NOMFUNDO MCOYI has come a long way - from township girl to teacher, to founder and CEO of the Icebolethu Group. Today she manages eight companies, employing a staff of more than 1000 people.
Nomfundo started with nothing, but she had a big dream. She knew she wanted to own a big funeral company. Giving up her teaching job and a regular salary, she started Icebolethu with no loan, no car and no mortuary. All she had was her meagre savings and small office in an old, run-down building in Hammarsdale; working her side-hustle to fund her core business.
I had the vision
Nomfundo sees her role as making sure that her companies run smoothly, are well managed, and looking after her team. She has always relied on her faith and her team to grow her business, and gives credit to God. "There were times when I had no-one supporting me, and my only hope was in God, and He has blessed us with so much and supported me all the way. And He has graced me with a very good team," she says. "I had the vision, but my team has always been very supportive of that vision; without my people I would not be where I am today."
Nomfundo had no experience in the funeral business, and no mentor to guide her. Instead, she looked to her opposition - the major funeral companies. Nomfundo relates how she watched them to see what they were doing. "I never looked at the small companies. I always knew exactly what I wanted to achieve: I wanted to own a very big company, so I measured myself against the biggest and the best."
"It's been a long journey. It wasn't easy and it took perseverance, focus and determination. I'd never even buried anyone - but I did my research and focused on my vision." Today, after only 10 years, with 85 offices, 20 mortuaries and an annual turnover in excess of R250 million, Nomfundo has certainly grown her business into one of the major companies in her industry.
The Icebolethu Group includes eight companies encompassing various aspects of the funeral business. In addition to burial services, they cover funeral policies, tombstones, catering and loans. Nomfundo's charity, the Icebolethu Foundation, is particularly close to her heart.
"My late grandmother was a remarkable woman and a great entrepreneur for her time. She was fierce, focused and determined, and she ran my grandfather's business when I was a child. I always wanted to be like her." Nomfundo relates how her grandmother was also a very giving woman, who went out of her way to care for people in her community. "My foundation was inspired by her and giving back to the community is my way of paying respect to the example she set for me."
Making a difference
The Icebolethu Foundation has several active projects, but Nomfundo is particularly proud of the Rhoda Girls project. The foundation has 'adopted' 50 girls to mentor for the next five years. These girls attend courses and camps, and the foundation pays their school fees. Nomfundo is personally involved in the mentoring, and as she puts it, "We're trying to create fifty more Nomfundos of the future; girls who have the skills and the confidence to go out and create businesses and employment for others."
Education is one of her major focus areas, and the foundation sponsors the cost of university education for 18 girls. The Back to School programme has provided school uniforms for 1 200 school children this year and the Icebolethu Academy provides free computer lessons to high school learners, helping capacitate them for tertiary education. "Most of their township schools have no computers, and at the Academy we provide them with valuable skills for future studies and the workplace."
"We also take care of the grannies, through the Gogo Feed programme, and build houses for the poor. We've just handed over a new house in Escourt, and we'll hand over another in Cato Ridge in December."
I would love to do more
Despite her achievements, Nomfundo is not com-placent. "I'm proud that I've achieved so much of what I set out to do, but I would love to do more. I'd like to double our staff complement over the next year, and within 10 years I want Icebolethu to be one of the greatest insurance companies in South Africa."
When it comes to finding a balance in life, Nomfundo acknowledges that she's not very good at it. "I love my job and I'm very hardworking. I have a great team, but I'm still hands-on. I do find time for family and friends, that's very important. I love to travel, usually with my family. It's not only a great holiday, it's a great way to grow your knowledge, broaden your mind and see new opportunities."
Looking back over her career, there's not much Nomfundo would do differently. "Being a woman has never held me back," she says, offering sound advice to other young entrepreneurs. "I don't apply gender to business, you must just be excellent at what you do. Focus on your goals and your vision and don't take shortcuts, they're not the answer. Don't expect people to hand you anything on a plate just because you're a woman, or just because you're black. Don't just chase money. Work hard, be professional and do things the right way, and for the right.