He’s an up-and-coming musician with a number of entreprenurial attempts under his belt and, with his start-up business Mukuru.com growing in leaps and bounds, Zimbabwean expatriate ROB BURRELL is jack-of-all-trades and master of… well, pretty much everything
How have your studies equipped you in the opening up of your business? I studied Business Science at Rhodes University. I don’t think that helped in terms of running a .com, but it did help get my foot in the door to jobs that eventually led to running my own company. One priceless piece of advice my dad gave me was: “study a business degree – you’re going to cock around and booze all the time anyhow, so you might as well leave with a piece of paper that can get you hired!”
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? I think so. I’ve tried to start a Chess Café coffee shop (fail), shoot an independent movie (fail), become a famous rockstar (Mann Friday…verdict pending), create an ad company (fail), start a location company for the film industry (fail), create a prepaid call-card to get around international call restrictions from Zimbabwe (fail). It comes down to two things entirely – passion and willingness to give it a try.
Tell me about your business. What is your role? Mukuru.com enables South Africans and Zimbabweans abroad to send money home instantly, using their credit or debit card. Instead of trudging to the nearest Western Union in the rain, you can do it from the comfort of your digs in Earlsfield for a fraction of the cost.
Mukuru has grown rapidly and you’ll soon be providing services to Kenya, Zambia and Malawi. Did you expect this level of success when you started up the company? I’ve always had a very big vision for the company. We began by enabling Zimbos abroad to buy much needed petrol and diesel for their relatives back home. They would log on, buy 60 litres, and a text message would be sent to the dusty streets of Harare instructing the lucky recipient to go and collect the fuel. We started at a time when it was impossible to get fuel in Zim so it was real right-place-right-time stuff, and we grew from a couple of hundred customers in the first month to over 10,000 in four months. Any company experiencing that sort of surge does get filled with a healthy self-belief – it was also a true testimony to the power of the internet.
The tone of your business and website is very informal. Is this a tool you use to make it user-friendly and accessible? Definitely. I truly believe nothing has to be formal. I remember driving past a funeral home in downtown Harare which read “Johnson Moyo Funeral Home, The Last Ones to Let You Down” and thinking “damn, that’s good – why does the funeral business have to be so bloody grey? If anyone needs an injection of humour it’s them; big-up to Johnson Moyo!”
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about business? I operate in a partnership; my business buddy Brian is an old friend, in fact we went to kindergarten together! I think knowing where my talents end and his begins is an important lesson – you can’t do everything, you have to be able to say “I’m awful at this part, who can I rely on that’s better?”
Do you feel there are more opportunities in London for people starting a business or career than there are in South Africa? I am an African optimist; if you are good at what you do and you have conviction, then I do believe Africa has a huge amount of opportunity, Zimbabwe in particular. There is a level of meritocracy that does not exist in London – if you’re good at the job, then you’re in, whereas I feel in the Big Smoke you have to climb ladders, one rung at a time until you’re ‘accepted’ and will be taken seriously. I would vote it’s better to pour your soul and strength into Africa; it may take longer to make it work, but it’ll happen in a place that you consider home, and that’s a priceless result.
Do you have any plans of returning to South Africa to carry on conducting business there? Most definitely. I am lucky enough to spend a large part of the time in and around Africa growing the business. We are able to conduct a portion of our business in SA – the support side mostly – but we will always have to have our financial home in London because this is where our customers are, and you don’t want to put too much distance between the two.
Was it difficult to establish yourself as a Southern African in a UK market? Not at all. There was a wealth of Southern Africans in the UK that need support structures and services to help their loved ones back home. I would say the most important lesson learnt is to have a great relationship with your UK bank – if you get that relationship right and you invest in it, it will make all the difference to your company’s ‘heart-rate’ in the long-run.
Rob Burrell is the co-founder and managing director at Mukuru.com. He graduated from Rhodes University in South Africa with a Bachelor of Business Science Degree, and is a part of the band Mann Friday.
My Definition Of Success | Seeing a dream or vision realised, and embraced by someone else as something they really value.
I Am Driven By | Deploying something, whether business or art, that enhances livelihoods, and is adopted by a bunch of people.
My Highlights | I think when Mann Friday was signed by V2 Records, it really felt like a milestone in my musical career. My loyalty has always teetered between the band and the company (Mukuru), with one always enabling the other. I also think Mukuru’s millionth transaction was a milestone, something that let us know we’d built something truly cool.
The Difference Between good And Great | Being fanatical about the outcome and excited in your heart about how you reach it. People don’t pull all-nighters because they need to – they do it because they would far rather be awake and working on an outcome, than asleep.
My Key Talent | I think the relaying of ideas into architecture has been critical to our success. When everyone’s around a table discussing stuff I get a picture in my head as to how that looks in a system, plugged into a database, and eventually touching a user via a bunch of channels. I would say architectural instinct in the wake of Internet technology has been a great blessing.
How Is this Talent Nurtured | Do some development. I didn’t study much raw coding, but there’s a ton of video’s and online tutorials that can get you going, you need to write lines of code and get some time at the coalface. Once you’ve begun building your own stuff, it gets addictive, and you begin to understand how systems plug together.
Do Business Analysis | Of all the modules at Rhodes Uni (I did the Business Science track), the BA modules, approaches, methodologies were the most important. In fact, bunk every other lecture and go surfing, except the BA ones! I’m not a fan of all the documentation that went along with it, but the ability to listen to developers in one ear, and business dudes in the other is a great tool.
Read Read Read | Not too much on geek methodologies, but more about the crazy stuff that geeks are up to. I typically use the Flipboard App on my iPad and read most nights about the latest startups and tech news.
Get out! | True-ass geeks are a tricky breed, they speak in fax-tones, struggle to hold your gaze, and wear Dungeons&Dragons t-shirts (always!). Do not become a true-ass geek. Go out, listen to music, go to gigs, festivals, ask Patsy for her phone-number, fall in love, fall out of love, hate Patsy, write bad ballads about Patsy, and have fun with other people. When you get into the market-place, you need to be able to build a business by interacting, and having fun with peeps.
