As if it were not enough to call himself “proudly capitalist” in such a politically correct country like South Africa, one of the country’s most respected pioneer black entrepreneurs, Herman Mashaba, is now getting ready to blaze another trail, albeit a much more dangerous and potentially costly one this time around.
Mashaba has just been elected chairman of the board of the Free Market Foundation, an organization that in its heyday was a rallying point for all free booting, free marketeers, die-hard capitalists and liberals. It used to dish out honors, accolades and advice to anyone and everyone of a similar mind.
Mashaba, a recipient of the foundation’s annual Free Market Award in 1994 and one of their few chosen blacks at the time, has agreed to lead the organization, “revitalize” it and come up with some “bold new initiatives”.
He is taking no prisoners.
In what he accepts could end up in a very ugly public spat with the country’s mighty and powerful, Mashaba is prepared to tell all and sundry that a mixture of “flawed policies”, widespread corruption and pandering to union interests will soon make South Africa worse than it was under apartheid or colonialism, for that matter. “I blame it all on the country’s stringent hiring and firing laws, the myriad of bureaucratic processes and the swelling costs of this ineffective bureaucracy.”
It’s a stance, and language, previously thought to be the preserve of the political opposition, certainly not what South Africans are accustomed to from business. “Business has been too quiet for far too long now, we need to let the people of South Africa hear an alternative economic policy,” says Mashaba.
Top of his to-do-list is mounting an unprecedented challenge on the country’s Labor Relations Act—a piece of legislation that the unions see as sacred.
The act regulates, among other things, employer-employee relations, trade union activity, collective bargaining, as well as strikes and lockouts. It is seen as an antidote to the exploitation of workers under apartheid and makes it difficult to fire people.
Mashaba wants it repealed.
“We have a crisis on our hands and we have to address it now. When we fought apartheid it was not to replace it with something worse,” he says, with a great deal of irritation.
His main gripe?
Some of its provisions, such as allowing for a stipulation of minimum wages, are making it difficult for employers to retrench surplus workers.
“This act is really destroying jobs in our country,” he says, without a hint of contradiction in his voice: “No-one goes into business to employ people. You go into business to make money.”
“Capitalism has become something of a dirty word, while the unions and the youth wing of the ruling party are free to talk socialism.”
Mashaba is gathering money, including his own, to take the government he helped vote into power to the highest court in the land. In the Constitutional Court he will argue that not only is the act a hindrance to foreign investment, but that it is thwarting entrepreneurs’ attempts at creating new wealth and jobs.
In the past, to even suggest that the labor laws should be repealed, drew threats of “blood on the floor” from the two million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Sdumo Dlamini, the president of Cosatu, disagrees: “If anything, Cosatu wants the Labor Relations Act tightened. We want to remind Mashaba that even the current arrangement was negotiated.”
The closest business has come to challenging the legislation has been to say it is restrictive and should perhaps be reviewed. No-one has dared to oppose it as vehemently as Mashaba intends to.
Backed by two prominent firms of attorneys, who are offering free legal advice, Mashaba says he has set the ball rolling by commissioning a study to put before the courts.
Ironically, the organization Mashaba intends using as his vehicle is an entity that went missing, presumed dead, at the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994.
Established in 1975, it was created, to quote its handbook: “to promote the principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty.”
The Free Market Foundation, once had as its members leading multinationals: Coca-Cola; BP; British American Tobacco; Microsoft; Boehringer Ingelheim; GlaxoSmithKline and Independent Newspapers. Among South Africa’s own were SA Breweries; the Bidvest Group; Pick ‘n Pay; Edgars; Sasol and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
With the exception of people like National Federation of Commerce and Industry stalwart Sam Motsuenyane, the foundation’s members were at some point the who’s who of South Africa’s distinguished, white, captains of industry—people Mashaba had very little in common with except his belief in and love for capitalism.
Mashaba says his love for money and self-reliance was formed early in life. He was two years old when his father died in Johannesburg, leaving his domestic worker mother to look after him and his four sisters.
At a very young age he would watch other boys go in search of weekend jobs in the white suburbs of Pretoria North. The stories of indignity the boys came back with, only to be rewarded with R1 or R1.50, was too much for young Mashaba to bear.
He decided to become, what in the townships they used to call a “knocksman”—that is running a back street dice game.
With a pair of dice, he would organize a venue and persuade his mates to gamble their hard won earnings with him.
