By Phillip Chichoni
Her energy is amazing. Her passion is contagious. Talk to her for a few minutes and you feel her excitement. At one of our monthly meetings at the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Harare branch she brought in a new idea. She was the branch chairman then and I was an executive committee member. Divine Ndhlukula had just returned from a business conference for women in Sweden and she immediately wanted to do something similar in Zimbabwe. She pushed hard and on 1 November 2013, the inaugural ZNCC and Women Alliance of Business Associations in Zimbabwe conference was held at the Rainbow Towers in Harare, attracting over 500 participants.
This just displays her drive and passion for results. Divine Ndhlukula is the founder and managing director of Securico, a security company she started in her cottage in December 1998 with three employees and very little capital. The group is involved in guarding services, electronic security systems and cashmanagement solutions. A respected and reputable brand she started at her kitchen table, it has now grown to a leading and respected security player. The multiple award winner was the first Zimbabwean manned security company to be certified to the internationally acclaimed ISO9001:2008 Quality Management System.
Divine is a champion and proponent of women’s economic empowerment, evidenced by her company being the largest employer of women in Zimbabwe, outside civil service – currently 900, a feat she is most proud of. She is the current Vice President of Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce.
According to her, perhaps the biggest barrier she had to face when she set it up was her gender.
“Obviously, as a woman, people would not believe that I could run a security company – particularly with no security background,” she told the BBC’s series African Dream.
However, she held firmly to her purpose and Securico now employs more than 3,500 people.
“We provide cutting-edge services. We move cash and valuables for companies and banks; we also provide electronic security systems – that is the CCTVs, the access control systems, the alarms, the rapid responses, remote site monitoring and so on,” she said.
“Our business has grown to be well capitalised in terms of assets; our balance sheet is close to $8m. This year we expect to turn over just over $16m,” she added.
If things keep on going according to her plans, she hopes that within five years Securico will have branches in neighbouring countries and reach an annual turnover of more than $50m.
The company has not only grown physically. It has also been recognised as one of the continent’s leaders in business excellence. In 2011 it beat 3,300 other firms to win the coveted $100,000 Grand Prize at the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in Nairobi, Kenya.
“While we have won 11 national awards in the past 12 years, AAE is the most significant so far as we were competing with companies from 48 African countries and this magnificent achievement has put us at a very enviable position. This will make our future growth plans easier”.
The organisers said that Securico “exemplifies the vital role played by entrepreneurs in creating economic growth, prosperity, and realising opportunity in Africa” and pointed out that it is the largest employer of women in the private sector in Zimbabwe.
Subsequently, Ms Ndhlukula was chosen as one of Africa’s most successful women by US business magazine Forbes.
“When I was in school I used to tell my friends that I was not going to work for more than two years but obviously I had to work for more than two years,” she said.
She trained as an accountant and worked in the 1980s for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), the Old Mutual investment group and Intermarket Insurance (now ZB Insurance).
“During the time that I was working for these employers I was obviously involved in various enterprising initiatives. Typically, I’d buy clothes from factories here in Harare and sell them to my colleagues at work, and also give [them] to my colleagues in other places, to sell on my behalf on commission,” Ms Ndhlukula explained.
With the money she saved she bought a truck which she hired out to a construction company. Later she had to sell it to prevent her late father’s farm from being auctioned.
As she saved the farm, its title was changed into her name and she ventured into the farming business.
Ms Ndhlukula says that even as a student she dreamed of being an entrepreneur.
She then took out a loan against her house in order to grow maize but things did not go as well as she had expected due to a severe drought and she almost lost her house. So in 1995 she had to go back into employment.
“I did a marketing diploma and I switched my career to marketing because that gave me time to be able to run around into other things as I knew that I definitively wanted to break out on my own at some stage.”
Her dream finally came true in 1998 when she realised that there was a gap in the security services sector, an area that was dominated by male entrepreneurs.
According to her, she noticed that the quality of the services many of the existing companies provided was not up to the standards of the big corporations and multinationals operating in Zimbabwe. That is how Securico was born.
Ms Ndhlukula remembers that she started with three security operatives and two managers, including herself.
