Pioneers who mean business

JOHANNA MUKOKI

Mukoki is a woman’s woman.

Just before our interview, she embraces an actress she spots on the terrace outside the hotel, complimenting her on how good she looks. Moments later she tightly hugs a waitress, remarking on how long it has been since she’d seen her.

Mukoki co-founded award-winning travel company Travel with Flair 22 years ago with two partners and one office in Pretoria.

Today she has 700 staff – 85% of whom are women and predominantly black – with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as well.

Mukoki, an accountant and mother of two, cautions that being an entrepreneur requires enormous sacrifice, hard work and a strong work ethic, which is what she tries to instil in the young women she mentors during her 24-month mentorship programme.

“You can’t just be an entrepreneur just because you want to be your own boss and not wake up early in the mornings – it doesn’t work that way.

“You work 24/7 and you burn that midnight oil. A lot of kids I mentor think that being your own boss means you’re going to relax.

“No, there is no relaxing. As I say, I’ve been in business 22 years, and girl has not rested! I’ve been working since I was 11 years old, and I always complain that ‘girl has been working’.”

Her advice to young black women looking to make their mark in business is:

1: Find your passion: “The first three years of business, at least for us, were tough. At some points we wouldn’t have money for lights. You need to be able to believe in and love what you do – whether it’s the industry or service you are in – because it is that love and passion that gets you through the hard times.”

2: You need to be patient: “You need to be strong mentally and to continue believing in your dream when faced with tough times, so surround yourself with people who inspire you.”

3: Education is a true liberator: “To the girl in the township struggling through public education: study hard. By studying, that is where your natural talents also show themselves through the subjects you do well in and you can choose careers based on those strengths. Don’t just look to marry a rich guy.”

4: Don’t believe all you see on social media: “Mind your own lane. Keep focused.”

5: Complacency is the beginning of the end: “Always up your game.”

Soweto-born Mukoki admits entering a “white male-dominated” industry such as travel and tourism was not easy. She was the first African on the Global Tourism Board’s Association of Corporate Travel Executives, where she represented Africa and the Middle East.

“There are huge access barriers in our industry. Even to get an Association of Southern African Travel Agents-accredited licence, you need a lot of money to put up guarantees, which for a young person entering into business is a challenge. We are talking six to seven figures to register and start up,” she says.

Increased digitisation is also impacting on the industry, “so we need to be continuously reinventing ourselves and investing a lot in technology, and it is costly”.

And when you make it, hire more women.

“When women feel safe in their work environment, when they feel like they can grow – they tend to be extremely loyal. I vouch for women tenfold,” she says.

DIEDRE NXUMALO-FREEMAN

What you and I see as waste, Nxumalo-Freeman sees as resource, a beautiful resource at that.

Ten years ago, armed with a passion for environmental protection and waste management, and years’ worth of corporate experience as a senior environmental scientist in companies such as SA Breweries and Mercedes-Benz, she founded her own company, DNF Waste and Environmental Services.

Having initially started doing consultancy work alone, she has grown her East London-based company to 30 employees. Now they collect waste and liaise with 1 500 vendors from whom they buy and recycle waste across the Eastern Cape.

The business also won a number of awards, including the Business Women’s Association of SA’s (Bwasa’s) regional Business Achiever Award for emerging entrepreneur.

“When I entered the industry, it was very male dominated.

“One had to be very tenacious to even get access to financing to start the business. Access is still a big issue, even today,” she says.

“Fortunately, we were able to get partial financing from the government, which we are thankful for.”

Nxumalo-Freeman says 90% of the vendors she works with, who collect waste and sell it to her, are women.

“They are prepared to work. Especially in the collection of glass. But they face challenges in accessing resources such a trolleys big enough to carry the waste, which would make things easier for them,” she continued.

Because of her passion for working with women, Nxumalo-Freeman shared some advice on how women can get ahead in business.

1: Join a local business association for women: “I became involved in Bwasa’s East London branch and eventually became its chairperson. Through that membership, you get to interact with other businesswomen and can foster relationships that lead to mentorship. Joining an association also helps build your networks, and, with networks, you can get help in accessing finances.”

2: Surround yourself with like-minded women: “Especially during your business’s infancy when things are slow and hard to come around, you will benefit from having people who can reinforce your commitment.”

As for her company – which she said was still relatively young and had room to expand – Nxumalo-Freeman said: “We want to encourage people to see waste as a resource that can give them wealth and add to the beautification of the environment. Particularly with glass,” she said, adding that glass makes up about 70% of the waste they collect.

“Instead of sending it off to Consol [glass factory], after crushing it ourselves and its going through several processes, we turn it into tombstones and ornaments.