The luck of the dice paid his way through high school, where he matriculated and went to Turfloop University, in Limpopo, where he was forced to enroll for a Bachelor of Administration degree majoring in political science and public administration. He wanted to study law, but couldn’t secure a place because he had failed Afrikaans, which at the time was a prerequisite for legal studies.
In his second year, following campus unrest, the authorities closed down the university and sent the students home. To this day Mashaba has never returned to university.
After months of trying, unsuccessfully, to leave the country to join exiled liberation movements, he decided to look for a job.
His first job was at a supermarket, as a dispatch clerk, where he worked for seven months before joining a furniture store where he would spend the next 18 months of his life.
More than two years later he saw a classified advertisement in a local newspaper looking for sales representatives. You could write your own pay check, the ad said. All you needed was a car and selling experience.
Mashaba had never driven a car, let alone owned one. Two months later, he had organized someone to teach him to drive, bought a car on hire purchase, and got married, so he could not be distracted. He and Connie Mashaba have been together ever since and have two children.
Every day, for years, he would defy the strict apartheid pass laws that stopped black people from “loitering” in white suburbia. He would go and knock on doors to the snapping snarls of vicious guard dogs, selling everything from dinner sets, to linen, crockery, fire detection instruments and hair care products.
The promise of writing his own pay check was realized. Soon he was making two to three times more than black doctors, who were among the best-paid black professionals at the time.
His big break came through permed hair, the fashion statement of the day in the townships. Hair salons were mushrooming across the country and Mashaba dived into the market. By selling hair products he was earning around R4,000 a month, which he says was serious money back then.
In 1984, while still a salesman, Mashaba approached two of his colleagues. Joseph Molantoa, a fellow salesman and friend from the township, and Johan Kriel, an Afrikaner guy who was production manager at the same company.
Mashaba didn’t know Kriel that well, but had picked up that he used to own a hair products firm that went under.
“I took a chance and shared with him my dream,” he recalls.
This was the moment that led to the creation of South Africa’s first black-owned hair products manufacturing company. The trio approached a township entrepreneur, Walter Dube, for finance. Dube, whose wife was a client of Mashaba’s and owned a hair salon, agreed to lend the business R30,000—a fortune back then—he charged them prime plus 10% and insisted on owning 25% of the business.
On February 14, 1985, the Black Like Me range of hair products hit the market. South Africans immediately fell in love with the products.
Mashaba, Molantoa and Kriel were in the money. Dube’s loan was repaid within seven months.
Four years later, Mashaba bought his friend Molantoa out. Three years later he bought out Kriel.
Dube would cash in only in 1997, when Mashaba decided to sell a 75% majority stake to beauty and personal care company Colgate-Palmolive hoping the multinational would take the brand further. Alas, it was not to be.
“Slowness, bureaucracy, stood in the way. I quickly made an offer to buy back,” says Mashaba,
Two years later, Black like Me was back in Mashaba’s hands. And he had bought it for much less than he had sold it for.
“Yes, I had made another profit,” he says, with a naughty smile, then a chuckle.
Another two years later the company would see a rapid 47% growth. This after Mashaba had rebranded it, launched it in countries like the United Kingdom and added fragrances and cosmetics to his range.
With the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 came numerous other opportunities for seasoned black entrepreneurs like Mashaba.
The newly elected ANC government had adopted black economic empowerment (BEE) as official policy. In an effort to empower blacks, it initially nudged, later forced through legislation. It meant white-owned companies had to bring on board blacks by giving them equity.
“When BEE started I was never attracted. It made no sense to me, even though I had invitations,” says Mashaba.
“But as soon as it dawned on me that, with or without me, this thing is happening, I decided to take advantage.”
And take advantage he did, starting in 2002 by becoming part of a consortium that initially bought 10% of a ferrochrome smelter that previously belonged to Samancor, a few years later increasing their stake to 19.9%.
Ten years down the line Mashaba’s Lephatsi Investments has assets under management of R600 million ($80 million), stakes in 12 different listed and non-listed companies that operate across economic sectors encompassing mining, property management and development, energy and information communication technology.
Always the one keen to demonstrate that he always makes money—he quickly points out that he spent R40 million on the Samancor deal and sold for R2 billion a few years later, while they bought Stocks Building Africa for R80 million and sold it for R1.1 billion a couple of years ago.
So, considering the fact that a great majority of South Africans don’t even dream of talking about, let alone owning, those amounts of money, doesn’t Mashaba think it’s a bit unfair to have mustered the wealth he has and still expect workers to agree to less generous Labor Relations Act provisions?