A Key Driver | I would say that addiction to mission has been a key driver. For a long period I was a workaholic, and I’m not saying it’s always a good thing. But you need to be addicted to what you’re building – I’m trying to stay away from the word ‘passion’ – but it’s difficult.
Join A Rock Band | And give out free CDs to people that visit your business. It will disarm them, and if (heaven forbid) they like your music, they’ll always answer your emails first when their inbox is flooded!
Partner-Up | I know this is not true of everybody, but I have enjoyed a very fruitful partnership with a buddy from kindergarten. Where I’m a whacky, “let’s do everything” kinda guy, he is a more balanced/stayed geezer. It’s healthy to be able to share your successes and failures with a colleague.
Mentor-Up | My brother-in-law is possibly my biggest mentor. It’s important to have a shoulder to cry on when it comes to the big decisions.
Alter-up | My faith has played quite a big role in the last five years. After a long stretch the wilderness (rock’n’roll + London = wilderness) I joined an awesome church, did the whole small-group weekly home group stuff, and began sharing my anxieties from work. I understand this isn’t for everyone, but my faith, and the support it brought, was a major component.
I’m Currently Looking To Improve | My work-life balance, after a decade of revving it too hard. Every entrepreneur will burn the candle at both ends, but I think (watch this space) that once your service/vision has taken hold, you need to look out for your health, your family etc.
How I Use My Mind | This is my weakest area, and one that I’m trying to strengthen by looking at Mindfulness. But I’m too early into it to have anything worthwhile to add. All I can say is that my mind is currently awash with a zillion ideas, and while I think this is healthy for a phase – I feel it’s unsustainable, and that some techniques (exercise included) are needed to keep the beast calmer!
Lessons I Have Learnt | Have another passion – for me is was Mann Friday, a folk-rock band that’s still going after 13 years, and something that drew me closer to other artists into a space where lines-of-code, or sales forcasts didn’t exist. This is truly critical.
How I Deal With Doubt | I touched on this earlier with faith. For me it’s a large component.
Performing At My Peak | In the beginning I used to. I will confess that now we have the luxury of hiring other dudes who are at their peak J
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | Rich Dad, Poor Dad (important read, so you don’t wake up with a massive mortgage, massive car and not-so-massive ladder-climbing income). Flipboard on iPad, the Technology feed.
Dreams And Ambitions | I’m interested in selling music at a grass-roots level in Africa. We’re looking at that currently. I would like to play Brixton Academy one day. We’ve already played Shepherd’s Bush Empire…but I’m not done yet J
The Best Advice I’ve Received | My dad told me to do a business degree at Uni even though I was desperate to do film. He said there’d be enough time to join a bunch of clubs, start a film society, and fool around in my spare time. He was right. I wanted to be in a band, or be a film director – I’ve realised that your business can create the environment, funding and introductions to let you fulfill your artistic passions at the same time.
On Inspiring Others | Mukuru prides itself on being a cool place to work. We’ve had almost zero churn since we started. I think opening up the excitement of what you’re building, and having colleagues realise they are part of that journey is key.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to build Mukuru into a household name for African remittances. I’d like for that platform to be far-reaching, totally instant, and as cheap as possible to send as little as possible.
Getty Gizaw has built a career from her passion for promoting Africa to the global market.
She brings a wealth of experience in marketing and public relations as well as knowledge of different regions' business, political and regulatory environments, social customs, media landscapes and other factors crucial to success in Africa’s emerging markets.
Based in New York, she is currently international vice president of THISDAY/Leaders & Co, one of Africa’s leading, privately held media conglomerates, with 800 employees in several countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, the US and the UK.
She oversees operations, marketing and sales, brand and strategic development and partnerships.
She also has oversight of numerous corporate functions, including finance, budgeting and cash flow, human resources, corporate culture and process and internal and external communications.
Gizaw began her career independently, founding her firm, G2 Media Inc, 10 years ago in New York with one client, professional US football player and Super Bowl MVP, Terrell Davis.
G2 has gone on to provide global marketing, management, public relations and event production services to clients as varied as Clear Channel, the US’s largest radio conglomerate, the United Nations and other corporations and non-governmental organisations, as well as celebrities, restaurant groups and various national tourism authorities in Africa and the Caribbean.
G2 has executed numerous successful marketing campaigns and events globally, including movie premieres, stadium concerts, record releases, brand launches, and award shows.
In the course of her work, Gizaw has also brought numerous celebrities and dignitaries to visit, speak or perform in Africa, including Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Elton John, Shakira, Usher and many others.
In conjunction with South African Tourism, she developed numerous campaigns to raise the country's profile internationally as a world-class tourism and film location.
In 2006, engaged by the South African Broadcasting Corporation to help boost the visibility of the Cape Town International Film Festival, Gizaw created the Sithengi Celebrity Roundtable, a high-powered exchange of film-industry ideas between American film makers and stars, including actor Morgan Freeman and director Chris Robinson.
In 2007, Gizaw organised a highly publicised tour of South Africa for Best Actor Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker and his family.
Most recently, she arranged for and produced R&B star R Kelly’s performance at the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
A native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and a US resident, Gizaw grew up and received her education in countries throughout Africa, Europe, and Canada before graduating magna cum laude from Long Island University with three degrees in media arts, marketing and management.
Bandela B. Mgoqi is a South African based online entrepreneur and pharmacist. He is the Founder & CEO of Chek Africa Holdings. Under his auspice, the company has launched Cheklocums and currently working on Chekvoice, a cloud-based telephone system for SMMEs . He and his team are hard at work on the vision of turning the company into an African Internet Conglomerate with the plans of launching other business divisions including Chekjobs, Chekauto, Chekproperty in the next three to five years. He will soon be blogging Cybakemist.
