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Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

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Sector: HR innovations
Ngozi Adebiyi, 44, Nigeria
Founder, CEO and Lead Consultant: OutsideIn HR

Ngozi Adebiyi, Founder, CEO and Lead Consultant of OutsideIn HR. Picture: Supplied

Ngozi Adebiyi is a human resource (HR) manager-turned-entrepreneur.

Surprised by the lack of innovative processes within the HR sector, Adebiyi took it upon herself to provide an innovative service to companies through gaming and business simulations.

Adebiyi grew up in the Delta State of Nigeria, an area known for oil and agriculture.

She has worked in the HR sector for over 13 years, with companies such as Walmart in the US and Diageo group in Nigeria. However, her life in HR was not as fulfilling as she thought.

In 2011, she decided to freelance while looking for greener pastures.

“People that I had worked with starting asking me, ‘oh, come and help us with this, come and help us with that’, so I usually say that I became an accidental entrepreneur,” she says.

Clients would ask her for her company name, regardless of the fact that she was freelancing.

This prompted Adebiyi to start OutsideIn HR.

“I didn’t know it at the time but I was doing HR from the outside in,” she says.

In December 2012, she set up her company, without any investments.

She first targeted the oil and gas industry, a sector she knew little about.

“It was hard, I must say… at the time, at least twice, I thought I was going to go back [to being an employee]. I thought it was too hard and I just wasn’t cut out to do this,” she says.

However, she persevered.

OutsideIn HR offered talent management services, consulting and coaching and training services to clients.

But something was still amiss.

“You could see that some of the participants were kind of distracted,” she says.

Some participants would leave the room, or take calls during the training sessions.

Adebiyi then started researching for ways to make her service more interactive and innovative.

In 2016, she decided to partner with CELEMI, a solution provider, for innovative answers to her challenges.

OutsideIn HR is now offering HR and business simulation programs catered to each client.

Each simulation is a game, or challenge, that the participants have to solve, and they can do it even from their mobile phones.

Adebiyi relates it to being as interactive as playing Candy Crush, a mobile app-based game.

“We are building skills for the future,” Adebiyi says.

Her company has worked with government, parastatals and companies. Currently, Adebiyi employs 10 people and plans to grow the business.

Her goal is to revolutionize HR in Nigeria by providing innovative services.


Sector: Digital pharmacies
Vivian Nwakah, 36, Nigeria
Founder and CEO: Medsaf

Vivian Nwakah, Founder and CEO of Medsaf. Picture: Supplied

Ngozi Adebiyi is a human resource (HR) manager-turned-entrepreneur.

Surprised by the lack of innovative processes

Five years ago, Vivian Nwakah lost a friend who died as a result of taking fake medication as well as a lack of adequate healthcare services.

Since then, Nwakah has dedicated her life to solving healthcare problems in Nigeria.

Born and raised in Chicago, Nwakah’s parents migrated to the US in the 1970s and did not return.

She pursued her studies in psychology and sociology at the University of Illinois, and then started her first business, Comet Home Healthcare, a home healthcare service.

In 2012, she enrolled at the Georgia State University – J. Mack Robinson College of Business to pursue an MBA in International Business.

During her studies, she traveled to Nigeria, for the first time in her life, to fulfil her internship requirements for three months, learning about the healthcare systems in the country.

Little did she know those three months would be extended to a lifetime.

“When I got to Nigeria, that’s when my eyes opened up to the different opportunities and problems that deserved solutions here and I have, actually, been here since,” she says.

While she pursued her internship, she learned a great deal.

“I felt that excitement of just the ability to potentially do something really big, and just making an impact,” she said.

Nwakah’s entrepreneurial side was calling.

She first worked in an oil and gas company to create renewable energy for a company called GreenTech in 2014.

However, a few months into working there, she received the devastating news that her friend had died as a result of consuming counterfeit drugs. 

“He died from taking a fake malaria pill but he also died in a horrible way, in that he went to one hospital and they gave him more malaria pills, and then went to another and they pumped his stomach with something that made his liver fail.

“They took him to other hospitals after that but his health did not improve,” she says.

“At the end of the day, he died in the back of a car.

“That was so shocking and eye-opening to me that the healthcare industry in Nigeria had very serious issues. And in the story of his death, you see many different problems with the healthcare system.”

Meanwhile, Nwakah started facing challenges with her own health.

She had a surgery in the US and while she was living in Nigeria, had trouble finding the medication she needed for her care.

“I had experiences where I felt that something was wrong with the medication I was receiving in Nigeria and then I started to talk to people and almost everyone I met had a similar story,” she says.

“In Nigeria, you could be young and then die and no one would bat an eye because it happens so often and there is no answer for it.”

Nwakah had seen a gap and wanted to be part of the solution.

After three years of research and planning, she founded Medsaf in January 2017.

It is a digital medication supply chain management solution, linking hospitals and medication manufacturers from all over the world through a “pay as you go” system.

