Doctor-turned-entrepreneur Judy Dlamini shows up on multiple lists of the richest women in South Africa, but she says she doesn’t belong on them.
Dlamini is chairwoman of Mbekani Investment Holdings, and she’s on the boards of directors of Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies Anglo American, Aspen Pharmacare and Northam Platinum.
A year ago in July 2013, she was worth 124 million rand ($16.1 million), according to TheSouthAfrican. And in 2012, she was also on the list of the 10 richest South African women.
In an interview on CNBCAfrica’s “Women On Wealth,” Dlamini made an attempt to correct the record: “I dont believe those list are accurate,” she said.
Dlamini began her career as a family medical practitioner. “That was the best time in my life,” she said. But when she became a victim of crime, she decided to study full time for an MBA, and then become a businesswoman.
How does she spot a good deal?
Dlamini says it’s a combination of luck, focus “and investment in yourself. It has to be a mutual decision,” she said. “It always helps when you invest in a business if there’s congruence with your value system. That happens to be the case (for Dlamini) with the
Dlamini’s main source of income is Aspen, according to TheSouthAfrican.
How should women be pursuing wealth?
“You have to find a passion and pursue it and if it’s wealth then so be it,” Dlamini said. “If it’s being good at what you do, that’s also important. You need to be ambitious, focus and work hard. Unfortunately there is no short cut.”
On finding work-life balance
“I don’t think you ever reach balance,” Dlamini said. “I think you prioritize. If you get your proiorities right you are better able to be happy. We don’t chase wealth, I think. We chase happiness.”
Dlamini’s advice to young women: “Invest in yourself. We always talk about degrees (higher education) but I do believe relationships are very important. What I’ve achieved is because I’ve been ambitious. Be detailed. Make sure it’s a good deal but more important, you have to be happy with the management team.”
Judy Dlamini The doctor who found a calling in business
JUDY Dlamini has come a long way from being a township girl fantasising that a parcel containing new clothes — T-shirts and jeans — would arrive at her door and answer the fashion dreams of a young student strapped for cash but high on style.
When we met for lunch at Pigalle in Melrose Arch, Ms Dlamini wore an Oscar de la Renta dress, with meticulous detail and looking as if it came from the fashion runways of Paris.
It probably did.
Ms Dlamini loves clothes, but there is nothing flighty about her. From an early age she was serious: she wanted to learn.
One day a doctor came to treat her father. She saw this black man with a beautiful car in charge of everything.
He helped her dad get better and the seed was planted. She wanted to be a doctor.
Ms Dlamini was born in Westville, in Durban, but grew up in Clermont.
She ran her doctor’s practice in Umlazi, the third largest township in South Africa, for about a decade.
Then she was held up by robbers at her practice and her passion started to dwindle.
Even so, she says, these were her best days because being a doctor satisfied an urge within her.
“I had a one-on-one relationship with my patients and their families. I understood their issues. I cried with them and laughed with them. There is nothing I could ever do that could be more rewarding.”
But, Ms Dlamini cannot be happy in a comfort zone.
Wanting to go into business, she completed an MBA and moved to Johannesburg with her husband Sizwe Nxasana, who had then been appointed CEO at Telkom and is now in charge of FirstRand.
When she was practising as a doctor and he as an accountant, the couple, who met in high school, owned a bakery next to her practice.
Once Ms Dlamini had decided to trade medicine for business, she opted to take up a junior position with a lower income in the corporate finance division of an investment bank.
She wanted to learn the ropes so she could really understand the way a business works, from the ground up.
“I won’t go back to medicine because life is about growth.
“When you reach a comfort zone, you take a lot of things for granted,” she said.
“When you challenge yourself, you expose the gaps in your knowledge that you need to fill.
“It has made me a better person,” said Ms Dlamini.
There were other business ventures. Before they had left KwaZulu-Natal, she had put together an investment group for women. She was involved in a combined public-private partnership in health at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, operating the two sterile units at the hospital and supplying surgical instruments.
While seeking funding for a venture, she came into contact with Investec corporate finance stalwart Andy Leith, who suggested she meet Aspen Pharmacare co-founder Stephen Saad, with whom he had worked since the start of the highly successful pharmaceutical group.
Ms Dlamini played a leadership role in the empowerment group that invested in Aspen, which led to a place on the board of directors.