1987-1992: Humble Beginnings
I was born in 1987, amid the political turmoil, in the second largest township of South Africa, Mdantsane. From the beginning, I was infused with entrepreneurship. Both my parents were of the apartheid generation and as a result they did not have much of an opportunity to attend school. They had to utilize whatever they had to make a living.
My father was a bus driver turned taxi business owner, while my mother was a street vendor who sold fruit at “The High-way”.
When I was four years old, my parents decided to move to a rural area, which is about 20km from King William’s Town. At first, we stayed in a two room shack with no electricity and no water nearby. With my mother’s innate entrepreneurial spirit, she decided to use one the rooms to start a spaza shop and a shebeen. I say shebeen because I am pretty sure that it was not licensed. In no time, the shebeen got famously known in the area as the “Zink Huis” and the business started to grow. I reckon it was by word-of-mouth, as my mother did not know anything about marketing.
At that moment, my father started to slowly selling off his taxis. I remember at that time seeing a couple of construction guys. They were busy building just a few meters away from the shack and at first, I thought my father was building a ‘big house’ for us.
1993-1998: Hard Work
In November 1993, the intention of the building became more conspicuous when my father opened its doors to the public. It was a liquor store and a supermarket. Throughout my child, I grew up in that business environment, helping where I could as I was still a kid. Over the years of doing this, I watched how my parents ran the business and how they responded to the trials and tribulations. For them it had to work no matter what as they had nothing else to lean on.
Over the years, my parents were both running the business full-time, working 12 hours and more a day. Although they were successful at it, the business was just generating a mediocre income that was just sustaining the entire family. This also meant that we were never going to have that “rich lifestyle”. Nevertheless, because of my parents’ tenacity and work ethic, we never went without and were able to sleep with food in our stomachs.
1999-2004: First Job
Whilst attending high school, I used to walk 12km every day. On my way back home, I used to think about ways that could change my lifestyle. For years, I couldn’t come up with any ideas. So Instead of looking for a job in the nearest town, I helped my parents in the business. I worked as a cashier after school almost every day. This was a non-paying job and I did not mind doing it as I hoped that my parents would be able to grow the business by focusing on other aspects of it.
During weekends, I used to drive with some of my friends to nearby shebeens in the area and sell cases of cold drinks, of beer and other liquor products. After three years of doing this, my family decided to stop me from doing it as there was an increasing risk of hijacking and armed robberies – I used to have a lot of cash with me whilst doing the deliveries from one shebeen to another. The transactions were CODs.
It was also time for me to go to Varsity.
2005-2009: Varsity years
Fortunately, I was accepted at the University of the Witwatersrand to study pharmacy. Even though I was put in an extended curriculum (designed for students who were from a previously disadvantaged background) I did not mind much. I was just very excited to be in Johannesburg for the first time.
In my “half” first year, one of the courses I had to do was Sociology, in which I had to submit a lot of assignments. I remember submitting my first assignment. It was hand-written. And it got rejected as the Lecturer wanted it to be typed. A hand-written one was a way to go for me as my rural school had no computers and I had never used one before. I was 18 years old at that time.
Because I had no choice, I typed the entire 3000 words and it took me 8 hours to completion.
On that day, a seed was planted. I was just fascinated by computers. Months later, I managed to buy myself a desktop using my book allowance from my bursary funds. In no time, It was in piece as wanted to see what was inside – you can blame my inquisitiveness.
That’s when I learnt a lot about the computer hardware. At this time, most of my friends were telling me “You are in a wrong profession, maybe you should do something related to computers”. It didn’t make sense to me then.
Before I graduated, I sold that pc to a friend, with more hardware parts than it came with.
2010-2013: Entrepreneurial Journey
In 2010, I started my internship as a pharmacist. In my spare time, I read a lot of Robert Kiyosaki’s riveting books including Rich Dad, Poor Dad. These led the entrepreneur in me to wake up. I wanted to start a business. The problem was I had no clue where to start.
While I continued my internship, I realized most patients did not like coming to the pharmacy every month, in particular those that were taking chronic medications. I did my market research and I saw a gap online. I then decided to start my online pharmacy.
Unfortunately, I had two major roadblocks in my way: I needed a trading platform (an eCommerce website in this case) and I could not apply for an operating licence as I was not a pharmacist yet. I was going to be a pharmacist soon, so I ignored the latter. I decided to focus on the website.
With no knowledge of building a website, I hired a Web Development Agency. I paid it monthly using my intern salary. Within a few months, as I asked for more features to be added on the site, the monthly payment sky-rocketed. I was now
paying over R7000.00 per month,
which was more than half my salary. I couldn’t afford paying that much anymore and decided to stop the project.
Few months later, whilst I was charting with one of my friends (who’s also a pharmacist), I realized he had just launched his ecommerce website. I asked him how did he managed to build his site and he told me that he hired a web development agency. And what was interesting was that they build it for him at a fraction of what I paid before.
So I asked to give me their contact details. And I got in contact and asked them to build me another ecommerce website. With this one I wanted to sell cell phones and accessories. After spending +/- R15 000 on developing it, I launched the site. At this moment I was almost broke and my credit card had dried up. I soon realized that I needed more capital for advertising the site, for inventory and other stuff. Instead of injecting more money, I decided to press pause on the project.
Want to see “paused project”? click here>>
By now, I was done with my internship and had to move from Johannesburg to Middelburg, Eastern Cape for a community service.
It was 2012. This was the year that I learnt the founder of facebook was the 2nd youngest self-made billionaire. And he was 28 and a drop out.
I was shocked to hear how much he was worth, which led the entrepreneur within me to wake up again. So I decided to learn more about Mark, watched The Social Network and also learnt the business model of Facebook.
My Own Social Network
This lead me to start my own social network called Alumnay. The name was derived from “Alumni” – I was targeting graduates and professionals with the site.
This was the front-page of Alumnay.com, the social network I was building
After spending a couple of thousands on developers, I launched it.
Couple of months after the launch, I noticed that there was no one using the site.
