There’s a lot said about how to ‘get to the next level’ as a professional. Can you explain a little about how you initially broke through in your career to become Founding Director of your own company?
Getting to the next level of a career is something that can both be exciting and very daunting. It requires careful consideration; planning and execution. You must have a clear vision of what you want for your life then your professional career and how you progress it from one level to another is based on and guided by that. I have always been very clear that nobody owes me anything, that I had to really work hard and stay focused to push my career in the direction I wanted it to go.
There truly is no substitute for focused hard work. Building strong relationships across the board also enables you to have multiple sponsors for your career; something critical to progressing to the next level.
I had built up a lot of credibility before I left corporate to run my own company. All the above helped build a great foundation for a career as an entrepreneur and a successful businesswoman because when all is said and done; people buy from people; especially those that they know.
How has winning Veuve Clicquot ELLE Boss 2017 influenced your career path and personal life and would you encourage other women in business to enter?
This award has taken my personal brand to a level I only dreamed of. It fast-tracked so many things for me and so many opportunities have come about as a result. My business has also grown so rapidly since the award with no less than four offers to buy it from significant companies listed on the JSE. That is a great accolade for any entrepreneur; of course, I have not sold as yet.
The exposure that I have received through this platform has brought about overseas business partnerships, listed company board seats; radio shows and television showcases to name but a few. The philanthropic work that I also do has received a great showcase through these awards and I have become even more sought after for motivational talks and mentorships. Oh, did I also mention that I have been on a cover of a magazine?!
It has been such an amazing experience! I am so grateful; I really feel very privileged. I wanted to tell the next winner of the award what it is like; a mere few weeks into it. I am such a big ambassador of the awards because of what they have done for me. I absolutely encourage all deserving and qualifying women to enter. Nominate yourself or get nominated; just do it. Understand what is required and prepare for it but you simply cannot miss an opportunity like this.
As an entrepreneur, time is fleeting and there are no set working hours. How do you know when is enough and what advice would you give your younger self?
One of the biggest blessings in disguise was finding myself on the verge of burn out in my last corporate job. I have always been highly driven and constantly on the go. I always operated at high octane levels and was nothing short of a super woman. One day my body just refused to keep taking the abuse; I had to really stop and re-look my life. I had to decide what was important.
I started my own company and left corporate to run it so that I could be in charge of my own time and decide what to do with it.
In the initial stages of the business you pretty much do everything so time is very limited but I always set out to build a business that could run independently of me so that I could free up my time. I achieved that by employing the right people and putting the right processes and controls in place. I have developed great rhythm since I left corporate and my body screams when I have been over exerting myself.
I am also fortunate enough to have my three children who are my conscience. I can assure you they do not hold back. They demand what is theirs. I would definitely tell my younger self to distinguish between perfection and excellence. To me; excellence is about giving the best of your ability and accept that you cannot control everything. I now accept things I cannot change and it is so liberating.
What qualities do you believe are most important to be a leader? If these qualities did not come naturally, can you give any tips on how to cultivate them?
I am such a big believer in servant leadership. I always feel like I work for my staff; not the other way around. I care about their well-being and I put that above everything else. I cannot see it at any other way. It is a big responsibility to be a leader. You have the power the build or destroy people’s lives. You have to understand and appreciate that and hold the responsibility very dearly.
I choose to build people’s lives; at least help them to do that. I think that is a good way to start learning how to be a great leader.
Put the people first in everything you do. Understand that your success is directly correlated to their state of being. I cannot see how you can be successful as a leader if your people are miserable and feel undervalued. To be a great leader can be learned but it takes an enormous investment in self. The greatest leaders spend a lot of time doing inner work because what you carry inside shows up when you are a leader. The pressures of the job can bring about really ugly things and the same people you treasure and lead can turn on you and you have to be very mature in handling any eventuality.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
Women really were born to lead. We show this in the roles we play particularly within the family structures. We are wonderful at it. Sadly, we get to the boardroom and corporate roles and decide to be something else; something that we are not. We are nurturing and encouraging by our very nature. You must be comfortable within your own skin as a woman. Own your role in society and use the strengths innate in you to progress.
Women must understand that men are not their enemies. We are our own worst enemies.
I am not for one second suggesting that gender inequality does not exist, it does, badly so. We need to learn that you cannot win this war by opting out. You must go about it consciously and strategically. Build relationships with your male counterparts; respect them as you would your fellow species. Show compassion. Seek to support and build especially as a leader. You will soon have the following and the support you require to move up the ladder.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to have their own business?
Have a very clear vision of the life you want to live and the kind of business you want to run. What is your claim to fame? What do people know you for? Why should they buy from you? What value do you bring? Every action you take from the moment you are convinced that you want to start your own business enables that dream. Your business idea must fit into your overall life vision. Plan it and execute. Go for it! It is truly the most liberating thing ever.
