A conversation with Ipeleng Mkhari, CEO Motseng Investment Holdings and President of the SAPOA

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LM:

Thank you so much for your willingness to share your life and entrepreneurship journey with our readers.

IM:

Thank you for the opportunity, I believe it’s important to share one’s journey.

LM:

Congratulations on the celebration of an amazing 20 years of success for Motseng Holdings, a company you founded at the tender age of 22? How did this all begin, what vision did you have in those early days?

IM:

Thank you, I do pinch myself just thinking about 2 decades of hustling. In the early days the vision was to create a sustainable business, secondly to engage the youth in business, so we initially were Motseng Youth Investment Holdings. We soon dropped the word YOUTH and evolved into a diversified investment holdings group. It has been a challenging, risky and highly regarding journey overall.

LM:

Motseng is now a well-diversified Group of companies, tell us more about the business both here in South Africa and beyond.

IM:

The business was established in 1998 as a diversified investment holdings structure, however it is important to note that investment diversity only took place after a decade. Motseng today is a business which operates in three geographies (SA, LESOTHO & MOZAMBIQUE) we have a staff complement of some 400 locals across the group. We pride ourselves in being a Southern African group operating in property and strategic investments. Our business is predominantly a services business which supports 3rd party and internal clients. We also have a growing directly held property portfolio of commercial assets. As we settle in each geography our aim is to expand our reach ‘’in country’’ and to look at expanding in neighbouring SADC countries.

LM:

What is true entrepreneurship?

IM:

RISK + SACRIFICE + HARD HARD WORK

LM:

Most people who follow your career, and those who listen to your inspiring speeches sometimes say they want to be “just like you “? What is that people may not appreciate about your journey?

IM:

In October 2015, I began shifting the tone of my speeches to reflect all my hardships, failures, major sacrifices and the countless mistakes I had encountered. This was primarily driven by the fact that so many observers would reflect on only the sexiness and glamour of being an entrepreneur.

Two of Bill Gates quotes which struck me at the time and still do today are:

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose” AND “Its fine to celebrate successes but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Both of these quotes are simply profound to me because they truly reflect my entrepreneurship journey which has been losing a lot more than I have won.

LM:

What is the value of innovative ideas in the life of an entrepreneur? How do you keep coming up with new ideas?

IM:

Entrepreneurs are not just implementers, they are “’IDEAS”’ driven people. Most entrepreneurs I have met have a multitude of ideas and seek help to implement these. The challenge lies in being able to match or link the two successfully each time. An organisation with a culture of dialogue, sharing and recognising mistakes as opportunities for learning could have a higher probability and capacity to generate strong ideas.

LM:

What are the real trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship you experienced in the first few years of your business?

IM:

I can speak to 3 clear challenges in my early days.

  • Cashflow was a serious problem to the point that there was never enough to pay the founders salaries for a few years.
  • Attracting talent was extremely hard as an unknown brand.
  • Being personally blacklisted within the first 5 years of being in business, this was quickly managed and resolved, however it was quite hair-raising at the time.

LM:

How do entrepreneurs manage the image of “success” in order to win more business early on while dealing with the crises of cash flow, late payment and inability to sometimes pay rent and salaries?

IM:

It’s all about mind over matter and being crystal clear about your objectives to start the business in the first place.

LM:

One of the least understood issues in entrepreneurship is the need to understand, quantify and manage risk? What have been your experiences in the early years and what did you later learn about risk management in business?

IM:

This is one of the most underestimated issues in modern day business. With the advent of more governance and regulations in business, the concept of risk management is a top priority. Especially when the business is growing at a fast pace, the desire is often to take on more opportunities. So, in 2008, a good decade after we had started, we embarked on a corporatisation plan which would see the introduction of a shared services platform and focus on developing over 100 policies and procedures. My experience was that central to the success of this corporatisation plan was the business focus on RISK MANAGEMENT strategies, tools and rules to ensure that we were sustainable. This is even more critical today in 2018.

LM:

An entrepreneur may have the best business ideas, business model or even a lucrative market but have very poor people management and leadership skills. What is the value and importance of identifying, training, grieving, nurturing and empowering people in your business for success?

IM:

Human capital is our business and in fact, as we have grown as a group I have seen the serious mistakes we have made in appointing leaders who are oblivious or who turn out to be very disconnected from their teams. If it’s not properly and quickly managed it can become a disaster. So, sometimes we assume that the most senior leaders are endowed with the best people management skills and we then fail to address the deficiencies.

LM:

What are some of the harshest lessons you have learnt about financing your business in the early years and later as it matured?