Overtime, I learned that there was already a well-established and successful site that was doing what I had envisaged with Alumnay.com . That was Linkedin®. I didn’t give up. I asked some of my friends to register on the site and start using it.
Overtime they stopped using it.
In short, the site never succeeded because it did not have a clear value proposition – people did not see a value of using it over the other well established platform.
All these websites that I’ve tried to build left me broke as they did not succeed. I started looking for an extra job that I can do over the weekends – this time, as a pharmacist locum. As I was working in the Karoo (Middleburg, Eastern Cape), I struggled a lot to find what I was looking. Even with the advent of the World Wide Web, It was very difficult to search these locum jobs online.
Months later, through the trials and tribulation, I had an idea for a website I wanted to build. In this website, I imagined it as a platform where healthcare professionals will be able to search for locum jobs anywhere in the country. Likewise, for recruiters and/ or employers being able to search for locum candidates and advertise their locum jobs.
I strongly felt that such a site was in need by most healthcare professionals and I knew had a vision to do it. I wanted to call it Cheklocums – where anyone can “chek” locums and locum jobs anytime.
Now, I had one hell of a stumbling block on my way –
-I was penniless!
That meant I wasn’t going to be able to hire developers this time around. This was in May 2013. So I figured, If I committed to learning programming, even if I failed as it has happened before, I would build the site on my own – a site that can change peoples’ lives for the better.
At the same time, however, I decided that failure was not part of my vocabulary and no longer an option
I started teaching myself programming.
At the same time, I was putting what I learnt into practise. I started building Cheklocums. I worked almost everyday on it after coming back from my day job. It was tougher than I thought but I persisted.
After a lot of sleepless night, I launched Cheklocums on the 1 November 2014 in Beta. What was more exciting about this site is that people were using it. I launched the site under Chek Africa Holdings (Pty) Ltd, which is a company I incorporated earlier in 2013. To top it all, the site launch got covered by a lot of local and international media platforms, including Yahoo! Finance, Reuters, to name a few.
The user base has been growing steadily. I am still working hard on Cheklocums, turning in to a global brand. I still have a lot of ideas that I will continue working hard on and turn them into reality. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and the future looks brighter.
I am currently working and spending almost all my time on Chek Africa Holdings; turning it into an internet conglomerate in Africa and creating a lot of sustainable jobs and opportunities for young people in our continent. I wish I knew my destiny and had something, sort of a magic stick, which will clearly map out my future. Unfortunately, I have none. But giving up is no longer an option!
I hope my little story will motivate you to continue dreaming big and do something with your life.
Step out of your comfort zone. Stop wondering too much. Start chasing your dreams.
If a rural boy can do it, so as well you can.
If there is anything you want to comment about, you can gladly share your comment below
These two firms indentified the need to create a single entity with the resources, capacity and expertise to provide good governance through specialised internal audit services, external audits, forensic services and business consulting to the private, public and institutional sectors. The Afropolitan speaks to the Chief Executive Officer of SekelaXabiso, Lindani Dhlamini, the founding member and former Chief Executive Officer of Xabiso Chartered Accountants about their merger and company’s vision. Can you please give us some background to your careers? I obtained my Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Computer Science from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and got a job thereafter. During that time I was inspired by my, now former, boss to become a chartered accountant so I went back to UCT and completed a conversion course to acquire a Bachelor of Commerce. After completion of my studies I joined Deloitte as an articles clerk and then worked at Deloitte Corporate Finance for three years, gaining valuable experience in transaction support services. My business partner Abel (Abel Dlamini, former Executive Chairman of Sekela Consulting and now Chairman of SekelaXabiso) is a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Institute of Internal Auditors as well as the Public Accountants and Auditors Board. He’s a founding member of Sekela Consulting and has since grown his entity to a staff compliment of more than 180 professionals over the past nine years. What events led to the merger between Xabiso Chartered Accountants and Sekela Consulting? We identified a gap in the market and we wanted to close it. As can be expected and history shows South African corporations in particular want the assurances that bigger firms can provide. So our objective in deciding to merge was to expand and enable us to focus strongly on the one area that we excel in and that is internal auditing. How did you develop a love for accounting and entrepreneurship? I wanted to do something different with my life and at the time I noticed there were very few black Chartered Accountants in the country; and as I mentioned I was inspired by my first boss who was a Chartered Accountant. He encouraged me to go down this path. How well did you and Abel know each other before your merger? Since the inception of our companies, mine in 2003 an Abel’s in 2004, we have worked together on various projects. This merger comes as a response to the markets’ need for consolidation and capacity. I guess after nine years there is no way that you cannot have a personal relationship with someone whom you have known for so long. SekelaXabiso is now the second largest black-owned accounting firm in the country, what does this achievement mean to you? I believe this achievement sends a strong message out to the corporate world to say we need to be taken seriously as black professionals and entrepreneurs. We have the right skills and expertise to respond to what the market is demanding. As black professionals and entrepreneurs in a white-dominated sector, what challenges have you experienced? To be quite honest our challenges have not been any different to other entrepreneurs out there. But a major problem we are still facing in this sector is a legacy issue. Corporate South Africa is still reluctant to appoint black companies like ours due to lack of trust. The sector is also dominated by international companies who have the majority of the business. What were the biggest assignments or contracts that you have worked on? There are too many – in the public sector our client list includes Transnet, Eskom, SABC, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, various government departments and Royal Bafokeng. The new firm’s aim is to extend its reach in the public sector as well as to enter into the private sector as a significant and trusted provider. How is SekelaXabiso different to other auditing firms in terms of services offered? We pride ourselves on our main strength which is internal auditing. However, we also do forensic services and business consulting, Information Technology audits and external audits. What business values and principles does your new organisation embody? We are people of integrity, highly professional and we offer excellence service to our clients. In your opinion, why is the financial and accounting sector still dominated by white people? It’s a legacy issue. We know black people were previously denied an opportunity to participate in the mainstream economy by the apartheid government, which is why we see this gap. It will take some time and a concerted effort to close it and that is exactly what we are doing. Remember it takes a full seven years to be a qualified chartered accountant if you’re an excellent performing student. This means it can take more than that for average students and this comes with a high cost which prejudices many black students who may not be able to afford it. According to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants there is an insufficient number of black accountants in the country, with less than 2 000 black Africans out of a total 34 000 chartered accountants. How can this sector reach racial transformation? The main problem starts early. In school there is a need for proper career guidance which must be focused with efforts to improve maths literacy. The profiling of chartered accounting professionals also helps to expose and attract learners to this career opportunity. We are also doing our bit by sponsoring previously disadvantaged black African learners through the Thuthuka Bursary Fund where the company identifies a number of learners, enrols them in universities and contributes 50% of their tuition fees until completion. What is your vision and goal for SekelaXabiso? We want to be a profitable company that attracts the right staff and retains them. Our vision for 2020 is to achieve a R1 billion turnover. SekelaXabiso also intends to redefine the role that internal audit has to play in securing good governance in South Africa and beyond.
