Managing Director Biza iAfrica Consultants
Thobeka Dlongolo joined Biza iAfrica Consultants as a partner in 2007, with the goal to drive the growth of the business and put it where it is today. The company was established in 2001 by her mother, Frances Dlongolo, who saw opportunities in the landscaping and horticulture business.
“We have been in the business of horticulture and landscaping for the past 14 years and have grown from strength to strength,” said Thobeka. “We started landscaping in the rural Eastern Cape, and are now based in Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal. Our goal is to reach as many provinces as possible within South Africa and we would like to expand outside the country in the future.”
The company works with landscape architects to install and maintain plants in a variety of locations such as schools, community parks and recreational spaces. In 2010, Biza iAfrica Consultants was provided the opportunity of being part of the company that supplied plants to King Shaka International Airport. “We had to source over 900 000 plants that were installed at King Shaka, as well as at Dube TradePort,” explained Thobeka. Recently, the company was awarded a contract to maintain the site for three years.
Delivering better service
In commenting on their growth, Thobeka says that over the years, they’ve been able to build their name by always ensuring that their company was not competitive just because they were black female owned but because they could deliver better service than their competitors. She explained, “Our competition takes us seriously, they see us as no nonsense women that are here to take up a share of the market. We ensure that we built capacity through learning and that we have the right people in our company, who are able to deliver a service. This ensures that our customers are happy, which is how we have built our recognition.” Over the years, Biza iAfrica has developed the capacity to undertake projects up to R20 million of value. The company finances all its projects and, consequently, has been able to succeed because they have the trust of their clients that they will deliver the services required.
Biza iAfrica is proud of its achievements and especially of the training provided. Thobeka explains, “We have tried to ensure that wherever we work, we empower youth and women. We educate and basically leave skills behind, before we move onto the next project. We’ve organised courses that are accredited and many of our learners have been able to learn horticulture as well as set up their own businesses. What we’ve also done, is that we have employed some of the youth within our company, and they’re grown in our business. I greatly believe that we have impacted positively on the various communities in which we have worked to ensure that there is continuity in the work that we do.”
Create your own opportunities
Thobeka commented that the person who has most inspired her along her journey has been her mother. She says, “I’ve watched my mother work very hard, and I think her energy and drive has given me the strength to become who I am today.” However, Thobeka added that you create your own opportunities in life. “If you have the passion and the focus, and if you have the dream; you can take yourself to a better level and independence.”
In the future, Thobeka would want people to see her hard work in attempting to make a difference in society. She added, “I think I’ve been able to slowly do that. But I still have a huge mountain to climb.” Biza iAfrica has had to face challenges as horticulture is a very white male dominated industry. As black women, there is stigma attached to obtaining the opportunities that come your way as there is often the opinion that you got the job because you’re a black person. Thobeka commented, “No-one realises the hard work that we have put in to this business. We have never focused our energy on being black; we’ve focused on working hard, improving our skills, and delivering a good service to our clients. We’ve managed to overcome many struggles and we’ve had much recognition within the industry. I believe that anyone who has the drive to succeed, can succeed.”
Thobeka says that it is important to ensure that each client is happy, as you’re likely to get good recommendations for future jobs. “We focus on what the customer requires, and I think that has been our greatest success and is what each individual should strive for.” They have ensured that each job that they have started has been successfully completed and there’s never been a period where their contracts have been cancelled.
Thobeka’s future goals are to provide a full facility management company for various clients where Biza iAfrica will be able to take care of both the outdoor and indoor areas. The company would also like to establish a commercial nursery.
Focus on your skills
The advice that Thobeka would give to others is firstly, “Focus on your skills, understand your business, your market, and the needs of your customers. Don’t be scared if you get put down, don’t give up, life is all about not listening to the negative talk. Focus on what you want to achieve; focus on really building your business.”
Secondly, she says once you make money, re-invest back into your business. “Don’t waste it, ensure that you build your capacity to be able to get more contracts, and be more reliable in the business.”
Lastly, concluded Thobeka, “Learn as much as you can, never think you know it all, train and educate yourself continuously, and learn from other businesses and from other people.”