Thandi MaThabethe Ngxongo
Founder and Director of Thandekile Projects
Thandi MaThabethe Ngxongo is the dynamic and motivated director and founder of Thandekile Projects, which has four different portfolios: BP Moore Road Service Station, Thandi’s Kitchen, Property Investment, and the uThandekile Foundation.
Thandi comes from a small rural town near Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal where she attended school. Her journey in the petroleum industry started when she came to Durban to further her studies. Following completing her first degree, she joined the Engen Refinery at Wentworth as a qualified chemical engineer.
“I grew from there and got exposed to different divisions and businesses within the petroleum industry,” explains Thandi. “That is when I decided I needed to invest in and run my own business within the petroleum industry because that is what I knew best and that is what I was comfortable with.”
Creating a Foundation
Much of Thandi’s motivation to achieve stems from the fact that there is general perception that a member of a black community from a disadvantaged area will never succeed in life. However, she says, “I get motivation from the fact that as much as I come from a rural area, through hard work, determination and with a vision, I can do anything that I want.” Her other source of motivation is the need to change how things stand because she does not come from a family of businesspeople. “I need to change the status quo to try and create a foundation for my children,” she explains.
The major challenge that Thandi has faced in branching off and funding her own service station has been finance. When you apply to run a service station you need to have a large percentage of unencumbered cash in order to prove that you have sufficient resources to acquire the business. In advising others, Thandi says that if you know that you will need financial muscle in the future you need to plan. “I planned this purchase for over five years because I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. This meant that Thandi had to make sacrifices along her journey to achieve her end goal.
However, her vision has not come to an end and in the future, she intends to continue to be a great businesswoman and make her mark in the petroleum industry. “When the time is right, I will acquire more service stations and make sure that I grow within the industry,” she remarked.
Thandi’s business acumen is evident in that she established Thandi’s Kitchen while she was still in a corporate position at Engen. Thandi’s Kitchen is a small eatery in Umbilo that sells freshly made daily African food such as steamed bread, inhloko (cow head meat), usu (tripe), and istambu (samp) to the local community. While there are fast food eateries in the area obtaining traditional African food is difficult, which is how the eatery has been positioned and is going very well, says Thandi.
The Thandekile Projects’s commercial and residential property portfolio has grown through Thandi’s and her husband’s love for property investment.
The uThandekile Foundation focuses on giving back to the community in rural areas. “We do different projects that aim to alleviate previously disadvantaged kids, women and youth,” says Thandi. One of the projects is giving tertiary education guidance to learners. “We let them know what to expect at university and give career guidance. It is very important that you’re passionate about your career choice because if you do something that you are passionate about you are bound to succeed.”
Gain More Information
In advising other women, Thandi says that whatever your business choice, you should ensure that you are comfortable with it. “When I decided to branch off into owning a retail service station, I first went to school. I did my MBA, and my focus was on the ownership of petroleum service stations in KwaZulu-Natal. I did that because I wanted to network with other women who are in the business. I wanted to gain more information. I wanted to gain more confidence because I knew that this was a male dominated area.” Her advice to young people following in her footsteps is to, “Please make sure that you skill yourself as much as you can both formally and informally.”
In order to cope with challenges, one of the interventions that Thandi has implemented is ensuring that there are good human resources within her companies. “I believe that good human resources are core in making sure that the business runs properly,” she explained.
As Thandi cannot be present in each of her businesses all the time, she has people that she trusts who run her enterprises. “You need to make sure that the businesses are capacitated, and that the people know what they are doing and can do their jobs successfully to increase the performance of the company and the bottom line.”
The second one is to make sure that the business systems run smoothly. “I am a systems’ person. I make sure that there’s a structure in our businesses so that I can monitor each of them and ensure continuous growth.“ The service station business is a male dominated industry. At the time of Thandi completing her MBA in 2019, only 4% of the garages in KwaZulu-Natal were female owned, which hasn’t changed much since then.
When she arrived at BP Moore Road there were a staff of 54 of which only three were females. “I think that we must never shy away from the fact that we may be the only person at the table who is female. But if you know your story and you are passionate and skilled, then it is easy for people to grasp your vision and run with it,” Thandi concluded.