Dineo Molomo believes in making things happen. Her brimming appointment book is testimony to her can-do attitude, which has seen her being positioned as an expert in the property industry in just over a decade.
“If I want something, I believe in asking for it,” explains the 36-year-old Molomo. That is how she ended up on Siki Mgabadeli’s morning talk show on SAfm 104-107, where she has gained recognition as the resident property fundi.
For two years, she has featured in a weekly slot dedicated to discussing property matters and giving listeners sound advice. All things property matters with Dineo broadcasts every Tuesday from 10:30am to 11am. “There was a need to educate South Africans about the intricacies of property transactions and I approached the SABC with my idea for a phone-in programme, and my willingness to participate without remuneration,” says Molomo.
Molomo was right on the money when she predicted how well-received the show would be – and how pressing the need is for property-related education. By giving of her time and expertise for free, she has helped countless people better understand the ins and outs of their property transactions, making the experience a more positive one and empowering buyers, sellers and renters with the necessary knowledge to make critical decisions.
The show’s successful formula is now to be expanded upon, and Molomo will be hosting her own programme on SABC Channel Africa, the shortwave radio station that broadcasts throughout Africa. Starting in March, Molomo believes the show will provide a platform to share South Africa’s property know-how with the rest of the continent.
The Channel Africa show is one of a number of exciting developments for Molomo. A career highlight was her August 2012 appointment as head of the Henley Real Estate Centre Africa. The centre underscores the importance of education in the property sector, and is a valuable addition to Henley Business School Africa, which is known for its triple-accredited MBA and has 20 years’ experience in South Africa's executive education space.
Growing up in the dusty market town of Dilla in
Ethiopia, Tariku Bogale’s world should have
During his pre-school years, the North East African country
was caught in a famine so great thousands of people died and
the scars left by a devastating civil war had yet to heal. His
childhood was tough, but so was the young Bogale. And
thanks to a love of books and the company of young Peace
Corp volunteers from abroad, he saw far more when he looked
around than fruit stalls, coffee plantations and limited
opportunities. Instead, he saw a world that was his to explore.
Today, still a young lion at 34, he has travelled to many of the
places that he ‘visited’ as a child through the words and
pictures in books and newspapers. He has done business in a
number of diverse fields, grown his fortune and along the way,
nominated for African Pioneer, Black Business Award, and
earned the reputation of ‘serial entrepreneur’,
A glance at his CV might make one think of a child
with an attention deficit disorder, so varied is the
range of business ventures he has explored, from
travel agencies to a foreign exchange office, CBD
renewal projects and mobile marketing solutions
to self-service terminals for air passengers and
even a Johannesburg tavern. But the fact of the
matter is that Bogale’s energy and passion are
insatiable and his actions are driven by a
philosophy that demands the ability to transform
and remain viable – ‘adapt or die’.
Eminent economist Joseph Stumper (1883-1950)
coined the phrase ‘creative destruction’ which
relates to his belief that long-term economic
growth is sustained by radical innovators who
force established business to adapt or die. As an
entrepreneur, Bogale is adept at spotting opportunities in existing
markets and exploiting them. He is equally able to recognize
when the time has come to move on, however.
“Africa Holdings has gone through many facelifts,” says Bogale. “It
was the trading name of a number of companies established
since 2000. I believe in not placing all your eggs in one basket
which is why Africa Holdings has been involved in a number of
industries, including banking, travel and tourism, real estate and
“However, along with heightened opportunities, diversification also
carries high risks, increased costs and involves complex
management challenges. These realities, coupled with the current
global financial restraints and changing markets, have forced me
to adapt yet again," he says.
In October 2013, Africa Holdings LLC was registered under New
York State law to invest, consult and facilitate trade and
investment in Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
This move to consolidate Bogale’s business interests saw a
number of companies being sold and closed ,including Sikhona
Forex (Pty) Ltd ( Authorised dealer in Foreign exchange) SOLD,
Stokal Property (SOLD), Lions Entertainment ( Licensed Tavern)
SOLD, Abyssinia Business and property investment ( SOLD),
Travel online Click ( IATA accredited), TravelStoreMakerSA,
MOCCA fashion magazine, Visible Link CC, Battery Extender,
VoiceBlast, SmartReply, Self-Help, KIOSK , Dual Investment (Pty)
Ltd, Jozi Cash'nCarry, Johannesburg Shopping Center CC and
Lease International, LLC. Travel Click, the travel agency he
established in 2006, was closed at a loss.
“I think Africa Holdings can add great value in facilitating and
promoting trade and investment, specifically in Africa, by
partnering with governments and private companies,” says
Bogale says that ‘sometimes we tend to look for things when they are right in front of us’. “The fall of
apartheid opened enormous opportunity for South African companies locally and they were caught
up trying to meet local demand. At the same time, international companies were eyeing the South
Africa market and competition become tougher. An obvious solution to increase market share lies in
the rest of the continent.”
