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Women Entrepreneur Successes

WOA Fuels & Oils: Pria Hassan

A female entrepreneur takes on the highly competitive and male-dominated fuels and energy sector, and comes out on top.

Juliet Pitman



Pria Hassan

Vital stats

Player: Pria Hassan

Company: WOA Fuels & Oils

Launched: 2007 (Holding company WOA Investments started in 2005)

Contact: +27 (0)31 563 0502,

Pria Hassan is used to obstacles, which is not surprising when you consider the industry in which she’s chosen to operate. CEO of WOA Fuels and Oils, which specialises in the supply and delivery of petroleum and petroleum related products to a wide range of business sectors, Hassan is one of a very tiny minority of women in the notoriously closed, highly-competitive, often shady and entirely male-dominated fuels and energy sector. In the four years since the company’s inception, she’s had to deal with gender-based prejudice, the struggle of convincing banks to finance her venture, expectations of kick-backs and what can only be described as frankly uncompetitive behaviour.

But Hassan is not a woman to be kept down. “The more people who expected me to fail or told me I couldn’t make it, the angrier I got and the more determined I became to operate in this sector – successfully and ethically,” she says. Founder of investment holding company Women of Africa (WOA), which has interests in the logistics, facilities management, property, technology and motor industries, Hassan only got into the fuels and oils business in order to service WOA Logistics.

Overcoming start-up challenges

“WOA Fuels and Oils was really started as an internal support division to curb the very high fuel costs of our logistics business. In South Africa, fuel costs are twice as high for logistics as they are in any other country, and we realised that if we could get into the business we could supply product to our own division and curtail costs,” she explains.

The barriers to entry, however, are high and usually enough to convince most people that this is an industry left well alone. “It’s such a closed community. Fuel companies favour certain wholesalers, making it very difficult to compete,” Hassan explains. As a start-up and new entrant she had to quickly familiarise herself with fuel pricing and market dynamics, and ensure that she had the right supply at the right time. And then of course, there’s financing.

Securing capital

“You need capital to compete in this game, and you need enough to buy the product, sell it at a competitive price and manage cash flow while you’re waiting to be paid,” says Hassan. To be precise, she needed R1 million in capital to get WOA Fuels and Oils off the ground. It’s a big ask for any entrepreneur, but as a women in the energy sector, Hassan faced additional hurdles. “The fact remains that many of the decision-makers in the financial services industry are men, and many of them still believe that women run businesses based on emotion. I had to work so hard to prove that I knew my stuff and that my business case was sound, and based on numbers and hard facts,” she says.

But she also counts herself lucky in her relationship with Absa Bank, from which she eventually secured the loan. “It took an incredible amount of perseverance. I realised that, when you’re asking for money, you can’t just give up after the second or third ‘no’. I wrote letters to almost every top decision-maker I could think of, stating my business case and outlining why I should be granted the loan. It took a lot of effort but eventually it paid off, and for entrepreneurs, that’s what counts.”

Toughening up

Hassan comes across the same gender-based scepticism on countless occasions, but she deals with it with a brand of self-assured aplomb that can only come from knowing you know your stuff.

“I learned pretty quickly that when you open your mouth as a woman in a male-dominated industry, you’d better make sure you know what you’re talking about. When you do, you’d be surprised how quickly you earn respect,” she says. Nevertheless, she learned to develop a thick skin and broad shoulders. “This industry is tough and I’ve had to become aggressive and forceful to show that I mean business,” she says.

But while she may have adapted in order to compete, one thing she won’t compromise on is integrity. “Unfortunately back-handers are a feature of this industry, and for me, that’s a line I was never willing to cross, no matter how it might have helped my business. One of the things I am most proud of is that I can say we got to where we are today with our ethics and integrity intact.”

Gaining recognition

Earlier this year Hassan, in her capacity as CEO of WOA Fuels & Oils, won the Metropolitan Oliver Empowerment Award for the Top Black Female Entrepreneur, and was recently nominated for the Islamic Finance Business Awards.

