full order book, Dr Ndlovu’s company is benefitting from her belief in investing in people and expanding their skills. Although Motheo’s activities still centre around housing, about a third of the projects they have successfully completed involve building facilities that range from the R60 million Orlando station in Soweto, rail refurbishment projects valued at R100 million to a R35 million administrative building for the eThekwini municipality.

Dr Ndlovu herself goes into the future with strong views about strengthening her own company: “This is a truly South African company. It is built on a model where everybody works together for its benefit. We are still true to our original model. We send in the professionals and work with young people to carry things forward and leave skills behind.

“Motheo believes that there is room for everybody to benefit and grow in our country,” she says.

Dr Thandi talks more on how Motheo Construction came about – watch the below video.

Visit the Standard Bank Community page more on Dr Ndlovu’s inspirational story.

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Standard Bank SA is the largest operating entity of Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest bank by assets. Standard Bank SA provides the full spectrum of financial services, with more than 720 branches and over 7 100 ATMs. Independent surveys of customer satisfaction consistently place Standard Bank at or near the top of their rankings. The personal and business banking unit offers banking and other financial services to individuals and small-to-medium enterprises. For further information, go to community.standardbank.co.za

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Executive Education Geared For Industry 4.0

The Johannesburg Business School (JBS) was established in 2017 as part of the College of Business and Economics at the University of Johannesburg.

University of Johannesburg

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JBS offers a range of innovative executive programmes, expertly designed to develop effective, ethical and enterprising African leaders. With an emphasis on contextual intelligence, leaders are equipped to successfully navigate and overcome the complexities of today’s world, while advancing the evolution of the business environment for the benefit of their organisations and society.

All programmes designed and delivered by the JBS are grounded in the African context, with a strong global connection, for disruptors, entrepreneurs and managers alike. Business with purpose and an impact on the community, increasingly part of day-to-day business in Africa, underpins what JBS represents and does.

JBS is built around three pillars:

  1. Delivering world-class business education with a focus on the African context.
  2. Designing programmes geared for Industry 4.0 and the future world of work.
  3. Providing a platform to stimulate and inform purpose-driven business practices towards a collective impact across the continent.

We are authentically African with disruption and innovation at heart

At JBS we believe higher education is vital to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ensuring that Africa becomes ‘future fit’. As such, the JBS partners with entities outside of the conventional business education space, with the idea to innovate and reinvent leadership development and education in an ever-changing business environment.

Our Executive Education portfolio provides managers and leaders with offerings that are relevant to the complex and disruptive nature of work, arming them with the skills to successfully navigate the rapidly changing business environment.

Our programmes are delivered with best in class faculty who encourage critical analysis and thinking, while emphasising contextual intelligence and conscious learning. The aim of our offerings is to advance the evolution of the business environment for the benefit of organisations and society at large.

JBS offers bespoke training programmes aligned to organisational strategic imperatives and people development frameworks. Our short courses are designed to equip entrepreneurs and leaders with functional excellence across the practice of management.

The JBS Masterclass offerings is growing in popularity and is available in cross-disciplinary fields, like Strategy, Marketing, Human Resources, Innovation, Coaching and Mentoring, to name a few. These 3-hour interactive sessions provide delegates with the latest insights and a practical view of shifting trends and their impact on business.

Visit www.jbs.ac.za for more information on upcoming programmes

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Changing The Shape Of What’s Possible

Here’s how TomTom Telematics is changing the present (and the future), and the lessons in innovation that you can learn from a game-changer.

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To be a successful company in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing market, you need three key ingredients: Access to markets (which starts with products that clients need), short-term agility and long-term goals.

Consider the epic success of Apple. Steve Jobs was hungry and fast — he drove his teams to achieve more in less time. But he also had a long-term vision that directed the business’s trajectory. True innovation is the result of looking five to ten years into the future, and laying the groundwork now for where the company needs to be then.