“Of course, I just had to ensure that I had enough money to be able to operate and pay people on time because that is very critical in our type of business. So, I did not really need a lot of capital,” she said.
Obviously, as a woman, people would not believe that I could run a security company – particularly with no security background.
“This is, I think, the biggest folly of people who aspire to be in business. They think that you have to have lots and lots and lots of money to be able to start a business. No, it’s not that. It’s really the passion.”
So she started approaching people who she knew and trusted – former schoolmates, ex-colleagues, friends and relatives – and asking them to support her new project.
“Slowly people began to gain confidence as they saw how serious I was, they saw how ambitious and how passionate and determined I was. I was so involved in the business.
“They began to notice that ‘look, this business seems to be serious and their service seems to be even much better than those established companies’, so they started referring us,” she said.
She believes that, once a gap in the market has been identified, persistence is the key to success.
“I always tell people: ‘If you’ve got a product or a service that is required by the market, you can sell it’. It’s not about the sciences. It’s about the passion for the idea”.
We started with three security operatives and two administrators-I included. I used to do literally most functions like office administrative work, accounting, deploying operatives with my one vehicle, supervision, training and other related activities. We converted my servants’ quarters to an office and we had only one desk for furniture that we shared.
Probably because of her experience of nearly losing her home when she ventured into farming, Ms Ndhlukula is not keen to borrow money.
“We are very careful when we get money from banks. We only get it when it’s really necessary, when we know we are going to swear to the assets that we’ve gotten with the loans so that we can easily repay without having to stifle the business.”
Also, in a country where many business people complain about the levels of bureaucracy and corruption, she is against the idea of paying bribes.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been getting any work from government but I’m glad that the kind of customers that we targeted in the first place – the high-end, the multinationals, the blue-chip companies – they do their procurement by the book.
“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.”
She also pointed out that when one is starting a business, one should not delegate too much.
“I literally used to work about 16 hours a day. I still do it occasionally, though we’ve got about 22 managers with MBAs and so on – but they still require your input. I’m still the MD [managing director], I still give that strategic direction. If you’re there, you’re visible, you’re exemplary, you show that you’re also working – then people will buy into your vision.”
When we started we were primarily offering guarding services but we started cash and assets–in–transit services in 2002. This service offering has grown phenomenally and we are now the market leader in this service in Zimbabwe with a fleet of over 80 armoured vehicles.
We have since diversified this service to “Cash Management.” Besides moving cash, gold bullion and other valuables, we provide on-site banking where we deploy our own cashiers to receive cash from our clients’ customers. At that point the cash is considered banked so our customers are able to cut back on expenses to do with employment and transporting cash. They also reduce risks involving cash to zero. It’s a very attractive and innovative offering. We have also gone on to propose value to our clients by another offering, providing them with receptionists who besides being frontline personnel also provide security incognito for their premises.
In 2008, at the height of the Zimbabwean economic crisis, we acquired an electronic security systems company – MULTI-LINK (PVT) LTD as a going concern. We transformed this company into a high tech installer specializing in the latest innovative and cutting edge electronic security solutions.
Within the last two years we grew this company into the second largest in Zimbabwe in the provision of electronic security systems like CCTV, access control systems, alarms, remote site monitoring and response services and electric fences.
In 2005 we founded a subsidiary company – CANINE Dog Services – that breeds, trains and leases guard dogs.
The Zimbabwean business environment has been very difficult in the past ten years. We managed to pull through due to tenacity, creativity and determination.
Corruption, unfortunately, is the cancer the country is grappling with. We as a business had anticipated to get a lot of government work after the multi-currency system was introduced 3 years ago, but we have not gotten much work from government as their awarding of tenders is fraught with corruption.
Institutions created to superintend over graft have also been highly politicized rendering them ineffective. Graft exists in both private and public sectors. Yes, it is one of the negatives any investor will and is expected to deal with.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
The biggest lesson I have learnt so far is that nothing comes easy. While I always knew I was going to make it in business, I had not really anticipated the amount of hard work, discipline, commitment and determination I needed to get here.
Hence, I have now learned that the secret of success is found in one’s daily schedule.
External sources and picture credits: BBC African Dreams, Forbes Magazine, securico.com