“No,” he replies, “never take away from people the opportunity to make money. Let’s come with policies that ensure that we are fair. Let’s make sure we manage the greed. But let’s allow South Africans to be natural. My understanding of the capitalist system is that it’s only natural. It’s a natural system for human beings.”
Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa
Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.
In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.
On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.
In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.
“I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra.
That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.
The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.
The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”
He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.
“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.
“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”
Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.
It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.
But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”
And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.
“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.
The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.
Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.
“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”
Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.
Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died
The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.
It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.
READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo
She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.
That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.
She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.
One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.
Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.
-Jill De Villiers
Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo
Thandi Ndlovu and Nonkululeko Gobodo, moulded by South Africa’s apartheid past, tore their way into male-dominated sectors , leading them boldly through a quarter century of democracy. Failure was never an option.
On a sunny winter’s afternoon in a quiet suburb of Randburg in greater Johannesburg, a second white Mercedes-Benz pulls up in the driveway of a photographic studio, and finds a shady spot to park.
Already seated next to a pool glinting blue in the sunlight, an elegant woman dressed in black and white sips green tea and talks about her early life growing up in the former Bantustan of Transkei in South Africa.
Absorbed in recounting her story, she looks up as a tall, slender woman, also in a chic black and white ensemble, walks towards her. The two women beam in recognition. They are here to be photographed by FORBES AFRICA and to share their unique stories as businesswomen in two traditionally white male-dominated sectors – auditing and construction.
This year, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy. As the country started shaking off the shackles of oppression in the 1990s, both these women embarked on their paths to greatness. Both had been moulded by the harsh final years of apartheid, gaining the strength and conviction to fight for what they believed in.
In the process, they built successful businesses, changed perceptions and became role models.
And as with all stories of achievement, their journeys came with times of adversity.
Nonkululeko Gobodo: The visionary in auditing
As a young girl, Nonkululeko Gobodo had very low self-esteem. She was shy and quiet and as the middle child in a family of five children, she felt overshadowed by her very outgoing older siblings. Her mother made it clear that she thought Gobodo wasn’t “going to amount to anything”.
Yet, there were factors in her upbringing, at home and in her community, which shaped her and prepared her for a future as a captain of industry.
Her mother was very hard on her. “I’m someone who needs affirmation and she did the opposite of what I needed. Fortunately, my father was doing that, he was doing the affirmative things.”
As an educator, her father was excited when she achieved “goodish” results at school, even slaughtering a sheep in celebration.
“When my parents were running shops, I used to be the one who would help in running the shops during the holidays. And I was quite young to be given the responsibility. My mother was literally taking a holiday, and I would run the shop perfectly, no shortage or anything like that. So, in spite of the fact that she was too hard on me, she must have thought she was nurturing this talent and making me strong.”
Growing up in the then independent Transkei (now the Eastern Cape province of South Africa), Gobodo was largely sheltered from the impact of apartheid in other parts of the country.
“I lived in this world where you were sort of cushioned from what was happening in South Africa. So you were socialized to be a fighter, to be strong. My parents used to say that we should never allow anybody to tell us there were things we cannot do,” she elucidates.
It was an everyday thing to see black people running a variety of formal businesses like hotels, garages and wholesalers.
“I suppose I was very fortunate in that I was raised by these parents who were in business, who were working very hard during those times and with very strong personalities, both of them. Within the Xhosa tribe itself, although there is patriarchy and all that, Xhosa women are very strong and they are sort of equal partners with their husbands.”
Still very young, Gobodo fell pregnant. Her parents insisted on marriage. The marriage would end several years later, after the birth of three children, when she was 34 years old.
While taking a gap year working at her father’s panel-beating shop in Mthatha (then Umtata), during her first pregnancy, Gobodo discovered her calling. While her parents thought she would be well-suited to a career in medicine, she found joy in accountancy.
The gap year also revealed her innate strength to stand up for what she believed in. For the first time, she encountered racism. White managers remained in place when her father bought the business from the Transkei Development Corporation (TDC).
“They were really so upset by these black people who had taken over this business, and they were just bullying everyone. So I was able to stand up to them and then I realized I’m actually smart, I’m actually not this thing that my mother was saying, that I’m not just smart, but I’m strong, I’m tough, I can stand up to these men during apartheid years and it was not because my father owned the shop, but it was this thing of suddenly discovering who you are for the first time and just waking up to who you are and suddenly knowing what you wanted to do. Oh wow, accountancy, I didn’t know about that,” she smiles.
