Budding entrepreneur dreams big
RISING entrepreneur Makhetha Thaele last Friday opened a fuel station and a convenience shop in Lithabaneng;ithabaneng; a feat rarely achieved by manyny of his peers. The man who grew up sellingng milk and vegeta-vegetables going from door to doordoor had the spirit of entrepreneurship embeddedbedded in him at a tender age. He plans too expand the petro-petroleum fuel business aroundund the country and beyond the national bordersrders as he contin-continues on his journey to becomingbecoming a commu-community builder. He has foundedunded and operates MF Holdings, a businessss brand that has interests in accounting,unting, con-construction, petroleum fuel,el, and office supplies among others.s. Aged 37, Mr Thaele is also a boardard member of the Lesotho Nationalal Develop-development Corporation (LNDC).DC). In this wide-ranging interview, Mr Thaele (MT) talks to Lesotho Times (LT) business reporter Berengng Mpaki about his long journey to becom-becoming a businessman of note.ote.
LT: Who Thaele?
MT: I am a Mosotho man born and bred in Qoalaling, in Maseru. I am thee son of ‘m’e ‘Mamakhe- tha Thaele and ntate Marake Thaeleas well as brother to Mahlape and Motšoanyane. I am also husband to ‘m’e ‘Matlotlisang Thaele and father to a son Lipholo and a daughter Tlotlisang.
I attended St James Primary and proceeded to Leribe High school which I credit for the foundation to what I have become today. I studied accounting at the Centre of Accounting Studies.
LT: How and when did you venture into business?
MT: I worked at different places after completing my studies. First I worked as a volunteer teaching business education and accounting at Qoaling Community High School from 2000 to 2002. The reason I went into teaching was to gain some work experience.
Then I worked for Lesotho Fund for Community Development until 2004 where I covered districts such as Mafeteng, Thaba Tseka, Qacha’s Nek and Mohale’s Hoek. From there I worked at the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) from 2004 to 2009.
It was during this time that I developed an interest in business. So I became a taxi owner through the savings that I had accumulated from work. The business was not successful because I used up the revenue instead of saving it.
After five years I left LRA to pursue self-employment. At that time I still remember I had M2 500 to start a business enterprise. I used that money to register a company and to acquire a trading license to be an office supplier. This was a thriving business opportunity at the time.
As an accountant, I then acquired a practicing certificate from the Lesotho Institute of Accountants and added accountancy consultancy services to my business profile. At first I struggled to get clients for my ser- vices, but I took a decision to visit potential clients to market my business.
The clients that supported me were from the public transport industry, some of whom I knew from my previous involvement in the business. Over time, I noticed that the accounting business had a business cycle that peaked during tax returns filling season between April and June before tapering off for the rest of the year. So I had to find alternative means of generating income for the rest of the year.
I registered MF Holdings in 2010. The business was registered in such a way that it would accommodate different types of ventures under it. MF stands for Multi-functional. I noted that if at school I was able to learn and pass different subjects, then it was possible for me to focus in more than one type of business. I later added other ventures such construction to the company’s profile.
LT: What influenced you to trade a comfortable LRA position for self-employment?
MT: Since I was involved in assisting small enterprises to prepare their financial accounts while working for LRA, that created a conflict of interest with my employers and I had to part ways with them. It is worth mentioning that during formal employment, I was not able to accumulate personal wealth as I have done since becoming an entrepreneur. The house that I have and the vehicles I own were acquired through entrepreneurship.
LT: What role did your childhood play in shaping you as the entrepreneur that you are today? MT: My father uused to be a smallholder farmerer who reared ddairy cows and also planted crops. So, every day after school, he would make me go aroaround the village selling milk and I would sell all of it. This helped to raise money for my transporttra to school.
When the vegvegetables were ready for the market, he wouwould also ask me to do same, selling from one household to another.
At the time, iit all seemed like a punishmentment to me, but when I look back, I now realisealise that my fafather was actually instilling an entrepreneurshipentrepreneur spirit at a tender age. So, today I havehav a vision about going into commercial agagriculture because I have wit
nessednessed its potentialpo first hand.
LT: You recently opened a fuel station at Lithabananeng. How did yyou encounter this businessness opportunity?
MT:M I had this idea of startining a filling station way back when I foresaw that there would come a time when many people would drive cars and would therefore need fuel services.
I then registered a company called MF Petroleum Pty Ltd in 2012. Actually, I have registered many companies that are not yet operational because whenever a thought that seems to make economic sense occurs to me I note it down for possible future develop- ment.
So, that petroleum company is finally seeing the light of day now after years of learning the workings of the petroleum industry. I have also been involved in another filling station business where I am a partner and that has helped me to develop knowledge and skills to run a petroleum business.
The filling station operates under the Puma brand and my vision is to one day see myself running at least five such filing stations around the country.
LT: How many people does the filling station and the rest of MF Holdings employ?
MT: Since the facility has a quick shop, we have a staff complement of 30 people, and in all MF Holdings has a staff complement of 45.
LT: What is your vision going forward?
MT: My vision is to do well in two main businesses one of which is property development in different towns and globally.
I also want to get involved in large scale commercial agriculture. I want to secure a large area of land where I can set up a huge farm for commercial crop farming and animal husbandry. I am currently mobilising resources for these visions and I have already identified a site for the farm.
LT: When do you see yourself accomplishing these dreams?
MT: I have set a target to have achieved these by the age of 40. And from the look of things, I am confident that three years from now I will have done so.
I envisage having at least 5000 employees on my payroll by then.
The property business is influenced by my observation that Maseru is increasingly becoming overpopulated, and there should be another strategic location that can become the next economic hub after Maseru.
I believe that development leads to creation of jobs. If you cannot create jobs, then you are not talking development because when there are jobs there is purchasing power, and when there is purchasing power, the economy will flourish because of booming business activity.
That is why I believe in creating jobs, and if you are creating jobs you are changing lives, and if you are changing lives you feel good because when lives are changed, there is no corruption, no crime, no HIV/AIDS and the country becomes a better place for everyone to live in.
LT: What drives you and motivates you to overcome obstacles as a businessman?
MT: I have a quote from Nelson Mandela that I particularly like which says “It always seems impossible until it is done.” These are some of the words that have driven me in my quest to become the entrepreneur that I am today.
I also believe in people. I delegate authority and responsibilities to my workers and motivate them to work. My businesses are left in the capable hands of my employees and they are doing well as a result of my trust in them.
That frees me to do other things which I would not be able to do if I had devoted myself to running everything by myself.
LT: What is the one mistake that youths commit in their attempts to break into business?
MT: There are a number of such mistakes. Firstly, they want overnight success. They want to start at the top and secure a multi-million deal right away. It does not work like that. You have to start small and gradually grow in a large businessperson.
Another challenge holding back our young entrepreneurs is believing that capital is the finance needed to start a business. Capital is your brain; how you think will lead you to securing the finances you need. Finance is available, you just need to think of how to access it.
Our youth also tend to give up easily they need to be patient. Just think of when you started learning how to write. It took you long but you ultimately nailed it. So be patient. Even in business it is like that. I have also failed in certain business ventures I attempted in the past, but I never gave up. I once attempted to open a large station store which failed dismally but I did not give up.
What is compounding these challenges is our education system which does not encourage learners to be entrepreneurs. The system teaches people to look for work and not to create work. We are taught to write an application letter at a very young age instead of being taught to be entrepreneurs from that age.
We need to incorporate entrepreneurship in the learning curriculum at all levels of education. That way we will appreciate the spirit of entrepreneurship at a tender age and will change mindsets.
rising entrepreneur Makhetha thaele.