TomTom started out in 1991 as a software provider for Palm Pilots, long before the Internet was a thing, or GPS had been opened for civil usage. Today, the listed company’s latest acquisition is Autonomous, a business that focuses on navigation systems for driverless cars. Over the course of almost three decades, TomTom has consistently focused on what comes next: What do consumer and business clients need, where will technology take us, and what will be possible in the near future, enabling greater efficiencies?

Thomas Schmidt, MD of TomTom Telematics, unpacks the five lessons TomTom has learnt while developing world-class solutions for the consumer and B2B markets worldwide.

1. Focus on the problem you’re solving, not on the product you produce

Companies that are too fixated on what they do, instead of where technology and markets are heading, will often find themselves left behind. The most common example is Kodak, who refused to see the dangers digital photography posed. Instead of seeing themselves as a company that helped people capture moments, they saw themselves as manufacturers of films and cameras. The rest of course, is history.

Related: How TomTom Telematics Is Blurring The Lines Between Your Fleet And The Office

Robust businesses reinvent themselves, adjusting solutions to fit the market and making use of technological breakthroughs. “In 1991, the founders of TomTom launched a company called Palmtop,” says Thomas.

“They designed and created the software for digital organisers. In principle, it was like a smartphone with no connectivity, and included a digital bible, a digital cookbook, a personal organiser, a calendar and a whole host of other features. By the late 90s it even included a digital map, which they had licensed through Tele Atlas, a Belgian company that developed very basic digital maps.”

Here’s how it worked: You bought a PalmPilot, purchased the map software, uploaded it to your device, and then purchased the cables and mountings that you’d need to instal the whole system in your car. It was complicated and something that only techies were really trying out, but it triggered something in the TomTom (at that stage Palmtop) team, who recognised that if they could remove the tech hurdles to get there, they’d democratise navigation.

The company had been a forerunner in the personal organiser software business. Based on where they believed the market was heading however, they began to shift their focus to hardware, and began manufacturing personal navigation devices (PNDs), complete with digital maps licensed through Tele Atlas.

By 2003 the business had been rebranded to TomTom and their first device, the TomTom Go, was launched. From there the business consistently grew 400% year-on-year, and an IPO was concluded in May 2005.

In hindsight, the shift looks simple, but in reality, it’s never easy to reinvent yourself as a business, unless you’re agile, adaptable, and willing to focus on the best solution, rather than what your current product stack looks like.

2. Always look ahead

foresight

Great visions always precede technological solutions. If they didn’t, nothing would ever progress or change. The companies capable of those visions become the trailblazers and game-changers that shape industries, solve problems and drive greater efficiencies.

The evolution of TomTom’s dynamic map data is a perfect example of this mindset in action, because the team kept asking what would make their product more useful to consumers. They had the device, and a digital map. What they didn’t have was mobile data.

Instead, Tele Atlas had vans driving around, capturing everything. It was time consuming, expensive, and meant maps were always out of date. They also weren’t dynamic.

“When you consider the fact that 15% of a map’s data changes yearly, we knew there was so much more we could do with this product if we just had the right tools, and developed appropriate solutions,” explains Thomas.

TomTom’s team started by looking to the future: What did they want this product to look like? The answer was simple: They wanted a navigation system that was dynamic and up-to-date. If anything happened, a user would know within minutes. This would include traffic, accidents, traffic lights that weren’t working, delays — anything and everything that would add value to a motorist or business with vehicles on the road. Today, this includes data drawn from how a vehicle is operating and how the driver is performing, right through to its location with regard to a dynamic map, and the capability to send companies and clients up-to-date information.

The technology that has made all this possible came after the idea of what the team wanted to achieve. With the right starting point, they were able to develop solutions that were possible. “We had millions of units on the road. We created a functionality that allowed users to update information on the map when they plugged it into their computers to update the software.”

Related: Why Your Fleet Management Plays a Pivotal Role In Your Business

The problem was that it was a slow process. By the time TomTom gathered the data, sent it to Tele Atlas, and the changes were implemented and released in an update, months had passed. Consumers lost interest because it took so long to see a change.