IM:

  • My first CCTV installation was funded by the client’s cash deposit of 20%, however, the deposit was insufficient to complete the installation. I raised a loan, however, I was horrified to realise that it was a 30-day bridging facility. So, it was quite harsh trying to ensure that the project was completed timeously in order for the business to collect the balance of our project payment, which would also assist to settle the 30-day bridging facility.   
  • In the first decade the business was 80% self-funded through annuity contracts which was powerful in that it provided strong cashflows to fund growth.
  • A diversified income stream is both a blessing and a challenge. We have always been challenged to ensure that each subsidiary is operating optimally and sustainably, but, that is not always achievable. The harshest lesson I have learnt in the last 5 years is to respond quickly to a failing business before it negatively impacts other businesses. This can be extremely detrimental.

LM:

In these times of partnerships, collaboration and Black economic empowerment- What are the key things one should look for in looking for partners? What lessons, positive or negative have you learnt on your business journey about partners?

IM:

There are universal principles which form the foundation of a successful partnership – TRUST is at the centre of these. I have experienced brief and highly successful partnerships and equally long ones which start off well and eventually disintegrate. I think the power lies in understating the purpose of the partnership and once that has been fully achieved being able to end it positively.

LM:

The government stimulus plan together with the investment pledges from local and foreign investors present huge opportunities for entrepreneurs- how should entrepreneurs prepare themselves to take advantage of such opportunities?

IM:

You know we all descend to the level of our preparation! My advice would be to encourage entrepreneurs to fully understand their sectors regulatory environment & their competitiveness strategy(ies). I have experienced that we tend to be very unprepared for opportunities simply because we don’t access information. Information is readily accessible to most via sector/industry bodies, online and through educational institutions. Entrepreneurs need to educate themselves thoroughly before taking on opportunities.

LM:

What have been your experiences with dealing with men in trying to win business, pitch new ideas and discuss business concepts?

IM:

In the early days I was horrified at the blatant and direct sexual advances by some men who were far older than me at the time. So, one lost out on many opportunities however that was the least of my worries as my stance set a clear distinction about what I was not prepared to engage in for business. I think it also allowed me to develop a thick skin to rejection and lastly it re-emphasised my intent to those who were willing to genuinely support the business. I must hasten to note that these experiences were generally in the minority.

LM:

What advice can you give to young women who have to deal with unwanted sexual advances from older men in both the corporate and entrepreneurship environments?

IM:

Don’t engage in them!

LM:

Entrepreneurs are sometimes expected to pay bribes or to facilitate payments to corrupt business people or politicians, how have you stayed true to your values and integrity?

IM:

The ethics in leadership is a subject matter I thoroughly enjoy speaking about because entrepreneurs are challenged every day. It is never worth it to engage in any bribes for business and I have relied on my own compass to keep me sane in such cases.

LM:

Where did you grow up, what memories to you have of your upbringing?

IM:

I was born and raised in Umlazi, Kwazulu-Natal by my loving and very present parents. I had a simple yet affirming upbringing.

LM:

What were your early influences and who were your heroes and heroines as you were growing up?

IM:

My parents and grandmothers have stood out as exceptionally strong role models and influencers for me. I recall a vivid memory as a 11 / 12-year-old whilst doing vacation work in my mom’s surgery and experiencing a lesson in recognising and upholding someone else’s human dignity. My mother (the GP) would greet a patient and ask for them to join her in the consulting room by calling the patient by their title and last names, ‘’Mrs Sangweni’” or “Mr Dladla.” On this particular day I realised that so many patients wouldn’t respond to their names. This was a sad reality as many of the adults had never been addressed as “Mrs Sangweni” or “Mr Dladla’’ primarily because they were consistently dehumanised in Apartheid SA.  My mom would always remind me that her job was not to heal the sick only but to restore the mindset and dignity of Black people, for them to know that they deserve respect. A truly powerful life lesson for me as a tween.

LM:

What are your core values, how have you maintained them through your career?

IM:

Respect, Humility, Integrity, Compassion, Excellence….

This values set is not exhaustive, but these are core to me and in everything I do I tried to ensure that lead authentically and through this lens of core values.

LM:

You are a successful entrepreneur, a loving wife to my brother Given, and a doting Mum to your kids, how important is family to you?

IM:

My family is my number ONE team, they are my compass, they keep me connected to myself more than anyone. As I mature, I feel so blessed to know that I have their unconditional love and support.

LM:

What is the difference between Ipeleng at home versus Ipeleng in the Boardroom?

IM:

I don’t think there is a fundamental difference.