Challenges for South African companies looking north include the need for a localized go-to-market
approach, the tendency to overestimate the time it takes to establish themselves in these markets
and the misconception that they can develop a new market, or get involved in major projects, with
“Africa is very big market, with over one billion people, making it attractive to quick-off-the-mark
investors. Companies from India and China are the biggest competitors for the Africa market and if
South African companies are to compete, they need the backing and support of their government to
create the right business and trading environment.”
Some economists have predicted that Nigeria will topple South Africa as the continent’s financial
powerhouse, with economist and former chairman of the asset-management division of the Goldman
Sachs Group Jim O’Neill saying the Nigerian economy has the potential to grow between 10 and 12
per cent if the country’s power supply is stabilized. Bogale remains unconvinced, however, saying
that infrastructure and security could prove to be a stumbling block for Nigeria.
“South Africa’s status as African forerunner depends on the current and future political leaders.
Young leaders have to step up, opposition parties need to be grown and veterans must show a
readiness to relinquish power when numbers speak out!” he adds.
Regardless of which country dominates the continent, he is adamant that Africa’s time has come,
urging fellow Africans to ‘be part of this ship and let us sail together.’ He finds West Africa an exciting
trade and investment destination, saying that the region has a lot to offer, from resources to
infrastructure development, but cautions that these countries need to ensure stable governance if
they are to woo international investors.
International trade and infrastructure
It was the realization of businesses in the Western world of
what they are missing that prompted Bogale to focus his
energy on positioning Africa Holdings as an international trade
and infrastructure advisory expert able to assist governments,
multilateral agencies, investors and public and private sector
firms put down business roots in foreign soil.
“International trade today is complex, with many issues to be
grappled with including the different regulations governing
trade in each country; go-to-market strategies to plan how a
company will reach customers and achieve competitive
advantage; customer segmentation to group together
customers according to their similarities to maximize sales
and marketing; and channel strategies to guide decisions
about a product’s distribution. Trends are complex, fast
changing and dynamic and to penetrate new markets and
grow market share, companies will need the help of someone
familiar with those markets and associated business
“Infrastructure advisory support is pivotal to defining goals and
then working with project stakeholders to achieve those goals.
Project finance, as opposed to the traditional method of
financing where the borrower promises to transfer to the
lender a physical or economic entity (collateral) in the case of
default, can involve many participants, including multilateral
organizations, governments, regional banks and private
entities. Project finance is often the preferred funding option in
developing countries for large infrastructure projects and sees
the lender accepting future revenue from a project as a
guarantee on a loan.
“Traditionally, countries relied on governments to put in place
the infrastructure needed for businesses and citizens to live
and work but in the increasingly competitive global
environment, many governments have been forced to find
new ways to finance infrastructure and service delivery.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) offer exciting growth
opportunities for businesses looking to expand into new markets, especially in developing countries
where a greater need exists for roads, hospitals, bridges, airports, schools and other essential
“However, a different approach may be needed when doing business in Nigeria, for example, than
may be the case in the investor’s country of origin and having someone on your side who know the
‘lay of the land’ is key.”
Bogale finds the global business environment an exciting one. “With today’s information technology,
the world is at our fingertips and the way of doing business has changed forever.
Diminutive Julia Harmel is a force to be reckoned with, despite her small stature, this gutsy woman has a steely determination to be a successful entrepreneur.
Rising from obscurity Julia has made it from a one-woman operation begging a business account and loan from Standard Bank, to leading events organiser and socialite.
With eight years of hard work as a budding entrepreneur, rather than working in the safety of an eight to five office job with a pension, Julia is astounded by the limelight shining on her and her business, Global Focus (GF) Events and Catering.
Looking younger than her 39-years, Julia is still trying to take in the recognition after appearing on Top Billing in July and the news that GF is a finalist in the 2013 BBQ Awards for the best established SMME Award.
“Wow, this is too much,” laughs Julia as BBQ caught up with her during her frenetic work schedule. “The exposure has been fantastic and I feel very honoured to be nominated in the BBQ awards, but I honestly don’t care about the limelight or fame. I do what I do because I love it and I love being around people and I don’t see it as hard work, or anything unusual.”
Word spread quickly through the social grapevine after she and her business partner husband, Canadian-born Mark bought a property that consisted of three conjoined Victorian houses, renovated them and amalgamated GF under one roof with the newly appointed up market, down tempo 220 Princes Lounge in trendy Hatfield Street, in May 2013.
Set in the design quarter of Gardens the updated social coffee lounge, exclusive private lounge and board room are in constant demand for product launches and business and social events. The hi-tech kitchen serves both in-house and outside catering.
Khayalitsha raised, Julia has been an achiever since childhood. Educated at LuhlazaHigh School, she passed matric with two distinctions, won a scholarship toHarvardBusinessSchool, two bursaries to study at universities in South Africa and a job offer from Sanlam.
“My parents were divorced and my mother was going through a crisis, so my brother and I decided to go and live in Port Elizabeth near our father, I decided to take the job at Sanlam so that we had a roof over our heads and I could look after my brother.”
However two years as an admin clerk at Sanlam and a chance conversation with a work colleague saw Julia packing her bags and travelling overseas.
“One day I was talking to an admin clerk that had been doing the same work for 25 years who saw this work as job security, but I thought if I stay one day longer that will be me, so I resigned.”
As she was curious, Julia decided to travel to Eastern Europe on a working holiday with an Austrian boyfriend and ‘see the world.’
“It was something this guy said about my not knowing what to do with my life that drove me home to Cape Town. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but whatever it was it was going to be something big, so I enrolled at UCT to do a bachelor degree in social science, before doing a postgraduate degree in travel and tourism.”
In 2002 Julia headed forJohannesburg, working in tourism and wine distribution. Again she realised that if she sat comfortably working for someone else she would not realise her life dreams.
“I knew I wanted to be a business person – I work through my dreams and visions as I go along. I knew I would own my own business, but didn’t know what business it would be.”