Although relatively new, the company has made good inroads into the industry, leveraging off the vast business network that WOA Investments has forged over the years. Its core business clients include various government departments and parastatals. The company has managed to control the cost of getting the product to the customer (a significant component of the fuel price), through major rail accounts that allow it to move product into Africa, and through partnerships with road transporters.

Looking to new opportunities

With her market position firmly established, Hassan is always on the look-out for new opportunities. In January 2012, she will be launching WOA Pharmaceuticals, which has similar ‘accidental’ origins to the Fuels and Oils division. “As part of our CSI focus, we were delivering kits into African countries to combat HIV, TB, malaria and cervical cancer. Doing so made us realise the enormous need amongst African women, and there was a strong desire in the market to purchase the kits on a commercial basis,” she explains.

With that will come a whole new set of challenges, but Hassan has proved herself more than up to the task.

Hassan’s advice to entrepreneurs

  1. When trying to access finance, it’s critical that you convince your bank to buy into you as much as into your business concept. You have to convince them that you will make good on any debt you incur and that you’re the kind of person who can make the business idea work.
  2. Understanding a new industry is critical but it doesn’t come from reading books. Immerse yourself in organisations that focus on the sector and network, network, network.
  3. In any tough industry, be prepared to hone your political skills. You’ll need to draw on them to lobby.
  4. No matter what the temptation, run your business in such a way that there can be no comebacks regarding your integrity. It’s not always easy, but you won’t regret it.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


Women Entrepreneur Successes

VP Of SAB and AB InBev Doreen Kosi Explains What Drives Success

When SABMiller and AB InBev merged in 2016, two organisations known for exceptional systems, processes and a winning attitude became one. Incredible growth and an enduring long-term vision are proof that the right culture can go a long way. Doreen Kosi unpacks the personal success mindset that drew her to SAB, and reveals what it means to be a part of a winning team.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Player: Doreen Kosi
  • Company: SAB and AB InBev
  • Position: Vice President: Legal & Corporate Affairs — SAB and AB InBev, Africa Zone
  • Visit:;

Anything is possible

If you put your mind to it and ask for help when in doubt, you can achieve any goal you set for yourself. As a leader, you don’t need to always have all the answers. That’s why we build strong teams made up of specialists in their fields; we all need to learn from each other. I’ve found it’s important to steer your team, but also to be led when necessary. Ultimately, real success is achieved when we work collaboratively.

Quick collaborations build solutions-orientated teams

doreen-kosiSAB/AB InBev has an open plan office culture. As an exco member, I don’t have an office, I have a desk. In my previous positions, I’d arrive at my office, close the door and start working. Since joining this organisation, I’ve realised how collaborative it is to work in an open plan environment. Instead of sending emails to discuss setting up meetings, you can address an issue then and there, in five minutes, and find a solution. It encourages team members to reach out, share thoughts and ideas, find solutions, make immediate decisions and move on to the next challenge or task.

Related: 15 Wise Insights From 15 Entrepreneurial Icons

Partnerships drive success

Beyond your own organisation, when you work with the collective you stand a better chance of succeeding. More minds are better than one because they bring about diversity of ideas and ways of doing things. Surround yourself with positive people and support them as well.

When you build partnerships between corporates and SMEs, you increase the chances of leveraging off one another, learning lessons, sharing risks and driving shared success and growth. When you all grow together, your impact on job creation and improving lives increases. But, it’s important to take ownership and be accountable for your own actions and results. When you do this, you have a collective commitment to improve the lives of more people in more communities, and also to build communities by developing people and creating authentic and sustainable jobs that can be measured.

Top players encourage best-of-breed behaviour

When everyone is working side by side, and you have an office full of top performers, the bar is constantly being raised. You’re exposed to best practice and you start shaping your own behaviour accordingly. Don’t hide your stars. Expose their way of thinking and doing things to everyone around them. Pay attention to what top performers are doing around you as well — what can you learn from them, and how can you adjust your own style to get more done?

