The entrepreneurial journey of an Eastern Cape businessman who is a beneficiary of a Coega Development Corporation (CDC) programme has come full circle.
Today, the 38-year-old is an investor at the Coega Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
Having established a construction company with no background in the field, Tando Mhlobiso runs a successful array of businesses that deliver an integrated construction service to its customer base.
Mhlobiso’s journey to success is testament that staying the course when faced with challenges and finding solutions for obstacles does pay off.
When his plans of obtaining a qualification as an internal auditor were dashed due to his father’s passing in his second year at university and the sudden financial difficulties that his family experienced, Mhlobiso pursued entrepreneurship.
While he always had a passion for business, he undertook his entrepreneurial journey much earlier than anticipated.
“I wanted to break the poverty barriers and the cycle for our family of not being able to afford the expenses for our cost of living. I saw entrepreneurship as the gateway for us to be able to break free from poverty,” says Mhlobiso.
In 2005, he started a car wash, a mobile digital distribution company and a gymnasium but like many small start-ups in the country, these ventures failed to take off. These did little to deter him.
The following year he went into business with a business partner that had a background in civil engineering and they established a construction company. With the many challenges that the business experienced in its infancy, he parted ways with his business partner in 2009.
His never-say die attitude would not let him give up.
“I started the current company, which is still going strong 14 years later. We started with Mantishe Construction and this company ended up funding other divisions of the enterprise, which forms the Mhlobiso Group,” he says.
Mantishe Construction paved the way for the establishment of Mhlobiso Plant Hire, Mhlobiso Asphalt, Mhlobiso Transport, Mhlobiso Concrete and Mhlobiso Properties.
Mhlobiso Concrete is the youngest addition to the Mhlobiso Group and the company recently moved into the CDC SEZ as an investor.
SEZs are geographically designated areas of a country set aside for specifically targeted economic activities, supported through special arrangements (that may include laws) and systems that are often different from those that apply in the rest of the country. According to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, spcial economic zones are a tool to help promote industrial agglomeration, build the required industrial infrastructure, promote coordinated planning among key government agencies and the private sector, and guide the deployment of other necessary development tools.
Coega SMME Development Programme
Back in 2009, Mhlobiso enrolled to participate in the CDC small, medium and micro-enterprise (SMME) Development Programme where he learned the ropes of the construction industry.
Beneficiaries of the programme have access to economic opportunities and benefit from its skills development programme. The programme targets SMMEs that are at least 51% black owned, with a Construction Industry Development Board (cibd) grading of 1 to 7.
Established by Act 38, of 2000, the cibd is a public entity created to lead industry stakeholders in construction development.
“I registered Mantishe construction under the Coega SMME Development Programme in late 2009. Mantishe Construction is now Grade 6CE and recently registered 6SB which is classified as highly specialised works,” he says.
Enrolling in the programme changed the trajectory of his business, providing him with the opportunity to penetrate the market, which at the time was mainly accessible to established businesses.
“What Coega did was pivotal for small businesses as they would create packages for Grade 1 to Grad 3s, to come in under main contractors to learn from the established businesses. They created an opportunity for us to grow.
He recalls how the programme provided a learning opportunity for him.
“Dealing with bigger companies was an educational exercise because I didn’t have a background in the construction industry. I quickly learned about cash flow, how to manage the site and manage employees. I learned a lot during that time and it prepared me to take on contracts independently. It made me a better contractor,” he says.
The programme assists SMMEs to become sustainable through raising awareness and encouraging Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) compliance; assisting Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) certificate attainment under the amended codes; and promoting the advancement of suppliers within the CDC’s supply chain.
“The SMME training was aggressive and at times stressful because the site was live and there were timeframes attached to the works, all these things I had to understand very quickly. When the project was done, I knew this was what I wanted to do, and I was ready take on the world, I was determined to make this work,” he says.
The CDC is headquartered in the city of Gqeberha, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality with a strategic operational footprint in South Africa and beyond the borders on the African continent.
As the operator and developer of the Coega SEZ, the CDC’s overarching objective is to boost economic growth and job creation through investment, in pursuit of socio-economic development.
The SEZ is demarcated into 14 zones for synergy and supply chain integration, which garner investment in the energy, metals, logistics, automotive, chemicals, aquaculture and agro processing, maritime, and business process outsourcing sectors.
Looking back on his journey, Mhlobiso remembers the early days being challenging due to a lack of funds to finance his projects. He had to learn how to manage the overall operation of his business and learn how to manage people.
“In the beginning I looked for the work, did the marketing and worked as the foreman. I had to do everything for the company until I was in a position to put people in place to do that for me,” he says.
His companies employ over 100 people.
“It took me a good 16 years to get to where I am. I employ 150 employees across Mhlobiso Group. All our permanent employees have pension fund savings and medical aid allowance to secure their livelihoods in retirement, including their health needs. This is something I’m deeply proud of,” says the Mhlobiso Group Founder and Manager.
He has credited his family, particularly his wife Zandile, for playing a significant role in the success of his businesses.
“I run the businesses with my wife. She has played an integral part of the successes of our business from inception. She has provided support, advice and has been a source of comfort during tough times. This is a family owned business,” he says.
Mhlobiso encouraged aspiring young entrepreneurs to “go for it,” as the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) offers a variety of opportunities that they can explore.
“I see a lot of young people getting into the Information technology (IT) space. There is plenty of opportunities in that industry.”
He acknowledged that the journey would not be easy, as it requires commitment and consistency.
“I am happy that I started off young because the younger you are, the braver you are. As you grow older, you have more responsibilities and therefore you always calculate the risks associated with pursuing entrepreneurship. No one said it was going to be easy, but I promise, there is no greater satisfaction than turning nothing into something.”
To participate in the SMME programme, enterprises can register on the CDC database. Application forms are available on (coega.co.za > Coega Services > SMME).
Source: South African Government News Agency