From bricklayer to owner of a business with over 460 employees: Sydwell Khoza’s journey
September 06, 2018 – Against the backdrop of a technical recession and a youth unemployment rate of above 50%, South Africa’s economy needs urgent attention. Dynamic young entrepreneurs hold the key to turning this situation around, particularly when they are given the tools and support they need to thrive.
One inspiring example of the potential of entrepreneurship is Sydwell Khoza, a former bricklayer from a humble background who today owns Global Direct; a financial services sales business that employs over 460 people nationwide. He started working for The Unlimited nearly 20 years ago and soon struck out to form a business of his own that sells insurance and other products from The Unlimited.
The Unlimited currently has just under 50 business owners serving its customers, many of whom are under the age of 30 and are earning between R30 000 and R100 000 a month. Each started working for the company, marketing its products either through face-to-face interaction or telemarketing.
We speak to Sydwell about his entrepreneurial journey:
Tell us a bit about your background and how you decided to embark on your entrepreneurial journey.
I grew up in Piet Retief in Mpumalanga. When I was 16, my family moved to Orange Farm in Gauteng, where things were not always easy. I worked with my father in construction and completed my matric in Soweto 2001. But I knew I wanted to do more than be a bricklayer. I saw an ad for a vacancy in financial services telesales with The Unlimited. I joined the company’s Roodepoort branch and never looked back.
What is the role of entrepreneurs in South Africa’s economy?
Entrepreneurs have an important part to play in creating job opportunities for the unemployed, guiding people to a better future and strengthening the economy. Sadly, many South Africans are not aware that they can own their own business. People need to be taught about how to become an entrepreneur, as it is foreign to so many of them.
What can big business and government do to encourage emerging entrepreneurs?
There are so many entrepreneurial people in South Africa, but our challenge is helping them to succeed and enabling informal businesses to grow into thriving formal companies. Big businesses and government can enable emerging entrepreneurs by providing platforms, capital, tools, mentorship, business seminars and advertising support to help them get going.
Since I did not have capital and business experience, the support I received from The Unlimited was important in developing my business. This included business skills training, access to infrastructure, and access to a proven set of products and services to take to market. It would be great to see more focus on this sort of enterprise development from corporate South Africa.
What is your advice to young people who want to start their own business?
My advice to young individuals is that they should not downplay the value of their ideas, since the smallest ideas can have a huge, positive impact on many lives and be the seeds of great businesses. They should understand that there will always be hurdles. However, they should always embrace the opportunity to grow and to learn and face the challenges head on.
To be an entrepreneur, you need to be open to learning new things and to doing things you haven’t done before. You should also have a great attitude and be committed to growing the business through its ups and downs. The reward is greater that the struggle.
What were your challenges starting your business and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced was to get people to believe how much this opportunity can change lives. I had to be the example and set the pace for the team. I had to teach myself how to deal with different people and their personalities – patience helped me master that skill. I needed to be humble and ready to learn; yet have a strong belief in what I was doing.