Phumelela Msomi, the CEO of Natal Razor and Wire, passion for business started at an early age. He explained that he has always loved trading and this led him to acquiring a wire supply and installation company which is based in New Germany, Pinetown.
Phumelela was born in Durban in October 1992 and spent his early childhood in Richards Bay where he completed his primary school education. On his family’s return to Durban, he attended Durban High School (DHS) from where he matriculated. He then went on to study BCom Accounting at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville campus.
While Msomi was at DHS, he ran the school tuck shop for three years and also cut hair. He added that his father recently reminded him that his love of trading started in primary school. “My cousin and I started a business called Cousin’s Car Wash – so there was always a fascination with business – in time this interest was able to manifest itself in the opportunities that we took.”
Msomi explained, “My university direction was initially in the accounting field but this course of study was preparing me more for my own business. I was always studying to go into business, our family had a small construction business at that time, which I wanted to join.” However, says Msomi he actually started his own business when he was in second year university and completed his first project while he was still at university.”
Msomi commented that after completing the project he had earned a decent amount of money for a student. “I realised that from that point on that I didn’t want to complete the whole CA route but that I would prefer to go into business.”
After Msomi completed his studies at UKZN, he still had no real direction apart from knowing that he wanted to be in the construction industry. He explained, “Funnily enough a friend of mine was working for this business (Natal Razor and Wire) back at the time and there was an opportunity to do fencing for a mid-sized construction firm based in Pinetown.”
“I will never forget. I arrived for the meeting dressed in a suit and a tie – which was hilarious in the construction industry. I went in and explained how I was going to do this fencing project never having done fencing in my live,” explained Msomi with a smile. “And yes, these guys were good to me and gave me the opportunity – I made a lot of mistakes on the project but eventually I ‘decked’ it. As they say the rest is history. Up until today – ten years later they are still my clients and we still do work for them.”
That first opportunity allowed Msomi to learn about the fencing industry and opened the doors for him to grow in the industry. Natal Razor and Wire was established in 1995 by Dan van Niekerk who initially was a client of Msomi’s. “He was a very good man who recently passed away. He mentored me in the industry – teaching me the ins and outs of fencing. When he got sick, the opportunity arose for me to acquire the business – after a long period of time of engagement with him I was eventually able to acquire the entity which bought me to this point.”
Commenting on the challenges that he has faced, Msomi explained that similar to most small businesses cash flow is an issue – especially as he is building up an entity. Another challenge includes growing the business beyond the direct work, which requires working on the business rather than in the business.
Msomi explained that this was a major challenge as customers get used to dealing with you personally. He added, “There is goodwill because customers like to deal with you. Once you start putting other people as the face of the business or responsible for tasks that you would traditionally do, this does become a challenge. So, delegation was really a major hurdle but fortunately we are finding our feet.”
Speaking about his strengths, Msomi says that he has always been really focused and really stubborn in his approach, which he believes has been important. He explained that a lot of people have come to him with opportunities to try and persuade him into different markets. “We have been resolute – we only do fencing – although we have a variety of different product types. We have always maintained that fencing is our core and I think that that has helped us to be successful. We have mastered fencing.”
When asked about his management style, Msomi explained that this is directed at guiding people to find out who they are and where their strengths are. “As we have expanded, we have employed new people. So rather than giving people job roles and descriptions, I am flexible in my approach and see what tasks allow them to thrive. Once I see that they are strong in a particular area, I allow them to focus on that role. It is important to shift people in the direction where they will really grow. I really believe in not having a fixed approach but letting people grow into their capabilities.”
Msomi’s own role he says is to network so that he can cultivate new and existing relationships in order to continue to bring work in. He explained, “We want to ensure that we continue to build and establish those relations to grow the company.”
As growing the company is a major goal, Msomi says that he is really inspired by results. He said, “As the saying goes ‘you love it when a plan comes together’. When you start to see results, it’s positive reinforcement and gives you the edge that you are actually doing the right thing. Because we are focused on fencing, we found that when everyone else started to get quiet, we still had work because people knew us as the fencing guys. We are the go-to guys for this service. The fact that we remained focused and consistent helped us achieve successful results.”
Msomi explained that having to make the shift to getting more resources and more people was a scary process. He says that he was concerned whether or not this investment had the potential to work or if he was going to fall flat on his face.
He says, “Business is not easy, it is a tough industry but the ability to persevere is the greatest piece of advice that someone can give to you… As the saying goes, ’You can’t lose what you don’t have’. A lot of people are afraid of losing but they haven’t even started. They are so caught up in fear that they don’t take opportunities. Persevere, be bold, back yourself in what you choose to do.”
To relax, Msomi says that he has three outlets – family, friend and Flix (Netflix). He enjoys spending time with his family and with friends. In addition, he says that watching sport on television or bingeing on a series helps him destress. Msomi has a two and a half- year-old son with whom he loves to play. “These things help me get my mind right when everything is falling apart around me,” he commented.
In conclusion, Msomi says that more than a motto he has a belief system that he lives by which is to ‘strive for excellence’. He explains, “As you strive for excellence, as you strive to do better, you begin to distinguish yourself from others. I think a lot of people are obsessed with getting opportunities and assistance from government but no one is focused on what value they give. As you develop excellence, as you work on your excellence, you begin to add value to others and give value.”