Nkosithandile Portio Dlamini, managing director of Emakheni Cleaning & Industrial Solutions, was born at Stoffelton, Impendle, which is a village located a 100km from Pietermaritzburg. She was raised by a single mother of three and spent most of her childhood in the farm with her randparents
while her mother was studying and teaching. After completing her primary school, she went to the nearest boarding school, Pholela High School in Bulwer, where she completed her matric. Portio studied chemical process engineering at Mangosuthu and Durban University of Technology respectively and obtained a BTech in Chemical Engineering. She then worked for a few companies, for approximately 10 years including Sappi and Sasol and later moved to Unilever to work as a chemical process engineer and a production unit manager.
During her career, she felt unfulfilled with the work that she was doing. “I felt that I should be in an environment where I was empowering or making a difference in people’s lives, rather than working mainly with processes and machinery,” commented Portio.
“After being exposed to cleaning contractors and their employees, I started to have a desire to have
a cleaning and hygiene business that would empower cleaners and general workers beyond the cleaning industry so that they do not spend the rest of their lives as cleaners. While I was working
as a unit manager, I began to start empowering them through speaking about their future and their potential especially since they are in a marginalised industry and most of them are also marginalised because of the nature of their job and being lowincome earners.”
“I used to make them understand that, they all have something to contribute to their communities
more than just cleaning, which is the steppingstone towards something better, including a career or entrepreneurial opportunities,” Portio explains.
In addition, Portio experienced a lot of personal challenges as a female in a male dominated field. During her early career she struggled with issues such as low self-esteem and limiting beliefs. Portio reached a point when she felt that the career that she had chosen was wrong for her and she felt inadequate. At that time Portio drew on the assistance of mentors and started overcoming these issues one by one.
Consequently, said Portio, “I decided that instead of going up the corporate ladder, I would rather start a business that would not only be profitable and sustainable but a business that will empower cleaners and general workers so that they do not spend the rest of their lives as cleaners.”
Establishing her own business was not easy and Portio had to face a number of challenges as well as fears. She said, “One of the major challenges that I faced was the lack of understanding and skills in how to run a business. I was from an environment where I was an employee and more technical.
When you are starting out you need to understand every department of your organisation – marketing, financial, HR etc.”
“The second challenge was that I had a lot of fears – stepping out of my comfort zone to go into such
a risky venture including leaving a secure job was one of them but I was now choosing to step into
something bigger than myself.”
Focus of the company
Emakheni Cleaning & Industrial Solutions is a Level 1, 100 % female owned business that has now been trading for nine years. The focus of the company is on the industrial and commercial sectors
providing contract cleaning, hygiene solutions and garden maintenance. The company also undertakes specialised cleaning - high pressure and high-level cleaning - for factories. “As a business, we basically take care of the non-core activities of our clients so that they can focus on their core business.”
Portio’s background in chemical process engineering ensures that she understands what is required from a compliance point of view from the manufacturing and commercial sector which has strengthened
the business’s position.
“I understand the challenges that are experienced in factories when it comes to poor safety compliance and service delivery from contractors. So, we have made sure that we are aligned in terms of systems and that we are aligned with our clients in terms of making sure that we are ISO 9001 certified meaning that we have quality and safety systems in place.”
In addition, Emakheni’s cleaners are well trained and highly empowered. “We motivate them and make sure that they understand our clients and are able to deliver on a daily basis according to the plans of the client and the systems that are in place,” says Portio.
Journey of entrepreneurship
Portio reflected that her journey of entrepreneurship was inspired through the support of a number
of people who have helped both herself and Emakheni to grow from strength to strength. “Without that support I would not have made it in business because it has been a very intense and tough journey.”
She has also participated in a number of entrepreneurship development programmes including Raizcorp, Sekela ESD, Business Accelerator programme, Cataler SA and SLG programme.
Her desire is to grow Emakheni to a provincial and national level and to also penetrate the manufacturing sector with other specialised services such as waste management and fuel and
chemical transportation. She also wants to solve other industrial problems in the manufacturing industry.
“Personally, I would love to get involved in empowerment programmes where I am in touch with initiatives that are empowering marginalised communities in terms of financial literacy, personal
development and skills development. Anything and everything that would elevate their lives from one level to the next.” Portio’s success in empowering others has resulted in her being recently appointed as a board member of USE-IT.
Portio explains that she achieves work life balance by planning. “It’s not an easy thing to do especially for us as women because we play a number of roles in our families and communities. I make sure that I plan my day and my week and that everything is done accordingly. I have also
learnt to train my staff and to delegate so that I am able to get time to myself, to do the things that I love and to spend time with the people that motivate and empower me.”
In conclusion Portio said, “My advice to other women is to discover who you are as a person. Discover your passions, your abilities and your strengths and start working on your own growth or your own career based on that.”