She was also inspired by the fact that black auditors did the books for her father’s business. They were WL Nkuhlu & Co, owned by Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu. Her father supported her decision to study BCom and she enrolled at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University).
Gobodo became a star performer at university and her confidence grew. After qualifying, the university offered her a junior lectureship. While there was no racism in the academic environment, it was here that she had her first taste of gender discrimination. A male colleague instructed her to do filing. She thought this was ridiculous considering her position, and she refused. He treated her as an equal from then on.
“I made a decision to fight the system differently,” she says. “I was sure there was no system that would determine who I am and how far I can go. I used to say this mantra to myself: ‘Your opinions of me do not define me. You don’t even know who I am’. So I never allowed those things to get to me.”
Early on, she already had a vision to have her own practice, so she was not distracted by her peers complaining while doing their articles. She was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to get the best training she could get. “Those guys never became chartered accountants, so it was a wise thing not to join them,” she smiles.
In 1987, she made history when she became South Africa’s first black female chartered accountant.
Working at KPMG, she grew to rapidly build her own portfolio of challenging assignments.
“It was my driving force right through life to prove to myself and others that there was nothing I couldn’t do. And for me, being black really gave me purpose. I can imagine that if I was living in a world that was readymade for me, life would have been very boring,” she says.
She was offered a partnership eight months after her articles. She would be the first black partner, and the first woman. It was very tempting. But she remembered her vision to start her own practice and taking the partnership would be “the easy way out”.
So she moved on to the TDC, where at the age of 29, she was promoted from internal audit manager to Chief Financial Officer within three months. Again in 1992, she decided to break “the golden chains” of the TDC to pursue her destiny. But first, she restructured her department and empowered five managers; thoroughly enjoying the work of developing leaders, and setting the tone for the business she runs now – Nkululeko Leadership Consulting.
At the time, her father questioned her decision to leave such a lucrative position to take the risk of starting a business. “Everybody was so scared for me and was discouraging me. I realized these people were expressing their own fears. I have no such fears. And it’s not saying I’m not fearful of the step I am taking, but I’m going into this business to succeed.”
The best way to do that was to step into the void without a safety net. So, no part-time lecturing job to distract her from her vision. “If I had listened to them, how would I have known that I could take my business this far?”
She describes herself as a natural entrepreneur. Yet, the responsibility of leading a business is not a joke.
“It sobers you up,” she says. “You realize you have to make this work, otherwise you’re going to fail a whole lot of people. But when you have the courage to pursue your dream, things sort of work out. Things fall into place.”
Eighteen months into the practice, she took on a partner and felt an “agitation for growth”. It came with a “massive job” from the Transkei Auditor General, and things changed overnight. With only four people in their office, they now needed 30 to complete the assignment and they hired second and third year students who attended night lectures at the university.
“At that time, as a black and a woman, you had to define your own image of yourself, and have the right attitude to fight for your place in the sun. And I can’t take for granted the way I was socialized and raised by my parents. My father was such a fighter. And he shared all his stories at the dinner table. He used to say in Xhosa: ‘who can stand in front of a bus?’, so you just have those pictures of yourself as a bus. Who can stand in front of me and my ambitions in life,” she laughs.
This self-confidence, belief in herself, direction, purpose and her clear vision steered her ever further.
“Unfortunately, I had a fallout with my partner Sindi Zilwa [co-founder of Nkonki Inc, a registered firm of auditors, consultants and advisors], and that was a hard one, a very difficult one. I used to say it was more difficult than my divorce, because that happened almost at the same time. First, the divorce started and a few months later, I divorced with my partner,” she says.
“It was a lonely time. It is amazing that out of hardship, we find an opportunity to grow and move to the next level.”
She went on a five -week program with Merrill Lynch in New York in 1994. On her return, she saw herself being cut out of negotiations to establish a medium-sized black accounting firm. While these plans were scuppered now, her vision still survived and no one could take that away from her.
She approached young professionals who were managers at the big accounting firms in Johannesburg to join her. “But you can imagine, they were young, they were fearful. It took about eight months to persuade and convince them.”
Gobodo understood their fears as she herself had to overcome her doubts about moving from a small community in the Transkei to the big city. But the visit to New York had helped her overcome her fear. If she could make it there, she could make it anywhere.
Gobodo Incorporated was established in 1996. It was the third medium-sized black accounting firm.
The others were Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba and KMMT Brey.
