Squeaky clean con­struc­tion

‘The busi­ness cul­ture is so politi­cised you have to be in the right party to get work’

Finweek English Edition - - PEOPLE - LEANI WES­SELS leani.wes­sels@fin­week.co.za

IN 2006 Le­siba Chuene’s small brick-mak­ing busi­ness in Lim­popo had a one-way ticket to mak­ing it big: all he had to do was bribe the right Govern­ment of­fi­cial and watch the money role in. Ex­cept he didn’t – heed­ing his fa­ther’s ad­vice that if you’re good at what you’re do­ing, you don’t have to pay some­one to give you busi­ness. The cynic in me at first scoffed at that ac­count. It’s the build­ing in­dus­try: a lit­tle bribe here and there is just a nec­es­sary en­try fee, es­pe­cially if you’re new to the game.

But af­ter a 40-minute con­ver­sa­tion with Chuene I was ready to con­cede you re­ally do find small op­er­a­tors in this in­dus­try not in­ter­ested in just a quick buck. Al­though, as Chuene ad­mits with a chuckle, it was the prom­ise of cold hard cash that had him ditch his stud­ies for the life of an en­tre­pre­neur in the first place. He’d al­ways worked temp jobs but “be­came in­ter­ested in mak­ing some money”.

In 2006 his fa­ther started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing health prob­lems and Chuene jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to run the fam­ily busi­ness. Be­fore Chuene joined, Mo­godi Bricks and Sands supplied only ce­ment bricks to the com­mu­nity and busi­nesses in Ga-mpahlele in Lim­popo. As it was dur­ing the time that South Africa’s build­ing in­dus­try couldn’t meet the de­mand, Chuene found him­self in the po­si­tion where his small brick­mak­ing busi­ness be­came the go-to place for lo­cal busi­nesses that couldn’t source bricks from their tra­di­tional sup­pli­ers. “I was mo­ti­vated by my cus­tomers. They’d come in and ask if we had this or that kind of brick and I re­alised that just sell­ing one prod­uct wouldn’t cut it.”

That Chuene can count the mines in the Lim­popo as cus­tomers is tes­ta­ment to the kind of qual­ity you can ex­pect from Mo­godi Bricks. The safety-ob­sessed mines in this largely plat­inum-rich area use Chuene’s bricks for un­der­ground walls and con­struc­tion. In 2008 he started sell­ing di­rectly to ru­ral build­ing sup­pli­ers Cash­build and now sells to eight stores in Lim­popo.

But he had a tough time con­vinc­ing a cash cow to in­vest in his busi­ness. To ex­pand his prod­uct line from ce­ment bricks (a prod­uct los­ing both pop­u­lar­ity and mar­gins) he needed new ma­chin­ery and trucks for trans­porta­tion. Trawl­ing from one Govern­ment in­sti­tu­tion and bank to the next, he saw an ad­vert from an NGO for a busi­ness plan com­pe­ti­tion. Tech­noserve of­fered a cash prize of R35 000 to en­trepreneurs af­ter an in­ten­sive course in busi­ness plan writ­ing. Chuene was among the win­ners to re­ceive the cash and went on to win an­other busi­ness plan com­pe­ti­tion at Richard Bran­son’s School of En­trepreneurs, putting an­other R280 000 in his busi­ness’s pocket. He used the money to ex­pand into sand, air bricks and win­dowsills. “There are so many peo­ple with vi­able busi­ness ideas out there. If Govern­ment could only train them they wouldn’t be so risky to in­vest in,” says Chuene.

Cur­rently the busi­ness em­ploys 25 peo­ple, but the num­bers change con­stantly. Chuene ex­plains he loves see­ing an em­ployee trained by the com­pany find­ing a bet­ter, higher pay­ing job in the city. “If one of my ma­chine op­er­a­tors gets a job else­where, I’m very proud of him.”

Chuene’s roots run deep within his com­mu­nity and it’s to that he at­tributes the suc­cess of his busi­ness. “I’m a ru­ral boy and live so­cially with the lo­cals of the area. Young peo­ple want to be ‘ten­der­preneurs’ and drive Porsches and they for­get their roots.”

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