In the joy of others lies our own
MANHAR PARSHOTAM is the founder, a shareholder and a director of Dragon Protection Services, which was established in 1996. He is adept at multitasking and takes responsibility for many aspects of the business’s functioning from operations to finance.
Manhar grew up in Durban and attended Burnwood Secondary School in Sydenham. After he completed his schooling, Parshotam spent two years studying for a degree in engineering until he switched to a BCom degree. Parshotam reflected that his dream had been to become a pilot, but his parents had wanted him to study for a profession.
During his university years, he was a voluntary policeman and subsequently served as a police reservist for 15 years. Manhar’s explains that his career in the security field ‘happened by accident’. In the 1990s he worked parttime in security during the South African Amnesty process, which boosted his interest in the field. In addition, he believes that this experience helped him gain a better understanding of general life skills, which a school education alone does not provide.
Whilst working in security during a huge petrol strike, a chance encounter changed his life’s direction. A medical doctor approached him and gave him his business card, asking Manhar to give him a call as he had an opportunity for him. Manhar was requested to perform a security assessment of one of the doctor’s buildings. Following this assessment, he was offered the security contract for the building. Manhar explained, “Both sides were completely honest with each other. They were prepared to give me a chance and understood that I had no experience.”
The doctor mentored and carried him financially for three months. “I did not have a bank account and I had never handled a cheque in my life. I had no cash to pay my staff. This was a huge learning curve,” explains Manhar.
In his final year of BCom, Manhar had to make a choice to either complete his studies or go full time into business. “This decision was hard as there were more cons than pros and was based on the opportunity to train ex-soldiers in security so that they could be reintegrated back into society and obtain jobs.” After much deliberation Manhar left university and the business grew from there.
“I had no office and had to work out of my car. I would use the Telkom telephone box at the local garage as my office line, even paying a garage attendant to answer the phone for me after hours. Once cell phones were introduced, life became a lot easier.” Apart from learning about financial management, the administration of 50 employees, as well as the need to meet the registration requirements of the security board, were early business challenges. Another challenge Manhar faced was his youth.
“It was often difficult to convince people that I was capable of doing the job and I had to ‘do a lot’ to be given opportunities.” In addition, he said, “At that time there were few security specialists and the security profession was very much looked down upon in the society that I lived, which at times I found difficult to cope with.” Running a 24-hour business took its toll, as Manhar often went to bed late and had to cope with very little sleep. This continued for a few years until he was able to employ a manager to assist with the business operations.
Some of the highlights of his career included seeing Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi in person. A standout moment was watching Nelson Mandela arrive at the Durban ICC. “I got to see an icon – there was an aura about him which gave me goose bumps,” said Manhar.
During 2001 Manhar was provided the opportunity by the South African Government to attend internationally recognised protection training courses in the United Kingdom and the United States. On his return to South Africa, he re-evaluated his career and entered the finance sector. However, after a three-year sabbatical he returned to the security business.
Of his choice he explains, “This is my passion and keeps me happy.” Reflecting on his journey, Manhar commented, “There is only one word that I can use to describe my career – perseverance.” Manhar commented that the security business is a hard industry, which requires strong leadership. However, he says, “I never ask anyone to do anything that I cannot do myself. It is important to be fair and set rules and boundaries, which you must follow yourself to earn respect.”
In his down time, Manhar enjoys competitive shooting as well as spending time with his family. “They help you relax, keep you calm and put a smile on my face.”
He concluded, “Be happy, do what you love. If you love what you are doing, then every day is a holiday.”