Setting the tone for today’s discussion, GIFS (Graduate Institute of Financial Science), our main sponsor, treated all in attendance by starting the Insights session with the hauntingly beautiful words and music of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the mirror”. The apt lyrics certainly resonated with many of our audience members.
Christina Jenkins of GIFS introduced IIG President, Thabo Twalo, our MC for the day. Thabo welcomed all to a special edition Insights with IIG’s partner in education and leader in insurance training, the Graduate Institute of Financial Science (GIFS).
Thabo referred to an earlier Insights that dealt “Stagflation” which referred to stagnation+inflation leading to increased unemployment in South Africa. He emphasized that we need to fight back as an industry and country and the benefits of hearing from real entrepreneurs to improve the economy.
Thabo then introduced the CEO of GIFS, Dr. Kershen Pillay, facilitator of the session and who is regarded a foremost thought-leader within the Financial Services Sector in South Africa. He is an education trailblazer who is passionate about mobilising the power of education to create a better Africa for others to inherit. Kershen impressed that we as a collective need to improve on our economic challenges nobody else will save us, we must be the change we want to see. Kershen also referred to the opening lyrics of Michael Jackson’s song stating that we need to start with the man in the mirror, take a look at yourself and make a change.
Kershen then introduced two powerful female CEO’s, who are creating jobs through entrepreneurship.
Christelle Colman – CEO of Ami Underwriting Managers for Constantia Insurance.
An insurance entrepreneur who has a proven track record in building sustainable specialist insurance businesses. Christelle founded Thatch Risk Acceptances in 1998, reinvented MUA as a fully-fledged personal lines underwriter from a previously specialist motor underwriter in 2005 and founded Elite Risk Acceptances in 2019.
Christelle delved a little into her background and the story of her career and was proud and honoured to share her journey.
Kershen posed a 2-part question to Christelle:
- SA stands on a precipice with an alarming unemployment rate, inequality is a daily reality, so is entrepreneurship a solution to salvation?
- What do we need to do to nurture entrepreneurship?
Christelle lightheartedly disclosed that she often calls herself a “hustler”. Her journey started very early in life, and she strongly believes that it takes a village of people to raise and support a child. Coming from a poor background, she started working straight out of school and often found that many great businesses are born out of personal needs. One needs to identify an opportunity and develop the ability to sell it. One needs to be prepared to do work most people are not keen on. If there’s an opportunity always go for it. More than anything, Christelle wanted to pay it forward and create opportunities for other people. Not having the privileges of academic qualifications and being marginalized as a woman, she had to create her own jobs. South Africa is a land of opportunity which she learned whilst working at Europ-Assist who mined many opportunities in the country. Christelle indicated that leaders who have gone through the challenging entrepreneurship processes need to train youngsters on this path and corporates must also provide these types of training. Brokers are natural entrepreneurs due to the very nature of their business needs. She strongly suggested that we need more structured mentorship programmes by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Business leaders need to open doors and provide access to their networks. Perhaps South Africa needs their own version of Shark Tank.
Kershen then introduced the next panelist.
Vani Moodley – Chief Executive at Vani Moodley & Associates (Pty) Ltd
Vani’s company plays an important role in developing global entrepreneurship, management, leadership, and employee wellness training, coaching and development. Vani represented the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry in her capacity as Vice President at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Malta. Vani is currently authoring a book on Women Leadership for publication in the month of August 2022. The book captures an anthology of experiences of women leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. Vani is currently serving as a Member of the UKZN Extended Learning Advisory Board, Member of the DUT Entrepreneurship and Management Advisory Board and a Director of the Global Institute for Entrepreneurship and Ethics
Kershen’s questions to Vani were:
- Is Christelle’s journey unique?
- Is it unique to SA?
Vani emphasized that the journey is never easy for any entrepreneur and is highly dependent on your own tenacity. Entrepreneurs around global share the same challenges, but SME policies differ from country to country. The SME pyramid often shows the bottom representing the survivalist sector. Politics and priorities differ in between countries and usually developing, or 3rd world countries often move towards creating SME’s. Entrepreneurship worldwide is challenging for atleast the first 5yrs. There are however enabling factors with an environment is being created in South Africa, so it boils down to how hungry are you?
In the session poll that was conducted, 96% of the audience believed entrepreneurship should be nurtured in a country that fosters SME development.
Vani went on to advise that one’s business and business model should be based on proper market research. This research can be elicited via universities instead of paying high fees to specialist companies. Many entrepreneurs fail as a direct result of insufficient market research. There are also non-financial service providers e.g., SEDA and financial service providers e.g., the Ithala bank model. There are various role players that can provide holistic support. One should also investigate priority sectors as described by the government. Government often researches areas that require entrepreneurship such as agri processing, but one must be willing to work in those sectors. Other sectors involve the manufacture and processing of granite which is currently exported. One needs to be thinking out of the box. Dube Tradeport in KZN offers space for companies offering aqua culture. Do entrepreneurs want to start with an existing need and partner with an existing business or attempt a stand-alone business idea?
Protected environments can offer minimal or no cost to emerging entrepreneurs e.g., business incubators. The current lending costs in South Africa make it very difficult to raise start-up capital. Loan finance requires a sound marketing plan as well as secured orders for your business. Alternately, one could use your own capital and grow organically or invite a financial partner to start up your business. Always ensure there’s a partnership agreement in place. One can also search for angel investors who offer lump sum monies in exchange for equity and can be found everywhere on the internet. Vani’s closing words were: be patient, be persistent, seek knowledge, believe in yourself and your business concept, you must be tenacious.
Christelle then commented on whether it is easier or more difficult being an entrepreneur in South Africa in the age of technology. She advised that 4% of all start-up deals involve women, and that percentage is even lower for black women, therefore most people opt to save their own money to start a business. Physical resources are less with technology as one can reduce your costs of field visits to online client meetings. The biggest challenge, however, is mostly regulatory. We tend to overregulate in South Africa due to fraud statistics. To launch successful businesses, one can’t give up, it takes courage to step out of the safety of corporate. She also supported the idea of using students for market research and she herself used her own MBA class when working on starting Ami Insurance. Christelle firmly believes that one should use your business ideas and start a side-hustle while working. Be brave and venture forward.
Kershen closed session by requesting a few “web shots” from our esteemed panelists.
- Adopt another entrepreneur
- Look for angel investors and begin a side hustle
- We need more women entrepreneurs, don’t lose hope in SA and be the change yourself
- Start small and look for partners if necessary
- Adopt a school – business leaders can also develop an entrepreneurial space at their companies
- Identify and optimize one’s competencies, work on weaknesses, be bold, persistent and create your own roadmap.
- Enquire about government set-asides and priority sectors in terms of gender. There are contracts set aside specifically for black females.
- Focus on developing your staff in upskilling and learning. Once staff have shown a certain degree of performance and competence, share a % of your business with loyal staff, this often results in amazing growth.
- Develop a strategy – often what looks like an obstacle is a gift meant to move you.
- Entrepreneurs have surprisingly bounced back post-Covid19 showing much resilience.
- Everything is possible, we have the power within us to develop any skill and one can prescribe to the formula of applying 10,000 hours to perfect anything.
Kershen thanked the panel and closed the session with once again asking all to reflect on the words of fixing the man in the mirror first.
Article written by: Asiya Swaleh