Connie Mdladla learnt early on in life that one can either be disheartened by life or encouraged by it. There was a time when as a young girl she thought the odds were unreasonably stacked against her. Her father died when she was nine and she had four siblings, raised by a single mother who worked as a clerk. What was worse was she was born epileptic, and was prone to frequent attacks.
“I was living with epilepsy. It’s one of the most misunderstood conditions in medical science. It’s a neurological condition, but not mental retardation. People living with epilepsy can be productive and contributing members of society,” says Mdladla, who is today founder and Managing Director of Khaas Logistics, a freight-forwarding agency based in Johannesburg.
Whatever Mdladla embarked on – marriage, motherhood and career, she refused to let her medical condition define who she was. In fact, it catalyzed her to strive for excellence.
“I have defied all the odds before me and gone on to successfully navigate some of the most challenging institutions of life,” she says. She derived strength from another woman: her mother.
“As a young girl, circumstances led me to believe that being a woman was a demerit. However, I was fortunate enough to have been raised by a wonderful mother who always reminded me that my strength lay within me and I should not be discouraged by things people say,” she says.
Her mother managed to raise capital to enrol her at Vista University for a BCom degree, but she had to drop out in her third year on account of her medical condition. Her mother was disappointed, but she maintains that this adversity actually marked the beginning of her logistics career.
“As women, we tend to feel like we need to be perfect before we can make a move. Instead, it is our imperfections and our willingness to take risks that allow us to grow and succeed,” she says.
She started out as a receptionist and later, worked as an inspections co-ordinator at logistics company ITS. She partnered with Imperial logistics to set up Mudeko Consultancy, going on to later found Khaas Logistics in 2008.
She had to garner capital and work from home as a director, receptionist, salesperson and errand-girl. To make matters worse, throughout this period, she faced increasing scepticism in a male-dominated industry.
“You also have to take risks, I’m taking risks every day of my life and I will do that moving forward,” she says.
Her first assignment was a 100-kilogram package she delivered from Edenvale to the airport in her Fiat Palio. Khaas Logistics has since grown to become a reputable company with presence in major international cities. To upskill herself, she also enrolled for a Management Advancement Programme at Wits Business School in Johannesburg.
“Seventy percent of Khaas Logistics’ staff is women. This is a result of deliberate planning and implementation of a number of policies that not only place women in sustainable positions but also empower the organization. Women are more prudent than men. So it is the company’s empowerment policy to put women in important project management positions or to employ young women who will be trained for those positions.” Between 2011 and 2013, the company grew by 75%. Her success has brought many offers of consolidation that are now presenting other challenges.
“The biggest industry trends currently are mergers or small firms being swallowed up by big ones. The next five years will be critical in ensuring I am able to reject [those offers] so I can continue on this growth trajectory I am happy to be on,” she says.
Her logistics company is perhaps a metaphor for her own life: moving on, despite the odds.