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.
Inspiring A New Generation Of Learning – Education As A Basic Human Right
Access to education isn’t a privilege, it’s a basic human right – Mzwandile inspires a new generation of learners.
Raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents passed away at a young age, Mzwandile Harmans attended a poor school in Cala, the heart of the rural Eastern Cape. It was his matric year; but with limited resources at Masikhuthale Public Secondary school, the pass rate was low and the learning environment less than ideal for conscientious learners.
Then one day a teacher came round to talk about Engen’s Maths and Science Schools (EMSS) programme, and everything changed for this talented young man who was determined to realise his full potential.
“We were given a chance to take a test to qualify for the EMSS Cala programme. The programme offered supplementary classes in maths, science and English, which ran every Saturday morning, but was 25 kilometres away,” remembers Mzwandile. “Fortunately, I took it seriously and I got in.”
Making the long round trip every weekend to attend the programme saw a steady improvement in Mzwandile’s maths, chemistry, and physics marks, so much so that he was awarded a full Engen scholarship to study Chemical Engineering at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
Mzwandile later impressed with his tertiary studies and after two-years was offered a one-year internship at the Engen Refinery in Durban, which he passed with distinction. On graduating from CPUT, he landed a two-year employment contract with Engen, as part of the company’s graduate development programme.
Today, Mzwandile is permanently employed as an Environmental Technician at the Engen Refinery. “I am so grateful to Engen for all of this,” says Mzwandile. “I never thought it could happen to me.”
Engen’s Head of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement, Unathi Magida says access to education is a fundamental human right. “This resonates particularly with Engen as a company, as we believe in the value of education and know how important it is to ensure that young people have the opportunity to realise their full potential.”
Chwayita Mareka, Engen’s Head of Human Resources, says the company’s investment in young talent has focused on the Maths and Science Saturday Schools because they understand the bigger country agenda.
“As Engen, we try and play our part in helping to develop South African’s talent pool, as there is a scarcity of Science, Maths and Engineering skills. We offer bursaries for students to go to universities in these fields and we look after them, especially if they are from disadvantaged communities,” says Mareka.
“Later, they come into Engen as graduate trainees as part of our graduate development programme wherein we assign them a mentor that exposes them to the real business,” she adds.
Mzwandile’s journey is just one of many inspirational Engen stories that will be shared as part of a new TV series that aims to create a positive narrative around South Africa’s success stories. The SA INC. TV series which launches on 7 April is a partnership between Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Brand South Africa and producers, Regency Global.
“At Engen, we strongly believe that a country which is educated is a country that will prosper. We are pleased to play a part in helping to develop South Africa talent, especially our young learners based in rural areas,” says Magida
To watch Mzwandile’s story please visit the website: https://regency.global/engen/ and the following hashtags: #JourneyWithEngen #BusinessBelieves #SAINC #humanrightsday #awesomesouthafrica #sustainability #livesouthafrica #weheartsa.
How SMEs Can Stand Out From The Crowd
A recently released SME Landscape Report: An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019, revealed that 40 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) find that the industry that they operate in is extremely competitive. It also states that considering the low growth environment, this is likely to continue further into the future.
To assist struggling entrepreneurs, Byron Jeacocks, Regional General Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), says that it is imperative for SME owners who find themselves in this predicament to determine and implement tactics to remain competitive in saturated industries. “A good example of how to do this, is Business Partners Limited’s client, Prashun Sharma, owner-manager of glass and aluminium company, Aluminium Doctor, who was faced with an overtraded industry teeming with informal operators when he started his business seven years ago.”
“This was because the glass and aluminium industry suffered a contraction following the Soccer World Cup construction boom in 2010, and as a result, many tradespeople were retrenched and subsequently started up their own informal glass and aluminium installation operations to make ends meet,” Jeacocks adds.
Explaining how he ensured a competitive edge in his business, Sharma, who was also retrenched from his senior management position at a large aluminium company, says that when he started his company he decided to make it formal, compliant and professional. “I wanted to incorporate my corporate and managerial experience to differentiate my business, and to elevate this, I enrolled in a business management degree.”
“My degree covered everything from strategic management, supply management, first-line management to directorship and it touched on everything from listing on the stock exchange down to conflict management and change management. This really prepared me for business and I believe it was a key ingredient to my business’s success,” he points out.
However, Sharma says that when starting their businesses in a saturated industry, entrepreneurs should not feel despondent if the process is slow at the beginning. “At first in my journey, there seemed to be no difference between Aluminium Doctor and the rest of the informal businesses in the industry, but I continued to lay a formal foundation, whilst consulting with my lawyer and accountant to make sure these foundations were sound. I also started to develop professionally made marketing material, a website, formal email addresses and a fixed phone line.”
Aluminium Doctor’s breakthrough came a year and a half into the business, when it won a substantial contract with the building of the Durban ice rink, says Sharma. “This is when I knew that it was time to formalise my business premises and I found a 1000 square metre factory in Brairdene, Durban.”
However, in order to purchase the building, I needed to obtain funding and I believed that it was clear from the financials that the company could afford to buy the building, but the banks were not sure whether our fast growth was sustainable. “I was then introduced to Business Partners Limited which considers finance applications based on the potential of the business, and also on the capabilities of the entrepreneur rather than just on the balance sheet and age of the business.”