Two years later she became non-executive chairwoman.
Ms Dlamini has been with the group for nearly 10 years and describes her time there as a wonderful journey. “When you can find a business that matches you core beliefs and makes a positive difference, especially for the poor, it is very rewarding. I am lucky to be working with the Aspen team.”
Ms Dlamini has a quiet manner. Even though she is clear about her views, there is a softness that reflects her stance as a doctor rather than a businesswoman.
She is averse to the spotlight, but after losing her son to an illness some years ago she decided to share her story as a means of encouraging others.
“It reminded me that life is so short and that you are here for a purpose. The things you do and say might change the life of a child who doesn’t know you.
“If it can make someone else aim higher, it’s worth it. That’s how I look at life now.”
Last year she completed a doctorate in business leadership.
“Education is everything. I had a dream of having a doctorate after a graduation ceremony I attended when I was a teenager. It was so special. In a sea of students earning bachelor’s degrees there were two or three receiving doctorates. Earning the right to wear red academic attire became one of my missions.”
Ms Dlamini admits she could never have been a stay-at-home mom. “I used to pity my kids. They have two hard-working control freaks as parents,” she says while laughing.
She learnt all about hard work from her parents and her children are following in her footsteps in this regard. “I knew I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I focused on education and gave it my all. That was the ethos in my house.”
It is a path that has made her very wealthy and positions her as one of the few women on the Sunday Times Rich List. She says it is not truly accurate and that wealth and rankings do not drive her.
The family is involved in several charities. One focuses on rural development and education. Next year they will start a fund to help locals study abroad. The family is building a community centre in KwaZulu-Natal to enable local residents to sell goods and get skills training.
“Rural communities more often than not lack access to quality education, healthcare and job opportunities. A lot has been done by government to address this, but as a family we believe we have a role to play. The path we chose was based on what the community identified as their needs.”
Ms Dlamini is now the largest single investor in high-end fashion store Luminance and working hard with her team.
What’s next? She would love to lecture and to pass on her insights and knowledge, but she has yet to enter the lecture circuit.
Human beings are very intriguing, she says.
“For some people, negative reinforcement makes them say: I’ll fight it until the end.
“I just have this drive to prove to myself that I can do it.”
‘A price I’ll pay with a clean heart’
“I BELIEVE that if we didn’t have employment equity, women and blacks would still be where they were before 1994. Scandinavian countries have gender quotas and I believe these have assisted with the advancement of women, which is confirmed by their performance on gender parity as measured annually by the World Economic Forum.”
The ANC’s quotas had enabled a more gender-representative parliament, Ms Dlamini said.
“Transformation is not easy. Some people say that if you are brought into a position because of quotas, people won’t take you seriously. What I say to that is that it’s a small price to pay. It’s a price I’m wiling to pay with a clean heart, for the sake of a society that is representative of its people across race and gender. Yes, I’ve worked hard at developing myself, but opportunity is everything. I owe my position to the government’s transformation policies.”
“I NEVER feel hopeless about the future of our country. People don’t get it. In my view, there is nothing that could ever be as bad as apartheid — ever. Although I have empowered myself through hard work, the government has been a major enabler through its policies,” said Ms Dlamini.
“I can be what I choose to be. My blackness will not stop me the way it did in the past. Our constitution does not allow it.
“And no one will tell me where I can live and what I can achieve. That is priceless.”
As a child growing up in the township, she saw the non-white and non-European signs and asked: Why? How am I different? Why can’t I get on that bus?
Growing up, “nothing could be worse than being told you are less than equal to others because of your race.
“The change in dispensation was one of the best things that ever happened in our lifetime
“I finally became a legitimate citizen. My voice counts”.
Women leaders in the spotlight
JUDY Dlamini’s doctorate looked at the intersection of race, gender and social class in the career progression of women in this country, using the life stories of women CEOs, and includes strategies on how to progress.
In terms of prejudice, race is still number one, and gender a close second. Social class and age are also determinants of career progress. She found that if race and social class were working against you, you tended to do three times more to be on par than someone else.
Women need to invest in themselves more than their male counterparts for recognition, and black women especially have to work that much harder. In her study, black women from a working-class background had more academic qualifications and had longer work experience before obtaining their first leadership position when compared to their white counterparts.
All mentioned support from family and their husbands as one of their key success factors.