As CEO of Azisa Consulting, Natasha Naidoo leads a busy life. Asked about her journey, she is candid. "I got this far through hard work, long hours and being prepared to make sacrifices in my personal life. When you want something badly enough, and you're prepared to fight for it, you'll find a way to make it happen."
Things haven't come easily to Natasha. Brought up by a single mother, she says she knows what it's like to go without. "My mother is an inspiration. She's always had to fight to keep her head above water, and it's her strength that made me who I am today. We grew up knowing what it's like to not to have lights and water, and sometimes even food."
As a schoolgirl, she dreamed of being a lawyer, but there was no chance of studying after school. While her brother left school early to help support the family, she was lucky enough to complete matric. Natasha was only recently able to study safety management and construction. "Life doesn't always work out exactly as you'd hoped but that doesn't mean you can't achieve great things - if you're prepared to put in the effort."
When Natasha finished school there wasn't money to learn to drive. "I need to renew my driver's licence for the very first time this month," she smiles. "I only got my first licence five years ago!"
It's harder for women
Today, as CEO of her own business, things have changed considerably. Competing in diverse business sectors, her focus is on construction safety consulting, safety management and telecommunications. She's responsible for marketing and business development, and spends much of her time with clients. She loves the operational side of the business and can be found on site two or three days a week, often presenting training courses on construction safety.
"The construction industry is tough, and I believe it's harder for women in this industry. We constantly must prove our expertise, and that can be disheartening. But for me, that makes me try harder. I'm a firm believer in the importance of customer service, and I think that's helped greatly."
Natasha's head office is based in Durban but, after only five years in business, the company has extended operations to Johannesburg. "I planned to expand into other regions, but I had to put that on hold for a while." Natasha's brother was murdered in 2017, and for almost two years her priority was the fight to get justice for him. "The two men who killed my brother were convicted in August, and now we have closure. Hopefully I can put this behind me and focus on my business and begin the expansion project."
Natasha's business has grown dramatically from her beginnings. Her move into construction safety and telecommunications has borne fruit, but making the leap from salaried employee to entrepreneur is always a risk.
A year of planning
"I was clear that I wanted my own business but I knew that there were no guarantees that I'd generate an income immediately. It took a year of planning and I was terrified. We have two children, and I wouldn't jeopardise their security, so I saved almost my entire salary for several months before resigning. This gave me a cushion and covered essential expenses until I could draw a salary from my business."
Asked about her support structures, Natasha says her husband is the foundation she stands on. Highlighting the truth that most successful business people achieve success despite failures along the way, she notes that if you want success, you can't give up when things get tough. "Whenever I fail, he picks me up and dusts me off, so I can start again."
Natasha is very grateful to her mother. Admitting that she has no real work-life balance, working long hours most days, she is fortunate to have her mother's help daily. "My mother is up and active at 6am, and I rely on her for a home-cooked dinner most nights too. I couldn't do what I do without her support and I'm lucky to have someone who loves my children, helps me take care of them, and is a big part of their lives."
An understanding partner
But the long hours aren't relentless, and Natasha does enjoy precious time with her family. "I do steal time to fetch the children from school and spend a few hours with them. I can't do it every day, but I love that time." She also points out that it helps to have an understanding partner. "It takes a great man to support his wife unconditionally, and not every husband is willing to bath kids and feed them. If you don't have a good support system, it must be exhausting trying to do it on your own."
Asked what advice she'd give her younger self, she responds instantly: "Fight harder, be stronger, be better." When it's suggested that she's a bit hard on herself she's quick to explain. "I don't ever want to have to go without again, so I fight harder. I want to be heard."
She admits to one legacy of the hard times. "I tend to over-buy. It might be a bit paranoid, but I want to make sure I have the things I need. But I'm proof that you can change your life. You may need to make some sacrifices, but if you're prepared to fight for what you want, nothing is impossible."