Commenting on this, Jeacocks says that Sharma’s management style and his commitment to furthering himself as an entrepreneur by studying business management was also a contributing factor to the approval of his business’s property finance loan,” comments Jeacocks.
“Today, seven years since he started, Sharma’s careful attention to his business’s formal foundations is still paying off. Just in the last twelve months, in an extremely challenging economy, Aluminium Doctor grew by 35 percent, and the business now has a presence in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng where it will soon establish a permanent sales office in an expansion that is only possible for a formal, well run organisation,” Jeacocks concludes.
Celebrating The Best Of The Best In Black Business
The 2019 Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Awards, held at Emperor’s Palace on Friday, 15 March 2019, celebrated the champions of transformation of the South African economy.
Established in 2002, the BBQ Awards 2019 honoured the best of the best in black business. South Africa’s top black business owners and rising stars arrived to the red carpet for a night full of glitz and glamour. Celebrity TV presenter, socialite, radio personality and Idols SA judge Somizi Mhlongo led the festivities as the evening’s programme director. He was joined on stage by A-list celebrities and prominent politicians.
Jeff Radebe, Minister of the Department of Energy, celebrated 25 years of South Africa’s democracy in his opening keynote address and emphasised the importance of transformation.
“Transformation is well recognised as a change management strategy, which aligns people, which aligns processes and technology initiatives, irrespective of the industry you come from, in order to survive and evolve in this business environment. Changing the structure of the South African economy will result in it being more inclusive, more sustainable… with opportunities for all, integrated value chains, and less barriers to entry. In South Africa, the transformation agenda is very critical in all our endeavours and all our decisions.”
Radebe congratulated the winners of the 15 transformation categories on this recognition of their inspiring dedication:
- Platinum Award: Dr Nobuhle Judy Dlamini, founding chairman of Mbekani Group, is an entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. Her passion for creating and adding value to society and humanity provided her with the overall platinum award for the evening, as well as the Comair Outstanding Woman of the Year Award.
- Hennessy XO Businessman of the Year Award: Sthembiso Elton Nkomo, CEO of Abalandi Risk Management, was recognised as a professionally qualified, dedicated, and respected professional in the forensic investigation and security services environment.
- The Innovation Hub New and Innovative Business Award: AET Africa, a manufacturer and supplier of energy efficient and clean technology products, developed various products targeting the commercial and residential sectors.
- Emperors Palace Community Builder of the Year Award: Emmanel Bonoko, Founder of EBonoko Holdings and a social entrepreneur. He founded EBonoko at the age of 21 with the aim of serving others and fostering leadership, youth empowerment, and entrepreneurship.
- Dormehl Phalane Property Group Transformation Champion of the Year Award: ICT-Works, an organisation that provides innovative technology solutions. At its core it also enhances the lives of millions of people.
- Best Employer of the Year Award: Maredi Technologies CC, an 100% black owned ICT infrastructure solutions provider for the private and public sector.
- Trade & Investment KZN Young Business Achiever Award: Pravashen Naidoo, Founder and CEO of e-Waste Africa, established Africa’s first light bulb recycling business at the age of 30.
- Bentley South Africa Public Sector Visionary Award: Dr Ayanda Vilakazi, CEO of Lama Marketing and Advertising (Pty) Ltd. He published numerous articles on how to improve services and operations in South Africa. As a seasoned Executive he has expertise in corporate governance, financial management and budgeting, enterprise risk management and strategic development.
- BET New Entrepreneur Award: Ms Thobile Nyawo, Director of Nyawo Civil construction. The 19-year-old construction entrepreneur founded her company in 2015 with no start-up capital.
- CSI Ubuntu Award: Vukani-Ubuntu Community Development Projects, a non-profit organisation that is the largest mineral-beneficiation organisation in the jewellery sector in South Africa and a network off grassroots development projects across the country.
- NHBRC Iqhawe Mentorship Award: Musa Zulu, Creative Director of Valhalla Arts, as well as published author, international artist, celebrated motivational speaker, and prominent disability activist in South Africa.
- NYDA Outstanding Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Muhammad Simjee, Founder and CEO of A2D24 with a passion for building gadgets and writing software.
- Nedbank Group Individual Transformation in Leadership Award: Karen Rademeyer, Fundraiser and Communications Manager at Go for Gold, having worked in the non-profit sector for 17 years She is passionate about education: Go for Gold as a dynamic Education-to-Employment programme that recruits school students from some of South Africa’s poorest communities and transforms them into technically qualified graduates.
- LTE Holdings Best Established Black Business Award: Thata uBeke Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd, which offers turnkey solutions by designing, developing, manufacturing and assembling electronic and electro mechanical components for a variety of applications including aerospace, telecommunications, mining, commercial, and military specifications.
The BBQ Awards continue to be South Africa’s most prestigious transformation awards. For more information on the 2019 BBQ Awards, visit http://www.bbqawards.co.za/ or follow them on Facebook (@BBQAwards) and Twitter (@BBQ_Awards).
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