LM:

What do your kids tease you about?

IM:

They say I’m a fake pescatarian!!! (I have my moments of weakness.) ?

LM:

How did you and Given meet, how long have you been together, how do you manage time for yourselves, your family and still be successful entrepreneurs?

IM:

I met Given in a radio interview on Kaya FM where he would interview “successful people.” It was quite funny because I think he was meant to interview a high-powered businessman who dropped the interview and his producer suggested me. But the talk show host (Given) was uninspired by my CV….so I was a last minute & necessary replacement. We have been together for 17 years and married for 13. It’s a hard balance most of the time, we have to make sure that we deliberately spend quality time together. My most precious moments with my family are spent around my pots chatting and laughing when I cook.

LM:

What values do you instil in your children?

IM:

Love, Self-respect, Honesty, Responsibility, Accountability

LM:

Does faith or spirituality play a role in your life?

IM:

Both faith in God and a strong sense of spirituality play a pivotal part in my life. I’m a strong believer and prayer is a language of expression in my life. I speak to my God all day long & I believe in the power of positive thoughts, deeds and expressions.

LM:

Do you have a close circle of advisers around you?

IM:

Interesting, well not formal advisers but yes, I would say I have trusted individuals who surround me and assist me to think out loud and reflect.

LM:

What was the hardest moment in your life, and how did you pull through and what lessons did you draw from the experience?

IM:

Losing my mother in December 1996 was certainly the hardest moment for me, it was my final year of university and I was totally unprepared for her passing. The days, weeks, months and years that followed were excruciating however I was comforted by the fact that my parents (and especially my mom) had provided a strong foundation for me. As the eldest at home, the passing of my mom opened up a space for me to assume a motherly role for my siblings. It wasn’t easy, but I was blessed with a lot of support and love.

LM:

What makes you give so much of yourself and resources to those less fortunate?

IM:

I see sharing as a core responsibility for me, I have so much to share with fellow South Africans in need.

LM:

What responsibility do we have as role models to those who are younger who look up to us?

IM:

To be authentic, ethical and morally grounded.

LM:

Congratulations on your appointment as the President of SAPOA, what does the role entail?

IM:

Thank you, I have served on the board of SAPOA for a few years and have thoroughly embraced the opportunity. SAPOA is the voice of the commercial property and my role is to advance our members desires, advocacy and stakeholder engagement.

LM:

Tell us a bit about SAPOA and it’s role in society?

IM:

SAPOA is the umbrella body for all the commercial property associations and therefore our key role is to ensure that commercial property interests are aligned, that we engage actively with government and focus on addressing transformation in our sector and by default in society.

LM:

Does SAPOA support radical economic transformation, what does it mean for the property sector?

IM:

SAPOA supports transformation and to this end we have been instrumental in supporting the establishment of the Property Sector Charter office and contributed to its continued funding. We recognise the importance of a transformed commercial property industry and we are working with industry associations to ensure it is not simply a “’tick-box” exercise. Through partnerships with SAIBPP (SA Institute of Black Property Practitioners) and WPN (Women’s Property Network) we aim to strengthen our focus on transformation. Lastly, we believe in supporting young aspiring property practitioners to enter the industry. We have an active bursary fund which supports the funding of tuition, books and placement for previously disadvantaged students.

LM:

The President has assured investors that property rights are protected by the Constitution, what are your views on this?

IM:

Indeed, the President is accurate, the constitution is clear in that respect. As SAPOA, we view the debate around EWC (Expropriation without compensation) as an important debate and one which should take place to redress the historical challenges within the confines of the constitution.

LM:

The President also promised that investors will not be subjected to arbitrary expropriation of land and property, how does SAPOA see the transformation of the property sector within the current laws?

IM:

We have been working with Deputy Minister Cronin for almost 3 years on the subject of EWC and the engagement has been constructive and positive. Our view is that investors (local and international) should have clarity to ensure their investments are accretive for them and the country, Secondly, as SAPOA we think that within the commercial property sector the focus should include municipal land and derelict buildings located urban centres.

LM:

You have spoken forcefully against fronting, are there any mechanisms that SAPOA has put in place to deal with this scourge?

IM:

As SAPOA we are limited in our ability to regulate every member activity in business. We have got a Code of Conduct which we would apply in the event that incorrect and unethical practices which have an impact on the entire sector are positively identified. Thankfully I am not aware of a situation where SAPOA has been required to act.

LM:

Thank you so much for such an enlightening and far reaching conversation, I know future generations will benefit from your wisdom, insights and experiences

IM:

Thank you immensely for the opportunity to share my career and personal journey.