Through the technology platform, she disrupted the pharmaceutical industry by creating a transparent, affordable and safe manufacturing method to get direct medication to hospitals and pharmacies across Nigeria.

According to Nwakah, more than 400 hospitals and pharmacies signed up to use the platform and app when they launched, allowing stakeholders to see drug information, tracking and tracing details on a smartphone.

Medsaf also gives hospitals and pharmacies a ‘credit score’ based on indicators such as repayment history, insurance data and patient feedback.

They make profit from medication sold through the platforms as well as through inventory management and data subscription services.

The company currently employs 13 individuals who are mostly pharmacists.

They have raised $1.4 million to date and are looking to expand to other countries.

Medsaf won the Nigeria round of Seedstars Lagos in 2017 and also won the Greatest Social Impact award of the Global SME Awards at the ITU Telecom Awards 2017 in South Korea.

“A new wealth creator is using innovative and disruptive ideas to improve on existing ways of life or ways of business in emerging markets and opening the people’s minds to doing things differently and creating jobs and opportunities that didn’t exist before because of their innovative thinking,” Nwakah tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. 


Sector: Drone technology
Dale McErlean, 32, South Africa
Co-founder and Director: NTSU Aviation Solutions and AfricaUSC

Dale McErlean, Co-founder and Director of NTSU Aviation Solutions and AfricaUSC. Picture: Supplied

Dale McErlean was born with aviation in her blood. She is the holder of a frozen Airline Transport Pilot License, with 2,000 hours on a fixed-wing twin turbine aircraft.

However, she spread her wings beyond aviation and ventured into entrepreneurship.

McErlean was born and raised in the East Rand of Johannesburg, an area that’s home to Africa’s busiest airport, OR Tambo International Airport.

“I had always been an academic so when I said I wanted to be a pilot, my dad said, ‘well, you can be a pilot but you need an education behind you as well’,” she says.

Fulfilling her father’s wishes, she graduated with a BCom degree, specializing in Aviation Management from the University of Pretoria in 2008 with a cum laude.

She worked as ground crew at Virgin Atlantic Airways at OR Tambo International and Cape Town International Airport for five years.

In the meantime, she was completing her degree and pilot’s license to pursue her dream to fly.

She flew the Cessna Caravan, King Air 200 and Beechcraft 1900 for four years and furthered her aviation career in 2014, joining the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

It was here that McErlean first got involved with Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones.

She was responsible for the accreditation of RPAS operators and issuing of operator certificates, at the forefront of new regulations within the drone industry in South Africa.

“I started thinking ‘I’ve got all this knowledge but as a regulator at the SACAA, I’m not actually allowed to use it to develop the industry because as a regulator, you are not there to promote and develop’,” she says.

McErlean wanted to contribute to the industry in a different way.

“So I started thinking about going at it on my own and people asked me ‘so what are you going to do?’, and I was like ‘I’m just going to wing it’,” she says.

McErlean found herself starting her own company with her now co-founder, Sam Twala, who had also previously worked for SACAA.

At the end of 2017, McErlean resigned and the following year, in 2018, they officially started NTSU Aviation Solutions, an aviation company offering specialized services to the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry.

The name NTSU was inspired by the seSotho word ntsu, which means eagle.

They do compliance for operators in civil aviation and help existing operators amend their current operations manual and specifications to do more complex projects.

McErlean says they have worked with 10 to 12 companies on a monthly basis, and have worked with companies in mining, as well as protection services.

One of the most complex projects she has worked on involved security surveillance using drones in Cape Town, just 3km away from the airport. “We do security surveillance at night, this is flying drones at night beyond visual line of sight,” she says.

The drones were instrumental in the arrests of 25 criminals.

“We coordinate with the ground team and we can then loiter overhead, or follow the criminals to wherever they go and then apprehend them,” she says.

This led to McErlean winning an award as one of 10 Women to Watch in UAS in Las Vegas for 2018, making her the only woman from Africa to win.

“The largest use of drones is going to be on the African continent due to our minerals, due to rain, and due to our geography,” McErlean says.

Because of the opportunities drones offer on the continent, McErlean and Twala also founded a second company called AfricaUSC that educates and trains new and existing RPAS operators.

McErlean says they are also working their way up the African continent, helping other countries implement regulations to fly drones.

For McErlean, being a new wealth creator is about development, job creation and sustainability.

“With the use of technology now, you want to use what’s available to make things better and create wealth,” she says.

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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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.

READ MORE | The Big Bank Theory: South Africa’s Banks Of The Future

 “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. 

Beyond economics.

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.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“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.

READ MORE | The Monk Of Business: Ylias Akbaraly Talks About Secret To Success And Plans To Take Africa With Him

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.

READ MORE | Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

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.

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died

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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.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

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

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Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

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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. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

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.

READ MORE : WATCH | The Making Of The New Wealth Creators Cover

 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.

READ MORE : Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

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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