Johanna Mukoki grew up in Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. Her family struggled to make ends meet—her father was a bus driver and her mother a teacher. To help out with their finances Mukoki spent her weekends selling ice cream, boiled eggs and raw meat on the busy streets of Soweto, Johannesburg. It was on these streets that she honed her entrepreneurial skills. It didn’t matter to her that she occasionally had to walk to school barefoot, when the kids would make fun of her, because it all added fuel to the fire, burning inside her, with the desire to prosper in life.
At home, although money was tight, inspiration was plenty. She was motivated by the books her father encouraged her to read, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Convey. From a young age she learnt that the key to success was not just about having a gift but that it required hard work and determination.
“I told my mom that I was going to work very hard to make sure that we never had to struggle again.”
In high school, Mukoki traded in selling for a successful modeling career. Her protective father accompanied her to every TV shoot and beauty pageant and his support kept her going. With the money she made from modeling Mukoki was able to support her family for an entire month. She recalls a song her mother always sang that went, “The little things you do for me they so
The promising entrepreneur completed her B.Com degree at Rhodes University, where she became the first black student to tutor accounting. Life was going well for Mukoki until she hit another crossroads.
In her final year of completing her articles at KPMG, formally known as Aiken & Carter, she was approached by many firms, which wanted to hire her. In those days qualified, black, female accountants were in short supply. Each offer made was better than the previous and Mukoki came to a sudden realization.
“If these people really think that there is value in me then I need to work for me, I need to invest in me.”
Uncertain of which direction she would take, all she knew was that she didn’t want to become a grey auditor for the rest of her life. When Mukoki was introduced to Tibor Zsadanyi and Robert Wilke, her partners in the company, it was a match made in heaven. They all had the same dream and vision for the company. Travel With Flair (TWF) started with three members of staff and one green-striped couch; they have since grown into a leading travel management company on the continent with a staff of 550 people. It has branches in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. If you visit their Pretoria offices you will find the original green-striped couch at the front reception.
“It’s a good way to remind one of where one came from. Those humbling experiences take you back and help you find your equilibrium,” she says.
For the past three years, TWF has won the ‘Africa’s Leading Business Travel Agency’ Award at the World Travel Awards. The company is worth an estimated R1.8 billion ($205.7 million) and credits much of its success to their ability to be pioneers in the industry. It was the first travel agency in the country to have SMS confirmation, e-confirmation and email boarding passes to passengers.
“Travel is dynamic and forever changing and if we are going to stay at the top we have to move with it.”
The road to creating one of the top travel companies in South Africa did not come without difficulties. Mukoki faced many problems.
“The first three years were a challenge. I would end up going without a salary because we had to pay employees’ salaries first.”
Being a black woman made acquiring finance from the bank difficult and there was also the challenge of finding regular clients. Their breakthrough came after they landed their first account with the University of Venda and business snowballed from there. Mukoki pushed on through the hard times because she believes that anything worth having needs to be worked for.
Mukoki’s hard work has garnered much recognition. Throughout her career she has won many awards including being named South Africa’s most influential women in business and government for the Tourism Sector by CEO Magazine and Top Woman of the Year in Business 2009/2010 at the Impumelelo Awards. She is also the first African to be appointed on the Global Tourism Board of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), which represents Africa and the Middle East; she is also the youngest person on
When it comes to managing her team Mukoki tries to lead by example.
“I treat everyone from the cleaners to the senior managers with the same amount of respect. When you do that, people serve with a joyful heart.”
After 16 years of being in the business Mukoki can say that she has achieved what she defines as success.
“Success is something that you are doing daily that makes you [jump out of] bed in the morning and still pays your bills.”
Some of the best fashion advice she received came from author and talk show host, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle.
“Dress for the title you want and not for the job that you are in,”
To all aspiring entrepreneurs, Mukoki offers the same advice her father gave to her.
“He always used to say, ‘People are attracted to those that glow.’ That is why I always aim to represent the best version of myself.”