Do you want to be an employer or do you want to be an employee?” Fifteen words that changed Ipeleng Mkhari’s life.
We meet Mkhari, one of the founders and CEO of Motseng Investment Holdings, at her offices in Sandton, Johannesburg. She walks in and fills the room. Mkhari has bravura, elegance and a firm handshake.
Born in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, along the east coast of South Africa, Mkhari completed her studies in Industrial Psychology and Sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1996.
She had a good start in life; her mother was a doctor, her father an attorney. In 1986, her parents divorced. Mkhari describes it as a tragic and painful time.
At the end of 1996, her mother died.
“It was the darkest moment in my life, losing everything at that time was extremely hard for me and my siblings,” says Mkhari.
In the holidays, Mkhari worked for Eskom’s marketing department at its headquarters in Megawatt Park just down the road from where she now works. This gave her a taste of the world of business.
Fresh out of university, she landed a job as marketing director at Phosa Iso CCTV – an electronic security system company.
“When I met the owners of the company, the power question the gentleman asked me was ‘Do you want to be an employer or do you want to be an employee?’ I said I want to be an employer,” she recalls.
“It was a great experience for me; I didn’t know anything about electronic security. I became a black economic empowerment partner, because the business needed to transform but white businesses were not prepared to sell equity for their businesses to transform but created joint ventures outside the businesses to see how it works.”
A year later, seeing a gap in the market for black businesses, she started her own CCTV business.
In September 1998, she teamed up with former schoolmate and friend, Sandile Nomvete, to found Motseng Investment Holdings that proved to be her fortune.
The 41-year-old has been through some pretty tough times.
“When I got a CCTV contract with Kunene Brothers and with no money to buy equipment, I had to get bridging finance. I approached one of the banks and said ‘Here I am, with a business plan and a contract.’ The contract was what secured the finance. I had to pay the money back within a month, I had made sure that I delivered on time and installed on time with no snags.”
“As an entrepreneur you have to remember there is no success without struggle.”
At 23, Mkhari attended meetings where she was the only black woman, but took it head on.
According to Mkhari, it takes a special breed of human being to be an entrepreneur.
“In business you lose, you win, but you lose more than you win, but you’re satisfied with that because you’re learning.”
The self-made millionaire believes it’s important to heed these lessons of failure.
“Success is a terrible teacher,” she says, quoting Bill Gate’s powerful words.
Her biggest inspiration was her parents and two late grandmothers.
Today, she owns 70% of the shares in a solely black-owned property management company that has operational expertise.
Mkhari believes in grooming up-and-coming women entrepreneurs.
“I am passionate about women in business, I strive to see them grow and shine in the industry.”
She highlights the importance of affirmation.
“Affirmation and confidence are two peas in a pod. If you are an affirmed individual, by those who loves you, it boosts your confidence and tells you that you are good at something. One of the most fundamental ingredients in life is confidence. When I started my business I was confident enough to walk into scary situations, but I would open my mouth, set about presenting the story of my life and why I needed their business. No schooling system can teach you that but you need that affirmation at home, from people who believe in you.”
She has been an entrepreneur for two decades and won accolades: Cosmopolitan’s Mover of the Year Award in 2006; CEO Magazine’s Most Influential Women in Business in 2008; and FORBES WOMAN AFRICA’s Pioneer Woman of the Year Award in 2015.
Mkhari has seen a transformation in entrepreneurship in the last decade.
“Today, the narrative and support for women in business is massive.”
Things weren’t easy in the last two years.
“The person I have started business with, we decided to part ways. The biggest challenge has been actually making sure that the business continues to be sustainable.” Mkhari’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Change your entire lifestyle, be prepared to roll up your sleeves, walk past that handbag.”
“I get people who say they want to be like me, but you weren’t there when I had no money, when I couldn’t replace my car tyres because they were so flat. You don’t know that story. What you see on magazines is the end of 17 years,” says Mkhari.
She is not just a hardcore businesswoman, but wife to entrepreneur Given Mkhari and mother to four daughters.
From the only black woman in boardrooms, to fixing flat tyres, Mkhari has come a long way. She is the kind of person who makes you wonder where she’ll go next.