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

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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.”

Get­ting started

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.

Hur­dles

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.

Over­com­ing ob­sta­cles

“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.

Next step

“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.”

PHOTO: EL­IZ­A­BETH SEJAKE

DIG­GING DEEP Sethu Pi­lane is a strong be­liever in em­pow­er­ment

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