“I got the idea thanks to a gap I saw in the market,” said Divine Ndhlukula during her keynote speech at the 2014 Anzisha Prize awards ceremony this week, where 12 of Africa’s top young entrepreneurs were honoured in Johannesburg.
Ndhlukula is the entrepreneur behind one of Zimbabwe’s largest security companies, Securico. She started it in 1995 with only four employees and today it has grown to over 4,000, including 1,000 women. The company is also expanding operations into Mozambique and Zambia.
But according to Ndhlukula her road to success has not been easy, especially being a woman entrepreneur in a typically male-dominated industry. Addressing the young entrepreneurs in the audience, she shared 10 lessons she has learnt over the years that have helped her grow Securico into today’s large enterprise. Here are her pointers.
1. The customer is always king
“I always knew that treating the customer as the boss was the key thing,” she began. “And creating value, giving the best value… is the way we built loyalty.”
She added that the amount of money an entrepreneur or business makes can be directly related to the amount of value they provide for their customers or clients.
2. Look after your staff
“Success depends on employees. For me knowing and connecting with my employees is very important. I have done that very well.”
Ndhlukula explained that by connecting with her employees, she was able to create a “sense of belonging” for them in the company, and ensure they bought into her vision.
“I have ensured that I aligned their personal goals with their business goals and that makes everybody go in tandem with each other. I try to know almost all my 4,000 employees: their families, their aspirations, their worst fears and so on.”
3. Success comes with hard work
“I have learnt that earning by working hard is the way to go,” she said, adding that the magic formula for success is always simply: “The right attitude, plus hard work”.
4. Embrace new technologies
According to Ndhlukula, Securico is constantly adopting (and adapting to) new technologies, and she advises entrepreneurs to always keep an eye open for new technological developments in their industry.
5. Executing a plan needs discipline
“One of the key features in any business leader is execution… and it is a critical block in building a successful enterprise.”
She quoted Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. “Leadership without the discipline of execution is incomplete and ineffective. Without the ability to execute, all other attributes of leadership become hollow.”
6. Always be frugal
“Pay it off, don’t pay it forward. Or put simply: be frugal,” she continued.
To build a business, entrepreneurs will need to ensure they have strong financial discipline in their management, she emphasised.
7. Never stop learning
“The seventh lesson that I learnt is to always keep on learning. I believe in learning all the time, I’m a life-long learner… I also believe in re-learning, because there are always new things coming out. My kids are teaching me things today.”
8. Celebrate success
“In our company we believe in celebrating success because it creates, and maintains, momentum,” she noted. “Everyone celebrates even the little things that we succeed in doing, and we have a jolly good time. That is how people look forward to winning and being successful. Because they know there are rewards of celebration.”
9. Failures can be valuable
Acknowledging and accepting failure is part of the entrepreneurial game and Ndhlukula said she has had her share of failure. However, failures have taught her valuable lessons that made her into a stronger entrepreneur today. “For me, failure teaches self-confidence and tenacity.”
10. Use your business ‘to do good’
“What Africa requires are entrepreneurs that start up and create not just wealth for themselves, but employment for others, because that is what is vital for sustainable development.”
Young entrepreneurs should, where possible, look to have a positive social impact in their environments, she emphasised.
“One of the things I noted in my country was that women were not getting the opportunity to get formal employment, in particular the many widows and the single mothers due to HIV/Aids. Today our company is arguably the largest employer of permanently employed women. We employ over 1,000 women, contributing at least 25% of our workforce.”