(I really love this woman's story...first published in Ventures Africa)
One of the most striking things about Divine Ndhlukula, one of Africa’s most successful women, is that she always knew that she would be successful. The 52-year old is the founder and Managing Director of Security Operations (Pvt) Limited, one of Zimbabwe’s largest security groups. Securico Security Services provides uniformed, armed officers, armoured vehicles for transportation of valuables, while Canine Dog Services and Multi-Link P/L provide trained security dogs and electronic security systems respectively for many of Zimbabwe’s high-profile companies. Very little is ladylike about the security industry, yet Ndhlukula has successfully shifted the industry paradigm from male dominance, leaving her mark as a leader among peers. She says to women: “If you want a certain future, go out and create it. Conquer your fears as that is what enslaves most women.” Divine began creating the future she wanted in 1998 and has certainly had many reasons to be enslaved by fear along the way.
With an uncommon level of business awareness, Ndhlukula began dreaming of life as an entrepreneur in her teen years. Her vision was always of herself running a large business, and she told everyone who would listen. After graduating with an Executive MBA from Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, and obtaining an accounting diploma, Ndhlukula worked briefly for the government and for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation as an accounting officer. She then moved into the Insurance industry where she spent a few years. All the while, her desire for entrepreneurship never faded.
Ndhlukula dabbled in everything. She sold clothes to her colleagues at work then hired other friends to sell the clothes; from the money she made, Ndhlukula bought one 8-tonne truck, which she hired out to a construction company. When the opportunity came to rescue and take over her late father’s farm, she quit her job and went into the farming business. To keep the farm going, Divine took out a loan, using her house as security, and when the crop failed in 1995, she came dangerously close to losing her home. Although accepting defeat was never an option, she returned to her old employer in the insurance industry and excelled, quickly joining its executive team. Having learned critical business lessons the hard way, Ndhlukula enrolled herself in an Entrepreneurial Development Programme. By sharpening her skills in goal setting, business planning, networking and opportunity seeking, she prepared to avoid making the same mistakes.
Her golden business opportunity did not come until 1998 when she noticed a gap in the security services sector. The sector was dominated by male entrepreneurs who ran large companies that catered to Zimbabwe’s biggest corporations and multinationals. Their total domination of the market meant they paid little attention to service quality, and that was where Ndhlukula found her niche. Starting with four employees and very little capital in her home in 1998, Securico Security Services has since grown to one of the largest security firms, employing over 3,500 workers. Impressively, more than 900 of her employees are disadvantaged women making Securico the largest employer of women in the private sector in Zimbabwe.
She shares in an interview with BBC, African Dream:
“Most of the women that we employ here are single mothers, we targeted them primarily because we knew that they were not going to get an opportunity from anybody and they would not be able to look after their children. So this is an opportunity for them to have a livelihood and to educate their children. We employ close to a thousand women now, about 900+ and to me that’s one of the happiest things I’ve done in my life as a person because I have impacted very positively on women who would have not have had an opportunity, who would be eking out a living and possibly even going out to sell their bodies to make a living.”
Through Zimbabwe’s exceptionally difficult economic and political times, Ndhlukula steered Securico towards stability and growth with a few key strategies. From the start, she made sure client-centred, quality services were always available and tailored to clients’ needs. One of the company’s top priorities was to retain good staff. During times of economic difficulty, her management team brainstormed creative ways to compensate staff and retain clients. Securico provided staff with accommodation, transportation to and from work locations and provided services to organisations that could offer in kind payments such as commodities (rice, flour etc.) companies. Thus staff received many payments in kind, and Securico was able to retain valuable staff.
Ndhlukula also maintains a no-bribe policy. She had anticipated getting lots of business from the government but her stance against bribery has meant that the government market remains closed to Securico,
"We never give a bribe because the moment you start giving somebody a bribe today, they expect you to give them a bribe every other time. And, you know, you cannot do business that way."
Ndhlukula is proud of her stance and grateful for her clients who prioritise doing business ‘by the book.
Divine Ndhlukula’s journey has been a difficult one; nobody expected a woman with no securities background to succeed in the male-dominated environment. Yet succeed she has. She has won 11 national awards in the last 12 years including Empretec Entrepreneur of the Year (2001) and Entrepreneur of the Decade (2002). Her crowning achievement, she says, was winning the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship, beating over 3000 other firms from 48 African nations! Ndhlukula did not realise how far she had come with the Securico team.
Having made it through some of the most difficult business conditions any entrepreneur is likely to face face, Ndhlukula is eager to pass on her knowledge to other fledgling businesses:
“When you start making a bit of money one should always recognise that it is not yet your money. It is still the business’ money because you want that business to grow. So for you to sustain it and enjoy phenomenal growth that anyone going into business wants is to reinvest all the little bits of cash that you get then you can be assured that your business will grow.”
It is this level of discipline and commitment that has secured her place in history as one of Africa’s most successful female entrepreneurs.