Building your own future
Independentminded Sethu Pilane heads a multimillion-rand organisation, Vuka Business Consultants, which provides services ranging from construction and business training to development, writes SUE GRANTMARSHALL
In the beginning
Sethu Pilane attributes her strong personality and drive to succeed in business, as well as helping young people to do the same, to her upbringing in the township of Zwelitsha near Bhisho.
Her grandparents were an extraordinary couple who played “a crucial role in bringing me up”, says Pilane.
Her grandfather ensured that the young girl helped on his farm, “doing chores that mainly boys do, such as planting and yoking the cattle for the plough”.
“He made it fun and involved us in projects such as selling pineapples and recycling. Furthermore, he paid us. We always got our share.” And so an entrepreneurial spirit was born. After Pilane matriculated, she studied further and graduated in 2006 with a diploma in Business Studies from Central Johannesburg College.
“I did my practical training with Bridging the Gap and in 2007 established Vuka Business Consultants. I began business in earnest the following year.”
Pilane began by providing business development services to the then Umsobomvu Youth Fund, which later merged with the National Youth Council to become the National Youth Development Agency.
“Suddenly, we were producing a lot of business plans for clients wanting to go into construction in the wake of the building boom generated by the 2010 World Cup,” says Pilane.
She soon noticed that although her clients had the necessary building skills, they came up short when dealing with the administration side of things and when creating presentations for possible clients.
“So I tendered for construction projects myself and then subcontracted them to the people who I was helping to write business plans. But then another problem cropped up. The construction people couldn’t handle starting work at 6am and working through weekends too.”
Eventually, Pilane ended up doing construction projects herself, always ensuring that if she got a community-based project – for RDP housing, for example – she trained someone in a family to build.
“I want young people to learn how to be a carpenter or bricklayer for several reasons. The key is helping them to earn money and to acquire skills so that if maintenance becomes necessary on their house later on, they can do it themselves.”
It was this desire to help others that saw Pilane win the Black Business Quarterly Award in 2008 for Young Visionary Achievers, which was sponsored by Mathews Phosa, former ANC treasurer-general.
It recognised her empowerment of both able and disabled young people “so that they would be freed from the mentality of survival through continuous grants”, she says.
Pilane lists several, including obtaining finance for projects, access to business opportunities, retaining skilled staff and understanding that the construction industry is a seasonal business.
“I realised I had to diversify so that I was busy when I didn’t have construction projects. I turned to educating rural communities on how, for example, to look after toilets, teaching them not to throw bad cabbages or chicken carcasses into them.”
Pilane reasoned that education didn’t require huge capital outlays.
She also developed an internet-based information management system for the housing market.
“I provide reliable audited information for the consumer so they know the state of the house they are planning to buy. Is the electrical wiring right? That sort of thing.”
She works in both the private and government sectors.
“I would like to ensure cash flow for operating expenses for at least a year in advance so that I can focus my full attention on growing the business,” says Pilane.
“I love it. I wake up every day and see new opportunities. I also enjoy helping people to develop their own businesses.”
Dreams and goals
“I’d like to study again, even become a business science professor. I have such a passion for entrepreneurship. I want to change South Africa, and we need to start at preschool level so that by the time people are 20 years old, they have the right self-help mind-set.”
The NHBRC is important…
Pilane says she applauds Brenda Madumise, chairperson of the National Home Builders’ Registration Council, for promising “to create this Gordon Institute of Business Science programme we are on, and then following through on her promise. It’s helping me to plan for growth.”
DIGGING DEEP Sethu Pilane is a strong believer in empowerment