So, the team went back to the problem to engineer a different solution. “We went back to the data we were collecting, and started comparing that data with the map. What were speed averages on different roads? Based on this, we could predict times of the day when you could expect traffic congestion and delays. We also paid attention to roads on the map that no one used, or areas with no roads that nevertheless had traffic. These were flagged as out-dated areas on the map, and we could send vans to check those areas only. It was all based on historical data, but we were adding more information to the map on a continuous basis.”

The next component to be added to the mix was telematics. Thomas’ company, Data Factory, was purchased by TomTom in 2005. “Telematics brought more data early on to TomTom. This was real-time data that could be deployed elsewhere. In the early days we were using trunket radios to capture data, but it was all fed into the system. An average car spends less than an hour on the road each day. Compare this to six hours for a business car, and up to 12 hours for a truck, and you’ll get a view of how much data we were actually collecting. The trick was to continuously ask how we could use the data, and what we could do with it. It was not yet a dynamic system, but we were constantly moving forward and improving. We kept asking, ‘If we had this, what could we do with it?’”

TomTom also made another decision, and offered to purchase Tele Atlas in 2008. “We recognised that the future was fresh, up-to-date data. If we owned the maps, we can streamline the process. Two different companies, even working in partnership, create a lot of delays.

“Increasing efficiencies wherever you can is in our DNA. That’s what we do for customers. And it’s why we’ve been able to offer our customers up-to-date dynamic maps that are data-rich and create a seamless customer experience.”

3. Adapt to the future

This takes the ideal of looking ahead a step further. On the one hand, looking ahead is focused on the lane you’re currently in, and envisioning how you can change customer lives. But it’s also about paying attention to how the world is changing, and what the future will bring.

TomTom is currently a software and hardware developer. The business has four divisions: TomTom Consumer, TomTom Automotive, TomTom Licensing and TomTom Telematics. In each case, hardware and software solutions are deployed to drive efficiencies and cost savings, from consumers with a TomTom device in their vehicles, cars with onboard systems designed by TomTom, telematics systems that track a business’s entire transport and logistics solution, to the map data as one of the sources for Apple’s map solution.

But TomTom is looking much further than the solutions it currently offers. “TomTom democratised navigation, and today it’s available in multiple different ways; your phone, a device, your car. We understand this and move with the times. We expect technology disruption to go on and things to change even faster in the future. Today we manufacture devices. We don’t believe we will still be doing this in the long-term future. How our solutions will be accessed will change. We are also now investing heavily in the navigation systems and maps autonomous cars will use. This isn’t a big revenue stream for us now, but it will be incredibly important in the future, and we will have solutions ready.

“To stay alive, you need to be smarter, faster and the master in your specific area of competence. At our core we bring customers, data and development together. It’s always about the best experience and solutions.”

Related: Fleet Tools Will Help You Get More Done In Less Time

4. Be fast, agile and adaptable

Even though TomTom is a listed company, its controlling shareholding rests in the hands of four people — all of whom are entrepreneurs. “TomTom’s original founders still head up the business and drive its vision, and the four different business units are run by MDs who are entrepreneurial as well,” explains Thomas, who is one of those MDs, and who by his own admission could never be a standard employee.

“Data Factory was the third business I built, and I sold it to TomTom in 2005 because I knew this was the best way to achieve international growth. 12 years later I’m still here as MD of the Telematics business because our CEO and founder, Harold Goddijn, convinced me to stay and grow the exciting business unit. The fact that we’re given so much autonomy to grow each business unit as a company makes us fast, agile and adaptable. It’s the essence of this business. We all have a fiduciary duty to our shareholders, but we also have long-term visions that allow us to be trailblazers in our industry.

“We’re not executives who begin to implement projects and then leave. We’re focused on long-term, industry changing visions that will change the way our customers operate and do business. That’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me constantly engaged and excited.”

The business is also run on a system of flat hierarchies, which Thomas believes is a key ingredient to TomTom’s success. “No single giant can know or understand everything. To remain relevant, businesses need fresh ideas, and these come from open and collaborative teams. As the leader, you don’t need to come up with all of the ideas — but you do need to be open to fresh thinking, even from your juniors. Have an open door policy, and listen to ideas when they are shared with you. That’s how you push the envelope.”

