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My Worst Day

Doctor, you are IN the red

Dulcy Rakumakoe started her own medical practice but didn’t pay attention to the money. A call from the taxman turned her blood cold and ushered in her worst day.

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When starting a business that stems from a passion, like being a doctor and having a desire to make an impact in a community, the last thing you would worry about is an accountant stealing from you.

Dulcy Rakumakoe grew up in the dusty village streets of Temba, just outside South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Growing up in the townships, she was often encouraged to become a doctor because she was one of those smart children.

“When I looked around in the township, there was one Dr Mosala, and he lived in a very nice house. But I also noticed that the community really loved him,” says Rakumakoe.

So in 1999, she completed her medicine degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and started her internship in Klerksdorp, a small town in the North West province. She then went to do her community service at Ganyesa Hospital and this is where the entrepreneurial bug bit.

“I saw how people were struggling to access healthcare. People would travel plus-minus 100 kilometers just to see a doctor. I thought that is unfair and I must do something,” she says.

Rakumakoe went on to open up her first practice in Vryburg, a North West province town which had a shortage of doctors. There were also around 20 villages around Vryburg which had no medical facilities. In this small town, Rakumakoe also joined a female football team, doubling up as its goalkeeper and team doctor.

As a small practitioner, she had little knowledge of financial management and accounting. So she entrusted this to a small town bookkeeper, recommended by her dentist cousin who’d worked with the accountant before. It also came at an affordable fee of R2,500 ($235) every two months.

For five years, the accountant handled everything financial in the business, including payments to the South African Revenue Services (SARS) – the government’s tax collecting agency. The accountant, as Rakumakoe thought, paid around R15,000 ($1,400) to SARS every second month for value added tax (VAT) and around R40,000 ($3,770)for annual income tax. All seemed well and good.

“I didn’t pay much attention to the financial side of things, as long as I saw the money I made at the end of the month… the type of relationship I had with him was that he would tell me, ‘this is how much you owe to SARS’ and I’ll just give him a cheque and tell him to sort it out,” she says.

After reaching the ceiling of being a doctor and the community having been saturated with more medics, Rakumakoe left Vryburg for a mining town in Carletonville, just outside Johannesburg and the accountant decided to continue working for her.

Here, Rakumakoe opened a practise focusing on the health of the miners, especially with HIV being a big problem in the mining industry. According to the World Bank, migrant miners between the ages of 30 and 40 are 15 percentage points more likely to be HIV positive and a woman whose partner is a migrant miner is eight percentage points more likely to become infected.

While plying her trade around the mines, the South African Football Association called her up to be the team doctor for the women’s national football team Banyana Banyana. This led to the international governing body, FIFA, calling her up to be a field medical officer during the World Cup in 2010.

But back at the mines, something else was brewing. In March 2008, a year after moving to Carletonville, Rakumakoe received a phone call. She relayed the message to the accountant that SARS had just done an audit on her business and she needed to prove that she didn’t owe the taxman around $75,000.

“After that first call he switched off the phone and disappeared,” says Rakumakoe.

A few days later, a letter from SARS arrived warning Rakumakoe that  she needed to settle the debt in two weeks or her business would be shut down.

“That’s when I felt the world crashing down on me. That’s when I felt what’s the point of being in business when I owe close to R1 million. How was I going to pay back that money in two weeks?” she says.

“I even tried going to the police, we just couldn’t find [the accountant]. I felt like it was the end of my business. I didn’t feel strong enough to face SARS. At that point I thought let me just allow them to come and evaluate what I owe so that they can take it and I’ll go look for a job because this business thing is not working.”

In her devastation, a friend introduced her to Kamva Chartered Accountants, who came at a much higher fee than what she was used to. She paid the firm R20,000 ($1,884) to manage her case with the tax collector and also for their services every two months.

“They re-audited my books for the past five years and presented cases to SARS with explanations of what had happened. It turned out my accountant was a fraudster who was directing all the money that he told me was due to SARS to himself,”

says Rakumakoe.

Luckily for her, the amount she owed was reduced and the tax collector allowed her to make payments of what was due over a six-month period.

“That was the lowest six months for me in that basically all my income was going to SARS to pay the debt and get my things in order,” she says.

“I knew at that point that I had to understand the financial side of the business. It was a risk for me to have been running a business for so long without financial understanding and knowledge.”

This prompted her to register for an MBA with the Gordon Institute of Business Science to help her understand all the facets of her business. While studying, Rakumakoe managed to pay off the debt.

Since then, her business has grown.

After completing the degree, the 39-year-old was able to properly develop Accessible Quality Healthcare (AQH) into a recognizable brand in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg. AQH is a private medical center providing healthcare for low to middle income markets through building integrated health and wellness centers.

Besides running AQH, Rakumakoe still runs the practise in Carletonville’s mines and is now able to follow her passion and keep one eye on the books.

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My Worst Day

My Worst Day with Ghana’s Waste Management Mogul

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Ghana’s waste management mogul, Joseph Siaw Agyapong has built one of the most innovative enterprises in the country providing employment for over 250,000 employees in Ghana.

Everything was going well until an accounting error led to the worst day in his business life.

Watch the full interview with Forbes Africa’s Peace Hyde

READ MORE: A Dirty Job That Made A Poor Man Filthy Rich

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My Worst Day

My Worst Day With Atedo Peterside, Founder Of Stanbic IBTC

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Atedo Peterside is one of the most respected bankers in Nigeria.

At 33 he built a billion dollar business and became founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc.

But it has not all been smooth sailing.

Just at the apex of his success, his organisation was hit with a scandal that threatened to not only upend his impeccable reputation but that of the bank he had spent his whole life building.