Top performers are drawn to winners

Long ago SAB and AB InBev made the decision to focus on cultivating a winning culture, and it’s worked. This is a company of winners and owners. It’s a place where results and personal goals are aligned. There’s an overriding culture that if you’re focused on results and have personal accountability, you cannot fail. There’s a huge amount of focused energy when you walk through the doors of any SAB/AB InBev office around the world, and it’s because of this. When you create an organisation of winners, other winners want to join you.

The result is a team of high performers drawn to each other, all pushing each other to greater heights. If you don’t accept mediocrity, if you’re driven by the exceptional, and you build your teams with people who hold the same values, eventually, you’ll attract more of the same individuals.

Related: A Great Time To Be A Woman In Business

Understand your personal philosophy and live by it

ab-inbevIf you want to build a team of winners, or join one, you need to be disciplined in your goals. You need to strive to manage yourself well in all aspects of your life, and to be emotionally intelligent. I have a dual philosophy I live by. Make decisions, stick by them and live with the consequences; and ‘lift others as you climb’. This isn’t my original quote, but I believe in it strongly.

Hand-in-hand with self-discipline is resilience

One fundamental truth that experience has taught me is that successful professionals and entrepreneurs are resilient and not shy to get up when they fall. They pull themselves together and start over again, no matter how many times they fail. Never give up. The less successful are those who give up when things get tough.

Believe in yourself

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The one pulls people towards you, the other is a turn-off, so be careful how you build and embrace your confidence, but whatever you do, believe in yourself. To the point above, it’s how those who fail get back up and try again. Understand your worth. Never sell yourself short. Self-motivation is key. I think it’s clear that I believe in the value of teams and partnerships, but you can’t add value to a team if you aren’t confident in your worth and what you bring to the table. Confidence also opens up many possibilities.

When you’re confident, the possibility of people warming up to you and being open to supporting you are very high. And don’t forget: Success is hard work. Work hard, be authentic, persist and develop a thick skin. Things won’t always go your way.

Personal growth is key if you want to be successful

Never stop learning. If you can, learn something new every day. Concern yourself with what is going on in your surroundings and recognise the phenomenon of global citizenship. SAB/AB InBev has such an incredible growth and innovation culture that we drive within the organistion, but ultimately it starts with the individual. For example, we have a global Best Practice Programme.

Any team can submit a ‘best practice’ solution, and if it’s tested and is better than the current solution, it will be rolled out across the organisation. It means we are all constantly looking for ways to improve our systems and processes, we focus on innovations, and we’re competitive. But most importantly, you can’t develop best practice solutions if you aren’t personally focused on growth. The two go hand-in-hand. We learn all the time.

Knowledge evolves and we cannot stop the hands of time. Networking opens new possibilities and ideas and builds contacts from which you could benefit. When your networks expand, you have a bigger pool of resources and support. This works for both individuals and entrepreneurs.

Related: Before Time In Soweto – The Décor Hire And Catering Entrepreneurs That Are Growing Their Business Annually

Simple steps to successful entrepreneurship

Doreen offers her top tips for building a successful career and business:

  • Define your own success and become a champion of your own dreams.
  • Clarity breeds action. Identify what you want to do. Do a proper due diligence of the market and identify gaps carefully before you start up. Have a clear idea of how you want to close those gaps and convert your idea into a bankable business idea.
  • Keep your idea simple and do not shy away from repeating the same actions until success is imminent.
  • Have the courage to get started. You might not get everything right but do start anyway because unsuccessful aspirant entrepreneurs fail, along with their ideas, for fear of acting on their dreams.
  • Have a game plan: Be realistic about your idea and craft a solid strategy around it before execution.
  • Map out a measurable execution roadmap and keep it in constant check.
  • Focus: Do not become distracted at all costs.
  • Always go back to basics and ensure constant relevance of your plan. Use the time to ensure that you are ready to adapt when the need arises.
  • Recognise stumbling blocks and understand them for what they really are.
  • Use your fear to your advantage: Embrace your fear because it will take you out of your comfort zone.
  • Find positives in negatives and work on them to reach your success.
  • Be ethical and fair in your dealings with others.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Relax Spas Founder Noli Mini Shares Her Insights On Building A Business Of Value