5. Give customers what they need, not what they want

customer-service

Listening to customers is important, but you also need to look beyond their current needs if you’re going to be a game- changer — both in your own industry, and in terms of what you can do for your customers.

“Take note of your customers’ pain points and deliver solutions that create value, but you can’t innovate if you only listen to what your customers want. You need to be delivering to their needs, otherwise you’re just an executor and not an innovator.

“It’s up to you to jump to the next step that they can’t see yet, and often don’t even realise is possible. Customers are focused on the now — we need to be looking five years ahead.”

How do you stay ahead of the curve though? Thomas believes it’s all about asking the right questions.

“Consider the question, ‘What if we had unlimited energy for free in the world?’ So many people stop there and don’t ask further, because it’s seen as an impossibility. And that’s what kills innovation. If you remove that obstacle, and instead look at what this would mean for the world, you can start shaping a different future.

Related: Time Is Money And It’s Time You Saved Both When Running Your Fleet

“So, what would it mean? It would mean an unlimited water supply, because we could easily make drinking water from salt water, at little to no cost. What does unlimited drinking water mean? An unlimited food supply, because water is the biggest restrictor. Once you start asking the right questions, you reach a future that you want to be a part of and make happen — and that’s when you start finding solutions.

“Solar is already doing this, at 50% of the cost of other alternatives. The latest technology delivers at 50% of the price, and it was developed because the right questions are being asked.

“This is how we operate. We are always dreaming about what we could do. This allows us to create solutions. They don’t always work, but we’re hungry, and when we fail we fail fast, learn the lessons we need and push on. We’re always heading in the right direction, and changing the shape of what’s possible.”

Visit telematics.tomtom.com/tellmemore and follow us on Twitter @TomTomWEBFLEET 

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Set Up Your SME For Success With Fibre

Boost your business potential when you plug into fibre. It offers unprecedented benefits, taking your business to the next level of connectivity.

Ignite

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More South Africans are turning to fibre for fast Internet access. We’re witnessing a boom in fibre expansion and as a result, it’s becoming a more affordable option for SMEs. Once businesses connect to fibre, they can access a reliable, ultra high-speed connection that unlocks the full advantage of cloud-based processing.

Cater to usage demands

A slow Internet connection can derail your business. It’s imperative for business owners to prepare their networks to handle additional usage requirements. Failing to do this might lead to interruptions, slowdowns and a potential impact on your bottom line. An Internet connection should be a tool that supports innovation and uninterrupted productivity.

Shift to the cloud

More businesses are accessing cloud-hosted information via Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools and other platforms. In 2018, nine out of 10 companies in South Africa said they had increased spending on cloud computing, according to a report by World Wide Worx and F5 Networks. Running your day-to-day business on the cloud requires you to have a more powerful Internet connection.

Support video and VoIP

Some businesses make use of video capabilities for training and meetings, and VoIP for sales and marketing. On a fibre line, businesses can ensure they meet these demands without putting a strain on the network. With fibre, business owners can run voice and Internet data on the same line but may look at installing a second data connection for redundancy.

Get what you pay for

There’s no denying it, fibre provides exceptional speeds and offers a brilliant price-to-performance ratio. You won’t receive the same contention ratio as other connection mediums – you will get what you pay for. Bandwidth caps are less of an issue with fibre because there’s a choice of affordable uncapped deals on offer.

Make the right choice

  • Before you decide on your fibre deal, ask the right questions, understand exactly what you’re paying for and match your business requirements with the right amount of bandwidth.
  • Choose a provider that allows you to manage growth for the long term – one that allows you to choose your deal, scale when necessary and not throttle your fibre line.
  • You’ll also want an ISP to have your back further down the line. Insist on obtaining a comprehensive list of services along with the monthly fee. Ensure you are provided with a full service including all necessary support and equipment to deliver optimal fibre performance.

Ignite’s drive and purpose is to be the spark that inspires SMEs, which is why the Ignite Fibre service is structured to put you in control. Ignite offers you tailored packages that take into account your daily Internet and business startup needs.

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