She believes that providence has always sent “angels” to her at the right time in her life. Peter Moyo, a partner at Ernst & Young at the time, gave his time and invaluable experience leading to the establishment of Gobodo Incorporated. Chris Stephens, who was the former head of consulting for KPMG, facilitated bringing a fully-fledged forensics unit to the firm. They took up a whole floor at their new Parktown, Johannesburg offices instead of the planned half-floor.
From a small practice in Mthatha, Gobodo Inc. grew to a medium-sized company with 10 partners, 200 staff and three offices – in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was an exciting time.
Gobodo firmly believes that visions are not static. Once a summit is conquered, there will always be another one waiting for you.
The next summit beckoned her 15 years later. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a program launched by the South African government to redress the inequalities of apartheid, was firmly established and accounting firms were compliant, and Gobodo Inc. started losing out on opportunities as previous joint-audits done in partnership with the big accounting firms fell away.
She started talks with Victor Sekese of Sizwe Ntsaluba to merge the two medium-sized firms.
Again, people questioned the wisdom of the move. What if the market was not ready for a large black accounting firm?
There was somewhat of a culture clash when the “somewhat older, disciplined, bottom-line” Gobodo Inc. and the “younger, more creative” Sizwe Ntsaluba teams came together. A new culture combining the best of both emerged. Ironically, while no people were lost during the merger, some were uncomfortable with the culture change and left.
In the beginning, “a lot of sacrifices had to be made to make this thing work. Like the name. My partners were saying Nonkululeko’s name should be in front because she’s the only remaining founder,” explains Gobodo.
Sizwe Ntsaluba wanted their name up front, and it was a deal-breaker. She decided the vision was bigger than her and she wouldn’t allow anything to jeopardize it. The company name was agreed on: SizweNtsalubaGobodo. The business grew to 55 partners and over 1,000 staff.
“I think we underestimated how hard it would be,” she says. “Mergers are difficult in themselves, around 70% of mergers fail. People were laughing at us saying ‘ah, black people, they’re going to fight amongst each other and fail’, so we were determined not to fail. Failure was not an option.”
When they did their first sole tender, “you could smell the fear in the passages. There was so much fear”. Then the call came from the chair of the audit committee of Transnet to say the board had decided to appoint SizweNtsalubaGobodo as the sole auditors.
Gobodo had led the way to the establishment of the fifth largest accounting firm in South Africa. Her vision had been realized.
“It was just so fulfilling, really so fulfilling,” says the grandmother-of-three. “So it was time to move this thing forward.”
She was the Executive Chairperson and Sekese was the CEO. She commissioned partners to find the best governance structure for the firm. Their recommendation was for one leader to lead the firm forward, and a non-executive chair.
“That was going to be boring for me. If I was not going to be part of driving this vision forward, it was time for me to leave,” Gobodo says. “There comes a time that the founders must leave and hand over to the next generation.”
Although she had achieved her dream, it was not easy to let go. The separation took three months.
“I learned a lot about letting go at that time. We have to let go layer by layer. I had to accept that they would do what they had to with the legacy. And here they are now, having merged with Grant Thornton. The dream was to be a true international firm, and now with SNG Grant Thornton, it is still basically a black firm going into the continent. The dream does not die. This is still a black firm taking over an international brand.”
Gobodo now heads Nkululeko Leadership Consulting, a boutique, black-owned and managed leadership consulting firm. Here, she can live her passion for developing leaders. She also sits on the boards of PPC and Clicks. The future awaits her with more promise.
Side bar: ‘The World Is Not Kind To Strong Women Leaders’
What were the greatest challenges she faced during her career?
“Making a success of your life in the South Africa of the past. As a black person, you always started from a place of being dismissed, as a woman, you always started from a place of being dismissed. So you had to be true to yourself and find yourself for you to be able to succeed. And that was hard. I don’t want to make it as if it was easy.
“The second thing was being a strong woman leader. The world is not kind to strong women leaders. And for me, being a strong woman leader was the hardest thing because both men and women don’t accept a strong woman leader. So you have this big vision, you are driven, you have to move things forward and if you’re a strong man, you’re accepted.
“But if you’re a strong woman, you are not. So you had to grow up and mature and try to find that balance of still moving people forward to achieve your vision, because I realized early that I would not get to the finish line without them. I could not leave them behind. So I always had to find that balance and sometimes, I didn’t do it well.
“Because there was this urgency of moving forward and you have to drag people with you. And they didn’t take kindly to that. Do I regret it? No, not really. I don’t think I would have achieved what I had. I had been given these gifts as a strong woman for a reason. I just feel sorry for strong women leaders, because it is still not easy for them today.”
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