Catch this exciting episode in an all new season of My Worst Day with Peace Hyde.

READ MORE: Why Entrepreneurs Fail

Watch the full video below.

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My Worst Day

Burned But Not Broken; The Tale Of Fiery fashion

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Don’t be fooled by his infectious smile and designer clothes; beneath his tough exterior is a layered story of depression and despair.

On a rainy autumn morning in Johannesburg in March, we meet Adrian Furstenburg in the small affluent suburb of Parkhurst.

Ironically, he is dressed in black – a symbol of grief – to recount the day when his design studio, including stock and equipment worth R70,000 ($5,800), burned and was razed to the ground.

“The damage was so painfully clear in the bright, winter morning light,” says Furstenburg.

To get to this story, it is important to start from the beginning.

Furstenburg was only four years old when he first said he wanted to become a fashion designer.

“I was at my granny’s house and we were watching a fashion show on television, and as we were watching, that is when I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” says Furstenburg.

However, his father, a farmer, had, other plans – he wanted him to pursue law.

Somehow, Furstenburg found a way to persuade his father to allow him to enter a career not so distant from the fashion industry.

“It was the early 2000s and it was pretty cool to study graphic designing, so he said ‘that’s okay, I will pay for you to study graphic designing’,” he says.

In his last year at college, he specialized in textile design, which led to him crafting a career as a handbag designer.

“I think that is one of the wisest decisions that I have ever made, there are definitely no regrets,” says Furstenburg today.

As part of a college assignment, he was required to do a practical project.

“I weaved this beautiful piece of fabric and then I actually made a handbag. This project is where my passion for handbags started,” he says.

After he graduated, he started freelancing as a designer and stylist, set on his journey of one day being a fashion mogul selling swanky handbags.

But his worst day was lurking around the corner, ready to throw him into a state of melancholy.

It was June 6, 2012.

“The day isn’t etched into my memory. I recall it from a much deeper, more visceral part than that,” he says.

He and his business partner at the time, Nkululeko Msibi, of 2souls clothing, had recently set up a small studio just off Gandhi Square in central Johannesburg, where they produced every kind of clothing and accessory to keep their bank balances and ambitions afloat.

“We landed one of our biggest projects producing costumes for a major dance production. We spent hours planning, designing, sourcing, selecting, sewing, stitching. Their budget was strict and the schedule was even tighter with virtually no room for error,” says Furstenburg.

But a disaster that would discredit him and Msibi was about to blaze through their studio.

READ MORE: They Can Burn My Face, But They Can’t Burn My Voice

Furstenburg was picking up materials from a supplier before heading to the studio that Wednesday morning when he received a frantic phone call from Msibi.

“Fire was really the only word I got from the conversation,” says Furstenburg.

He describes how surreal everything felt in the bright, winter morning light when he arrived at the studio.

“The thick smell of smoke hung throughout the building. Inside the studio, sooty black licks ran up the walls where the fire had devoured our machines, stock and the rails of costumes for the production,” says Furstenburg.

This was just three days before they had to deliver the costumes to their client. They were also not business savvy-enough at the time to have insurance.

“We sat sobbing on the ashy floor. The nausea swam in my stomach as the reality of the situation gained momentum in my head.”

“I called the client, trembling. The shouting started on the telephone and didn’t stop until they left our charcoal pile with a few pieces that had escaped the flames while stored in another studio,” Furstenburg recounts.

They were livid – understandably so.

“They were so outraged, because I was dealing with their dream as well. It was a costume production. They had a look of utter hatred and disgust on their faces,” he says.

They lost the clients.

“I spent two weeks in a blur of fear and guilt… Almost no one trusted us with their work and the landlord suspected that we were to blame for negligence,” says Furstenburg.

He went home, depressed for weeks, not knowing what his next move would be.

“I don’t have children but my business is my child. I have fought very hard for it. Seeing it die was the worst day of my life. I took about two weeks where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do this anymore,” he says.

Fortunately, it was soon established that the fire was caused by old wiring. They salvaged what they could and Furstenburg decided to change his focus from production to styling – that is how he slowly managed to recover from what was his worst day.

He started from scratch, working on freelance projects making very little money.

“It was far from ideal and barely sustainable but somehow my resolve strengthened not to allow this incident to raze me permanently,” says Furstenburg.

The passion for designing handbags ignited within, in 2013, he equipped himself with business training at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.

When he completed the three-month training, the center placed an order with him for 70 small, original-design messenger bags to be given as gifts to guests at an event held during one of FORBES AFRICA cover stars Richard Branson’s visit to South Africa.

“It could be said that someone else spotted what I had to offer before I had known exactly, and acting perhaps more in response to a veiled instruction than personal confidence at the time, I started making bags,” he says.

“Amusingly, whatever I might have lacked in self-belief was effectively offset by a desire to wow anyone and everyone and so I almost simultaneously entered the Independent Handbag Designer Awards of that year [in New York],” says Furstenburg.

It took four years of applications before he was accepted in 2016 into the All About the Logo by Guess Handbags category. He was the first South African applicant accepted – and the first to win. This opened doors for him locally and internationally.

READ MORE: From Football To Fashion

Furstenburg is currently working on a procurement deal with an international airline. If successful, it will be the golden game changer that takes his business to the goal of netting an annual profit of $1 million by 2019.

Six years after his worst day, Furstenburg is not without challenges. But he is continuously taking it one step at a time, ensuring that the fire he has for designing world-class handbags never burns out.

“I must admit that I get a little breathless reflecting on the trajectory that the business has followed in the last 15 months, not least because of the risks we’ve survived and the gratitude I feel to those who’ve guided and supported me,” he says.

Adrian Furstenburg. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

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