Managing Director of Emakheni Cleaning &
Nkosithandile Portio Dlamini was born at Stoffelton, Impendle, which is a village located a 100km from Pietermaritzburg. Portio was raised by a single mother of three and spent most of her childhood at the farm with her grandparents while her mother was studying and teaching. After completing her primary school education, Portio 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 11 years, including Sappi and Sasol as a process technician, and later moved to Unilever to work as a chemical process engineer and a production unit manager.
Making a difference
During this time, she felt unsatisfied 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.
“I started to have a desire to have a cleaning and hygiene business that would empower cleaners and general workers beyond the cleaning industry. While I was working as a unit manager, I began to start empowering them through speaking about their future and their potential. They all have something to contribute to their communities, more than cleaning, which is the steppingstone towards something better.”
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, she drew on the assistance of mentors and started overcoming these issues one by one.
Consequently, said Portio, “I decided that rather than going up the corporate ladder, I would start a business that would not only be profitable and sustainable but a business that will empower people so that they do not spend the rest of their lives as cleaners.”
Stepping out of my comfort zone
Establishing her own business was not easy and Portio had to face a number of challenges as well as fears. “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.” Emakheni Cleaning & Industrial Solutions is a Level 1, 100% female owned business that has now been trading for eight years. The company’s focus is on the industrial and commercial sectors providing contract cleaning, hygiene solutions and garden maintenance as well as specialised cleaning – high pressure and high-level cleaning – for factories.
Understanding the issues
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 issues that are experienced in factories when it comes to poor service from contractors. 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 employees 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 journey,” she commented.
Portio has also participated in a number of entrepreneurship development programmes including Raizcorp, Sekela ESD, Business Accelerator programme, Cataler SA, and the SLG programme. Her desire is to grow Emakheni to a provincial and national level and to 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 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 them.”