While Relax Spas is all about rest and relaxation, the business itself is the product of hard work. Founder Noli Mini explains how she got her unique business idea off the ground.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Noli Mini
  • Company: Relax Spas
  • Founded: 2010
  • About: Noli Mini started in 2010 as a ‘mobile spa therapist’, going to different hotels and offering mobile spa treatments. The concept has evolved and Noli has set up bases, including two spa suites, at various hotels and guest houses.  An additional aspect of Relax Spas’ offering is to provide spa treatments at corporate offices and on corporate wellness days. She also has her own range of massage oils and is introducing her own brand of beauty and skincare products. To complete the circle, Noli will soon be launching her beauty and spa training institute.
  • Visit:

Previous experience in an industry is key

Working in an industry before launching your own operation is crucial, since it provides you with the understanding and expertise needed to successfully launch your own business. By working in other businesses first, you gain a realistic idea of what the industry is like. You also experience different environments.

You see what works, and what doesn’t. You can cherry pick from different companies and create an organisation and culture that will work for you.

Related: Noli Mini – The Full Beauty, Wellness And Entrepreneurship Package To Keep An Eye On

Know what you’re getting yourself into

Passion and a fun business idea are important, but you also need to understand the basics of launching a company.

  • How easy will it be to develop your product or idea?
  • How will you market it?
  • What sort of financial controls will you put in place?
  • What regulations must you comply with in your industry?
  • Are any licences required? What are the labour laws?

These are all questions you need to be able to answer before launching.

Build a good team around you

The combined effort of a team is almost always greater than the sum of individual contributions. Find people that can complement your skillset and bring tools to the table that you don’t have. Improving your business acumen and knowledge is important, for instance, but you don’t necessarily need to go to university to do it.

You can also increase your knowledge by surrounding yourself with the right people, particularly mentors who can guide you in both a personal and business capacity.

Create a buzz around your business by sharing your story

People love hearing stories, and I believe that just about every start-up has a great story to tell. Offering to write free editorial content for magazines is a great way to do it. Another is to speak at conferences. These strategies require effort, but they can greatly increase your reach and position you as a thought leader in your industry.

Use every single opportunity you get to market your business

You need to live and breathe your brand. Marketing is about more than spending money. You can market your business by sponsoring charity walks, wellness events and golf days in your community. Collaboration is another good strategy. There’s no better way of building a business than to get out there and shake some hands. You need to get to know people. Also, be authentic in your networking so that people get to see and know the real you.

Related: Before Time In Soweto – The Décor Hire And Catering Entrepreneurs That Are Growing Their Business Annually

Build relationships

Establishing strong relationships with your clients and business partners is of paramount importance. One way you can do this is by face to face weekly or monthly visits, depending on the demographics of your business. Another way is by keeping in touch using email or telephonically. Remember, human interaction is key. People love feeling appreciated. Also, remember that customer service is important, as a person will usually base his or her entire opinion of a business on a handful of personal interactions. So, you need to make sure that those interactions are positive. It’s all too easy to lose a customer forever.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Rapelang Rabana’s Innovation Formula – 3 Key Ingredients To Innovate

To be a success in today’s fast paced world, you need innovation at the heart of everything you do.

Nadine Todd




The innovation formula is simple: According to tech entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, innovation is at its best and greatest when it’s sourced from your unique perspective and accumulated wisdom, combined with shared value and execution.

At this year’s BCX Disrupt Summit, Rapelang broke the process down into the three key ingredients that together shape innovation and success.

1. Prepare your mind

Your ability to innovate and be creative is based on the sum of all of your experiences. Great ideas do not take shape in our minds, they are the result of external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. We don’t think up ideas — we notice them. We connect the dots in new and creative ways. And our ability to do so is based on how prepared we are to notice what’s happening around us, and to tap into that information.

When asked what it takes to be great like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk had this advice to offer:

“Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

So, ask yourself this: What do you have that is so deeply compelling and needed that no one can outsource you or replace you? Until you can answer this question, keep building your mind, your abilities and your knowledge. Work on your repository, and your ability to connect the dots.

