Home industry start for born entrepreneur

Business leader recalls lessons learnt as kid on streets of Umlazi

29 August 2021 - 05:00 By MAPHAMOLA LEBELO



Who would have thought selling unbranded petroleum jelly in the township of Umlazi over the weekend and haggling with customers over credit would play midwife to one of SA's most successful entrepreneurs?Meet Sandile Zungu, chair of Zungu Investments Company and owner of premiership club AmaZulu Football Club. Zungu shared his entrepreneurial journey with delegates at the fourth I am an Entrepreneur Summit, held virtually in July under the theme "How to manage multiple businesses". As the chair of an investment holding company with interests in various sectors he was well placed to share his philosophy on how to juggle multiple businesses.Recalling his journey, Zungu said that after six years of working as a mechanical engineer for a number of companies, he decided to enrol for an MBA degree in 1995, motivated by an intention to switch careers.On completing his studies, he was hired by a merchant bank in corporate finance, where he advised companies on mergers and acquisitions. "It was during this time that my entrepreneurial spirit was rekindled. I liked what I was seeing as it took me back to my pre-teen days when my father, who worked at a refinery, would bring petroleum jelly from work and we would package it in empty pharmaceutical bottles and sell it in the township over the weekend for as little as 5c, which was a lot in those days."Some customers would try to persuade me to give them the stock on credit, and I debated whether it was still early on in the day to do so, whether to give the stock on credit and collect the money the following week, and often wondered whether they would pay me. Those questions that I grappled with, though it was at a micro level, stood me in good stead when I formed my own company in 2002." Zungu pointed out that running multiple businesses might not be for everyone. Some risk-averse entrepreneurs are more comfortable with investing in sectors in which they have an in-depth knowledge, and others want to diversify their portfolio."For me it's horses for courses - over time I have identified areas where I have a better chance of making money and adding value. I would later dispose of these assets for a profit and use the proceeds to invest where I could make maximum impact. It's an evolving strategy, but I hope to streamline the family businesses to focus on one or two sectors in 20 years' time," said Zungu.His advice to entrepreneurs who wish to diversify their business interests is simple: "Know your strength and yourself, and follow the path that you are best suited for. The path I chose was carefully chosen, and it works for me. You can be a master of nothing by becoming the jack of everything." Many entrepreneurs lack the discipline to deepen their knowledge in one area of business, and, as a result, miss great opportunities because they haven't developed "a knack" for it, he said. This is one of the biggest mistakes made by entrepreneurs with diverse business portfolios. "Another major pitfall that entrepreneurs with multiple businesses encounter is that they do not build a trusted and reliable cadre-ship that will help them to oversee their interests. Having a diverse business portfolio requires you to build networks of people you can trust, who are aligned with your thinking and vision, who will do work for you. "For example, I don't have any accounting skills, so I work with competent chartered accountants that I can trust and are aligned with my thinking. These people are sufficiently rewarded and when they create wealth, they also believe that they are doing it for themselves. This is why I can rest easy in the full knowledge that they are in charge of those areas where they are strong." Zungu stressed the importance of communication, saying entrepreneurs should regularly give feedback and share their vision and plans with their subordinates. "If you're in charge and you don't communicate with your foot soldiers, they will second-guess you and do what they think is best when they are confronted with business challenges. The decisions they make may be best for them at the time, but it might not be good for you in the long run." His final advice to entrepreneurs is to show passion in the business into which they choose to venture."Passion is a qualifier, it's an entry requirement but not a winner. Be in the game because you have passion. You can't win with passion only. On the flipside, if you don't love what you are doing, you cannot leverage that and make money from it."

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