Stepping into uncharted territory Julia tried marketing wine into the African continent. “I ended up flat broke and had to go home to a single bed in Khayalitsha - that taught me to respect money after the good life and a nice flat in Mouille Point,” she says ruefully.
It was at her lowest that Julia got a call that changed the direction of her life and her future success.
“One of my former clients phoned and asked me to arrange an event and the rest is history. The audacity – you couldn’t do it today with all the FICA regulations, but I went into Standard Bank and stayed there until they helped me!”
That was in 2005, and to start with her office was a seat near the public telephones in St George’s Mall before she graduated to a table in an internet café in Green Point.
“It was hilarious, I would up jump to answer the phone and pretend I was in a busy office until a vagrant overhead me and shouted down the phone that I was standing at a pay phone in a shopping mall.”
It was difficult establishing the fledgling business and Julia was often starving. “I was so hungry that a German man, who has since become a good friend, felt sorry for me staring with envy at his sandwiches that he gave his food to me and from then on ordered two plates of sandwiches and drinks every day, one for him and one for me.” She was buoyed by his reassurance that the dark days wouldn’t last forever.
She worked tirelessly on her own for two years before marrying Mark after an internet courtship, started while he was teaching inEgypt.
“I’m a yin to her yang,” quips Mark. In fact these seemingly opposite people perfectly complement each other, Mark with his obvious pride in his wife’s endeavours, remains quietly in the background managing business operations, while Julia, with her bubbling personality spearheads new ideas and projects.
However the newly weds faced a new crisis when the global meltdown hit and they found the events trade drying up.
Being a survivor, Julia went into overdrive and after some thought announced to Mark that they would start a catering business from the kitchen of their flat. “I said there were two things people always need, food and funerals. I wasn’t into funerals so I decided that although we only knew about events we would learn everything about making and selling food.”
For a year she and Mark cooked up a storm in their tiny kitchen, not only learning how to cook, but also the ins and outs of purchasing, calculating quantities and stock taking.
It paid off and the business grew from strength to strength. In 2010 the Harmels moved from their flat to a designer catering kitchen in the city, hired a professional chef and before long added a coffee shop as the business model grew.
When the events industry picked up it meant that GF was operating two arms of the business from two venues…and that is when Julia decided to go into commercial property and buy the Victorian building in Hatfield Street.
With her flair for innovation, Julia has steered the company into all facets of conferencing and has a growing list of corporate clients. “Now we have got this far I am so excited. It is only just dawning on me that this is recognition for eight years of hard work.”
The Harmels are still getting used to being property owners and it has made a definite difference to their focus on quality and service. “Having a product (permanent venue) has made a huge difference as we have to be comfortable and structure our own product, whereas before that we would just provide a service, as there were other service providers involved.”
Julia is conscious of the responsibility she has to her two young children and staff and wants to ensure that GF is still operating in 10 year’s time. She also believes in social responsibility and ‘paying it forward’ and mentors interns from UCT in the kitchen and during events. Some interns have since joined GF permanently and are carving careers as part of the team. Julia believes in teaching by example and her unquenchable enthusiasm has led her team to be equally motivated.
Julia is a hard taskmaster, pushing herself expecting her staff to go the distance with her. “We work hard, but we also play hard. My friends are the people I work with. My life is my work and the people I spend most time with.”
Due to her television exposure Julia has had many people contacting her saying that she has inspired and motivated them. She has been stirred to start fundraising for a youth centre in Durban and plans to pop in for a visit after the project manager, Sim Cele said had thought about giving up youth work until she saw the programme.
“It is worth any amount of exposure if I can do something in my capacity to make a difference and change even one person’s life,” explains Julia.
With that, she dances off to show us her latest project, decorating a two-bedroom guest suite attached to the property, all the while considering her fairy tale rise to success.
Vusi Radebe, technical executive for integrated infrastructure at consulting engineering company, GIBB, is no stranger to the South African property sector.
He has held several positions within the public sector and now this property expert says the public sector will continue to be the main demand driver for infrastructure in South Africa for many years to come.
“As a result, GIBB’s Integrated Infrastructure sector is shifting away from being primarily focused on housing developments to being focused on initiating, facilitating and managing the development of holistic infrastructure services including building schools, hospitals and other human settlements supporting public facilities,” he says.
Remarking on some of the projects currently undertaken by his team, Radebe says the Integrated Infrastructure sector is currently involved in developing a master plan for a nursing education institution.
“Through the Development Bank of Southern Africa, we have also assisted the Gauteng Department of Health to craft a business plan for revitalising Sebokeng and Tambo Memorial Hospitals,” he said.
In addition, GIBB is the project manager and implementing agent for the Gauteng Department of Local Government and Housing’s Mapetla Hostel upgrade, a five-year project, with a R800-million price tag.
Furthermore, the company is assisting the department with the planning of the Dobsonville Hostel upgrade.
“The actual design has been completed and we are currently awaiting further instructions from the client. Owing to space constraints, the hostel cannot be upgraded at its current location – alternate land has to be identified and secured,” says Radebe, who took over GIBB’s property portfolio when it was R16m and grew it to the current R52m.
Radebe studied politics and international relations at Rhodes University. His first job was with the Standerton Transitional Local Council (TLC) as assistant clerk in 1995 and worked his way up to assistant director.
As assistant director, Radebe’s main focus was to address the housing crisis. He was tasked with property management and responsible for transforming informal settlements into low-cost housing developments. This entailed assisting the municipality to acquire land, identify and plan for informal settlements upgrades as well as giving people rights to property.
In 1998, Radebe joined the Highveld Ridge TLC as assistant director of Housing. He was mandated to drive and manage the municipal process of formalising and upgrading six large informal settlements in eMbalenhle Township. The informal settlements were homes to 16 000 households and took five years to complete.
In 2001, he was tasked to drive a municipal programme to convert municipal-owned hostels at eMbalenhle and Mzinoni Townships to family units.