Build relationships and strong networks as a general rule because once in business they are your saving grace. Relationships are the business; no matter the product or service. Trust your gut. Not everyone will get your dream; that is why it is yours; stay true to it; but; flexible enough to course correct as and when required. Find someone you trust who has walked down the same road and share ideas with them; it does not have to be full time mentorship but someone you know you can always go to when you are stuck or just need to test an approach or idea.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
It is a fact of life that we were brought up in a patriarchal society that labels women as weak and too emotional to lead. Most of us grew up within cultures where a woman’s place was at home rearing children; if they worked; they had no voice; no power and no mandate. As a result; some women believe you cannot have it all. I have also seen that women tend to disqualify themselves from big opportunities because of fear of being judged to be too ambitious. These are all the societal and mental barriers that we have had to fight off and change. Gone are those days! We are raising a very different generation.
I believe that we can have it all. We do have it all. All of that boils down to your own outlook on life. What defines your all? The buckets may not all be full at the same time; decide which bucket should always be full. What is important to you? Make the sacrifice you need to without dimming your own light. I am a great leader; an awesome businesswoman; a fabulous wife and mother. I am also many other things. I am capable of it all and I do my best in each and every one of them. What you believe is what you will become.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women to come?
I am raising the next generation and I am always in awe of their spirit. We have beaten so many odds as this generation and pushed so many boundaries to prove we are worthy of our place under the sun. We have given them so many tools and resources as well as the confidence to be whatever they want to be and to never let anyone define them. I am very proud of what I am passing on to the next generation. Through their everyday reality; I show them that they can have it all. They can be a mom and have successful careers. They can explore the world uninhibited.
We are raising a very enlightened bunch of women and men. They are far more questioning and curious about the way things are. They are outspoken and very smart. The challenge I see is that we have only just started to shift perceptions about women but we are nowhere near utopia. It will be up to them to continue to challenge the norms of society and re-write a lot of the scripts that seek to demean and minimise women and their role in society. I am very proud though that I have done my best thus far to empower them; not just my own children but the many young women I mentor.
I am also raising a very conscious young man who observes the dynamic at home between mom and dad and sees both of them holding their own and running successful businesses whilst being there for them; loving and nurturing. I believe the future is in good hands; however; we must make sure that they have footprints that they can proudly follow in; not just for them but for many more generations to come.
Entrepreneurs! Now Is The Time To Change Lives And Grow Revenues
All signs point to Africa as the most extraordinary place to be and do business in the future.
So, how are we going to do business?
This is the question posed by Musa Kalenga, the enthusiastic entrepreneur and strategist who was named one of the Top 200 young South Africans by Mail & Guardian, at a recent Entrepreneurship To The Point Session hosted by Property Point, the Growthpoint Properties initiative.
The answer to doing business that he offers entrepreneurs, even in this digital age, is humanity.
“Humanity is the new black; it is how we are going to be the next powerhouse of this globe,” says Kalenga. “Being human is the one thing that will enable us to survive in the age of augmentation.”
Kalenga is obsessed with using technology to empower the digitally invisible. “We can send people to the moon but we can’t feed people on earth? This is a problem,” he cautions, “because unless we’re making fundamental business model changes, we won’t have a market for the future.”
He took the Entrepreneurship To The Point audience on a journey, highlighting the sweet spot where technology and creativity merge.
Looking at how African entrepreneurs should respond to the age of augmentation, he uses the shocking November 2015 Paris attacks as an example. Facebook activated its Safety Check function, Uber alerted its drivers to take people to safety, and Airbnb operators took in anyone in need.
“While these are tech businesses at their core, they displayed decidedly human responses. They also didn’t have to redo their business model to respond in a more human way,” points out Kalenga. “The technology journey that communities and consumers have to go through must match ours as brand creators, value seekers and entrepreneurs.”
Doing this is simpler than you may think. Technology’s intersection with humanity is all about finding simple, meaningful solutions.
He points to the trend of impact investment – an approach taken by some of the world’s richest family businesses. Impact investment means finding opportunities that are solving human-centred problems and creating value for the humans that we seek to serve, and then figuring out how to make revenue as a business. Essentially, it puts doing good before making money. This is where humanity, technology and entrepreneurship are on course to meet and power the extraordinary future of business in Africa.
“Human beings are at the top of the food chain because we can understand a small and simple thing, then develop it for different purposes all the time. Also, because we can rally around common cause and purpose. Enhancing quality of life in the way people experience technology is key to continuing to solve problems, not only in Africa but across the globe,” concludes Kalenga
Futureproofing The Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs
Futureproof – a business built on purpose.
The South African labour market remains vulnerable, particularly in the youth employment sector. While there is a call for more entrepreneurs, further support for SMME’s and increased youth employment by government, the youth of today lack the skills, knowledge and opportunities to answer to the call.
Riddled by poverty and unemployment, South Africa remains a country in crisis. With more than 3.3 million* unemployed youths, entrepreneurship has been highlighted to eradicate our unemployment woes; here’s the catch though: a recent study on education depicted the effect that poor education has had on entrepreneurs, who are largely ill-equipped to run their own businesses as a result. (Businesslive.co.za (2017)).
Getting youths to grips with entrepreneurship
By combining a background in education and entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial educationalist, speaker, radio presenter, mother of two and all-round go-getter, Lisa Illingworth co-founded Futureproof to educate youths from as young as primary school on real-life entrepreneurship.