2. Create shared value

thato-kgatlhanye-bagsThato Kgatlhanye, founder of the Rethaka foundation, an organisation that creates school bags that are also solar panels, and can provide schoolgoers with energy in the evening so that they can do their homework, says that she is money-driven, business-driven, and empathetic towards her people. In other words, her business is created through shared value, and the desire to not only create money for her business, but within her communities as well.

Most successful organisations would never have been launched  if their primary focus was for the business to win. People are hungry for things that are inclusive and show positive change.

Consider Airbnb — the founders had the audacity to put a blow-up mattress in their livingroom, and believe that other people would find value in their offering. And they were right, mainly because the business model is all inclusive. The business wins, the hosts win and the customers win.

According to Nielsen, 40% more social entrepreneurs are growing compared to other SMEs, and they’re showing greater profit. In addition, people say they are more likely to purchase from ethical and sustainable businesses. The cynics might say this is what people say, not how they buy. This may be true, but it’s also a leading indicator of how we will behave in the future. We’re trying to get there, and our behaviour will catch up to the sentiment.

Always be cognisant of how responsive the market is. Learn to leverage public sentiment and get attention through the ideal of shared value. Winning with others is the fastest way to create value today.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

3. Get stuff done

When we start a project or idea, we try to project into the future. We want to draw a linear picture between now and then. The problem is that creation is far more chaotic.

Instead, minute variations over time create profound changes. It’s a journey. There are no defining moments of success or failure; just a series of events strung together over time. To make the necessary minute variations though, you need data points and you need to take action. Often this starts with just beginning. If you start, you can move forward, slowly but surely. Progress is far more evolutionary than simply trying to imagine the end.

The problem is that the mind blocks us. We essentially block ourselves from success. How? Building anything and trying to be innovative requires a series of many, many decisions made over years and years. Many of those decisions are made — or not made — from a place of fear. Our instincts tell us to do something, and then our minds stop us. The most incredible things can happen if we learn to follow our instincts though.

the-five-second-rule-mel-robbinsIn her book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins unpacks the skill of acting on your instincts. In essence, the space between your instinct and the moment of hesitation that stops you from acting is five seconds. This means you have five seconds to make things happen, and the way to utilise that time and to make things happen is to count down from five: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. At one, move. Get up, take action, call the client, speak to your boss — don’t let fear come in and crush the instinct.

Why a countdown? A countdown suspends — for a moment — the self-doubt that gives you space to move before the brain kills it. I started using the rule for small stuff at first. A countdown in the morning to get out of bed and go to gym. Then I started using it for the harder stuff, like not losing my temper. If you can be aware enough to make the countdown, you can change your behaviour.

The ability to execute and turn innovation into profit comes down to a series of five-second moments over years. Push yourself. Get past your mental blocks and act on your instinct.

Combine this with building on your knowledge, connecting the dots around you, and understanding that value is not given or taken, but is created through shared value, and you have the recipe for innovation and success.


Focus on learning new stuff

FACT: The super-successful focus heavily on learning new skills, reading practical books and listening or watching podcasts, interviews and informational courses.

Take best-selling author and leadership coach Simon Sinek, who said:

“My work is never complete, we wake up with a hunger to learn, and no one is ever truly an expert. Anyone who says, ‘I’m an expert at anything’ has closed their mind to the idea that they might not know everything. There’s always more to learn. I’ve never considered myself an expert. I’m always a student of leadership. All the work is imperfect and all the learning is continuous.”

Action Step: If you can read 20 full pages a day, or even listen to an hour-long audio/podcast, you will accumulate more than 36+ books a year of new knowledge.

Start here: If you’re not sure where to start, download the audible app ( and browse the business books available, or subscribe to podcasts. Three great places to begin are:

  • Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, a show focused on disruption and hosted by the biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin amongst others.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show, hosted by Tim Ferriss and one of the biggest podcasts on the planet.
  • Masters of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who chats to some of the worlds biggest and most successful entrepreneurs.

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