In 2003, he moved to Mogale City where he was the director responsible for heading the housing department, which was in charge of the planning and implementation of housing projects.
He headed one of the most dynamic and committed teams of municipal officials, which initiated and managed projects such as the Chief Mogale Integrated Human Settlement (funded by Absa Devco, valued at R1.2 billion), Munsieville Urban Upgrade, Kagiso Hostel Upgrading, Tarlton, Magaliesburg, Hekpoort and Mulderdrift Rural Housing Initiatives, including the Krugersdorp West (Moth site) Integrated Human Settlements.
Radebe's path crossed with Richard Vries, group chief executive of what was then called Arcus GIBB.
“GIBB, as a technical resource group, had been mandated by the Gauteng Department of Housing to look at the feasibility of developing social housing in Krugersdorp. Vries ultimately offered me a position at GIBB and I joined the company in March 2008,” recalls Radebe.
Giving back to his community
When not driving the human settlement agenda, Radebe can be found at home relaxing with his family or playing golf.
He participates in an adopt-a-child programme, which seeks to provide financial support to children from poor backgrounds.
“I adopted two children and I support them financially and in other ways. They are both based in the Limpopo Province.
"But charity should begin at home, which is why I am currently investigating a worthy charity that I can also support back home in Mpumalanga,” he adds.
determined to succeed: Ellen Sekhoetsane and her business partner, Pako Seate, in front of their agency in Soweto.
Sekhoetsane (42) joined DHL as a cleaner almost two decades ago, then worked her way up to ultimately opening a new outlet in Soweto a month ago.
Her business partner is close friend Pako Seate and they employ three people.
"I basically grew up in the courier business, and knowing that I didn't have any tertiary education I took advantage of all the training opportunities provided," she said.
She was born in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, and her life was turned upside down at the age of six when her mother and four sisters were forced to move to Joburg.
They lived on the streets and later in a shack in someone's backyard in Katlehong on the East Rand.
Sekhoetsane was unable to finish school after she fell pregnant in 1993 while she was in matric.
Her first step up from cleaner was being promoted to reception at DHL's Midrand branch.
She made her way through the ranks and became operations assistant in 2007.
It was during this time that she saw a gap in the market in providing a service agency to Soweto and surrounding areas.
"At the time I was dealing with a lot of queries from Soweto and saw a big gap in this area.
"In 2011, DHL sent an e-mail to staff asking if we had any suggestions to improve the work environment. Instead of submitting a suggestion,I sent in a business proposal," she said.
Working in a male-dominated industry has not always been easy.
Sekhoetsane saidshe faced many challenges trying to get people to believe in her dream of owning her own courier business.
"People always discouraged me, saying the freight industry is a man's world and I would never make it. They failed to realise I am very determined and I won't stop until I get what I want," she said.
It has been a month since she opened the outlet in Soweto and she said prospects were looking good.
"We are seeing a growing number of customers coming in. Pako and I would like to see our station grow to 400 shipments a day and creating employment for more people."
DHL Express SA managing director Hennie Heymans said: "Not only is this our first agency in Soweto, but it also brings DHL and its worldwide services closer to all residents of South Africa.
"The fact that the owners are former employees is even more encouraging, as it is exactly what we aim to achieve within the company, and that is constant employee development."
Ellen Sekhoetsane is proof that with determination and will, coupled with the right guidance, it is possible to steer your career path in a chosen direction.
Having started her professional journey as a cleaner at DHL Express, Sekhoetsane is today co-owner of the first DHL Express Service Point agency in Soweto, which marks a milestone for both the company, as well as Sekhoetsane’s entrepreneurial journey.
Born in Winterveld, Pretoria, Sekhoetsane’s life was turned upside down at the age of six when her mother and four sisters were forced to move to Johannesburg with no place to live. Living on the streets and eventually in a shack in a resident’s back yard in Nhlope, Katlehong Township, Sekhoetsane was also unable to matriculate after having fallen pregnant with her second child in 1993 while completing Grade 12.
Sekhoetsane secured her first job as a domestic worker in 1995 and in 1996 joined DHL’s Midrand Station as a cleaner, before working her way up through the company to ultimately becoming a business owner. While employed as a cleaner, Sekhoetsane continually observed the receptionist at the station and soon began standing in for her while she was on her lunch break. In 1998 she was offered a permanent position as a receptionist with the responsibility of answering all calls and managing the cashier.
Following this role, she was promoted to After Sales Agent in the Customer Service department in 2003, then promoted to Undeliverables Agent in the Operations department in 2005 and in 2007 Sekhoetsane was appointed to the position of Operations Assistant.
It was during this position that Sekhoetsane saw a gap in the market in providing a service agency to Soweto and its surrounding areas - an ever-increasing informal hub for business in the country. “At the time I was dealing with a lot of queries from Soweto and saw a big gap in providing courier services to this area,” says Sekhoetsane.
After discussions with her colleague and close friend, Pako Seate, who was also an Operations Assistant at the time, a business proposal was submitted to management in 2011 to open an agency in Soweto, the first venture for DHL Express in the area.
According to Hennie Heymans, Managing Director for DHL Express South Africa, the opening of the Service Point in Soweto is twofold for the company. “Not only is this our first agency in Soweto but it also brings DHL and its worldwide services closer to all residents of South Africa. The fact that the owners are former employees is even more encouraging as it is exactly what we aim to achieve within the company, and that is constant employee development. It fills one with amazing pride to be able to play a small part in people’s life journey. We are about more than just delivering a shipment; we in fact deliver hope, joy and prosperity,” says Heymans.
The new Soweto Service Point agency is based at Asambhe Soweto Complex, on the corner of Dynamo Street and Chris Hani Road and currently employs three staff members; a driver, receptionist and credit controller.
“I had a wonderful journey working for DHL. I developed business skills and met amazing people who always supported me in and outside the office. Pako and I would like to see our station grow to sending 400 shipments a day and creating employment for more people,” concludes Sekhoetsane.