As an ex-teacher, Lisa recognised a serious need for educating children on the practical application and art of entrepreneurship to create a generation of informed, thriving youths. “Young adults in the 21st century are entering the working world equipped with knowledge and skills that are irrelevant for the workplace,” explains Lisa.
Futureproof is built on an unwavering commitment to entrepreneurship as a mechanism for intervening in the poverty cycle that our youths are caught up in. “I don’t want to watch another generation driven by poor education standards, self-entitlement and helplessness”.
Lisa believes that entrepreneurs possess qualities that each of us can aspire to in order to take charge of our own futures: they identify a problem or a gap and create a service or a product to solve this problem and generate a flow of money. “Their tenacity is something that few can relate to. Entrepreneurs sacrifice short-term gain to deliver a long-term solution and derive an income from their efforts and passion. Nothing comes easy to an entrepreneur, so persistence is key” she emphasizes.
In a country where many simply admit defeat, Lisa and her team believes that possessing an entrepreneurial mindset can set our youths apart and accelerate them in the working world. “Futureproof exists with a massive transformative purpose to educate the future generation of entrepreneurs,” explains Lisa. “We aim to identify and grow the 5% of high impact entrepreneurs that will create the much-needed economic transformation that this country requires but organically, this process allows kids to learn how to create their own income opportunities” Lisa continues.
Futureproof – for purpose, for profit
Today, Futureproof is a “for purpose, for profit” business. We sacrifice neither. “This business is built on a model that was based on authentically practicing what we teach. Many social enterprises default to a charity and this business is unapologetically not a charity. We teach kids to build sustainable enterprises and we mirror this through the way we do business”.
Futureproof provides kids the opportunity to craft their own futures by applying the entrepreneurial skills gained in their real-life situations. “By instilling an entrepreneurial mindset, we look to cultivate a generation of hungry entrepreneurs who are able to identify and build-on opportunities. Our courses teach problem solving at the highest level to the youngest kids, and we have seen some amazing success stories come out of this in kids as young as eight years old”.
At its helm, Lisa says that Futureproof’s Board of Directors is made up of some of the country’s top business minds – a team driven by passion and purpose. “We attract incredible people in business and for this reason I am pleased to be surrounded by top women in their respective fields such as S’onqoba Maseko and Chairperson of our Board of Directors (previous head of innovation for FNB and now the COO of Future Nations Schools) and Masenyane Molefe – our Human Resources Specialist and HR Director of Hyundai South Africa.
For more information on Futureproof’s programmes and how to get involved, visit: www.futureproofsa.com
Nedbank Brings Silicon Valley’s Plug And Play To Africa In Disruption First For The Continent
Nedbank launches The Disruption Agenda to connect the best technology start-ups to major corporations and business leaders.
Nedbank announced today the expansion of their US partnership with Plug and Play, the world’s largest innovation platform, to include South Africa for the first time.
Together, the entities will connect 10 visionary entrepreneurs from around the world to business leaders at The Disruption Agenda to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September.
These startups are at the leading edge of digital transformation. They have been accelerated via the Plug and Play platform and identified as relevant disruptors to solving cross-sector business challenges at a corporate level within the local market.
“Nedbank recognises that building an innovation strategy at a corporate level can present a number of significant challenges. To help corporate leaders, we have structured The Disruption Agenda, a first of its kind event on the continent, to simplify how corporates connect to world-class start-ups,” shares Stuart van der Veen, Head of Disruption and Innovation at Nedbank Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB).
“The problem is that innovative thinking is too often limited to finding new ways of doing old things, when what businesses really need to set themselves apart is to find completely new things to do. And that’s where the successful integration of disruptive technology can be an unparalleled source of comprehensive transformation for any business.”
Nedbank’s participation in Plug and Play’s FinTech accelerator programme abroad supports its commitment to source innovative digital enhancements to meet the changing needs of its clients. Nedbank has sponsored Play and Play’s Fintech initiative for close on two years and for each of the four batches that Nedbank has been involved in, the bank’s teams actively engaged with the start-ups to source new ideas and partnerships with the aim of delivering delightful client experiences and disruptive client value propositions.
“Our partnership with Nedbank has given our start-ups a successful route to expand their business to South Africa,” said Max Koenig, Director of Plug and Play FinTech, Silicon Valley. “The CIB group, responsible for innovation within Nedbank, has been instrumental in sourcing start-ups to digitally transform their company.”
The Disruption Agenda is a closed event structured for Nedbank’s clients, while a public event for broader access to Plug and Play is envisioned to take place later in the year. The success of these engagements will form the basis of Plug and Play’s decision to accelerate plans to establish a permanent presence in Africa.
“The opportunity in Africa as a whole is endless and we view this event in September as an integral first step for opening and developing an Innovation Hub in South Africa in 2019” noted Saeed Amidi, Founder & CEO of Plug and Play.
“We believe that successful disruptors are those organisations that are able to see through their traditional functions and create new realities for their clients and businesses. In the process of transforming innovation thinkers to disruption leaders, these organisations have real potential to transform the economic reality of entire communities,” shares Van der Veen.
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