AIN’T NO MOUN­TAIN HIGH ENOUGH

Yvonne Themba, chair­per­son of Shan­duka Black Um­brel­las, takes cal­cu­lated risks whether she’s sum­mit­ing moun­tains or grow­ing peo­ple, writes Sue Grant Mar­shall

CityPress - - Business - For more Win­ning Women, watch CNBC Africa’s Women on Wealth pro­gramme ev­ery Wed­nes­day at 9.15pm on DStv chan­nel 410 On Oc­to­ber 30, the Shan­duka Foun­da­tion will cel­e­brate its 10th an­niver­sary with an En­ter­prise and Sup­plier De­vel­op­ment Sum­mit at the Wande

You can feel the en­ergy swirling around Yvonne Themba, chair­per­son of Shan­duka Black Um­brel­las, as she en­ters the room. She’s talk­ing about climb­ing the seven sum­mits of the world be­fore she’s even sat down. Her en­thu­si­asm is in­fec­tious as she de­scribes get­ting to the top of Mount Kil­i­man­jaro two years ago. It dims only slightly as she men­tions her failed at­tempt to con­quer Aconcagua in the An­des, Ar­gentina, last year. It’s the high­est moun­tain in the south­ern hemi­sphere at 6 960m.

“We had reached 6 100m when we were forced to turn back and I was in­cred­i­bly frus­trated. My tears didn’t fall – they spurted out hor­i­zon­tally,” says Themba, her hands flash­ing and her gold hoop ear­rings swing­ing.

She has set her­self the goal of climb­ing the seven peaks to raise funds for the Shan­duka Group’s Adopt-a-School Foun­da­tion. She spon­sors her own ad­ven­tures but lob­bies friends, fam­ily and col­leagues to support her ef­forts.

Themba raised R90 000 from her first climb and R150 000 for Aconcagua, “so yes, I was suc­cess­ful from that per­spec­tive”, she ac­knowl­edges.

She plans to re­turn to con­quer Aconcagua and then to tackle Mount El­brus in Rus­sia, as well as Mount Vin­son in Antarc­tica, all nest year.

“I will go on climb­ing for Adopt-a-School, no mat­ter how old I am un­til I’ve done the seven sum­mits,” she de­clares.

It’s clear that Themba ap­proaches ev­ery­thing in her life with de­ter­mi­na­tion, whether it’s moun­taineer­ing or her job as hu­man cap­i­tal di­rec­tor for black-owned and man­aged in­vest­ment hold­ing company Shan­duka Group.

When we meet, she’s about to jet off to Ger­many “be­cause our tal­ent man­age­ment pro­gramme at Shan­duka is in the top three in an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, the Best of Con­sult­ing 2014”.

Themba heads the pro­gramme and has been de­vel­op­ing it, and the tal­ent in the Shan­duka Group, for two years now.

This she does with Dete­con In­ter­na­tional, a con­sul­tancy in the field of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy.

“My chal­lenge is to work out how to get the best out of ev­ery­one at Shan­duka, and to fo­cus par­tic­u­larly on the ‘hy­pos’ – those peo­ple with high po­ten­tial.”

She is par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on Shan­duka Black Um­brel­las’ aim to ad­dress the low lev­els of en­trepreneur­ship and high fail­ure rate of black-owned emerg­ing busi­nesses in South Africa.

“Only 6% of black-owned busi­nesses suc­ceed and a 94% fail­ure rate is, in no way, good. So we nur­ture them in the crit­i­cal first three years of their ex­is­tence by pro­vid­ing in­cu­ba­tors that have of­fice in­fra­struc­ture, train­ing, a ve­hi­cle with a driver, pro­fes­sional ser­vices and men­tor­ship pro­grammes.

“We also get them to the stage where they can at­tract fi­nan­cial support.”

Th­ese pro­grammes al­low the Shan­duka Group to con­trib­ute pos­i­tively to­wards sup­port­ing emerg­ing and small black­owned busi­nesses.

Shan­duka Black Um­brel­las op­er­ates in ev­ery prov­ince in the coun­try and plans to con­tinue un­til there is a groundswell of suc­cess­ful black-owned busi­nesses. Themba knows about small business fail­ure. “I crashed and burned with three black male col­leagues in our own small business in a down­town Joburg call cen­tre in Au­gust 2006.

“We mist­imed it, but look­ing back I am glad I had that ex­pe­ri­ence. It helps me un­der­stand the prob­lems en­coun­tered by Shan­duka Black Um­brel­las en­trepreneurs so much bet­ter.” Themba’s life has been rich with chal­lenges. She was born in Soweto, but her fa­mous jour­nal­ist and writer fa­ther, Can Themba, left South Africa be­cause of the pres­sures of apartheid.

“I never knew him – he died when I was 18 months old,” says Themba, who grew up in Swazi­land with her mother.

She ob­tained her Cam­bridge O Lev­els at Water­ford Kamh­laba United World Col­lege in Swazi­land in 1982 and grad­u­ated with a BA in so­cial sci­ence (eco­nomics and ac­counts) from the Univer­sity of Botswana in 1991.

She worked over a 13-year pe­riod – while she was study­ing, and after she got her de­gree – in Sun In­ter­na­tional’s casino in­dus­try.

“In1983, jobs were scarce in the field in which I had stud­ied, so I started as a trainee dealer, be­came an in­spec­tor and even­tu­ally be­came a pit boss – look­ing after ta­bles and ro­tat­ing croupiers – be­fore mov­ing into man­age­ment. I made good money, which helped support my mother,” she says.

She also de­vel­oped the first for­mal black­jack train­ing man­ual.

Themba’s work ex­pe­ri­ence since 1996 has been mostly in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor.

She did a Master of Business Ad­min­is­tra­tion at Wits Business School and grad­u­ated in 2002.

She has been the deputy di­rec­tor of the Life Of­fices’ As­so­ci­a­tion, headed the group cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment at African Life As­sur­ance and the cor­po­rate so­cial in­vest­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment at San­lam.

Themba joined the Shan­duka Group in 2007. It has in­vest­ments rang­ing from en­ergy to fi­nan­cial ser­vices, prop­erty and food. She de­scribes her fam­ily as daugh­ter Zuzile Ganda, “one who con­quers” and her dog Oliver, “one who slob­bers”. Her hob­bies in­clude golf, travel, pho­tog­ra­phy and read­ing.

Themba does not men­tion moun­taineer­ing, so I guess that’s almost a job now and a hazardous one at that. It’s also ex­tremely un­com­fort­able be­cause she goes for days with­out wash­ing and on one fu­ture climb, she says she will bur­row un­der snow to sleep in a warm and safe spot.

PHOTO: EL­IZ­A­BETH SE­JAKE

ON THE UP Yvonne Themba

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