- Innovative entrepreneur Thembinkosi Mthembu has risen to great heights after starting out as a factory packer
- Mthembu was awarded the Industrialist of the Year to applaud his hard work
- A factory that was closed down and doomed got new life thanks to Mthembu's hard work and dedication
Inspirational entrepreneur Thembinkosi Mthembu worked from the bottom to the top, paying with his own sweat and dedication for a dream that seems almost impossible in retrospect.
Mthembu went from being an ordinary packer at Nampak to owning more than one business of his own, including the one he used to work for.
Mthembu turned a business that was running at losses of about R5 million a year to a profitable business that brings in more than R200 million a year.
Inspiration can be found in a person's refusal to give up:
Not only did Mthembu manage to rescue the failing company, he saved many jobs in the process too. According to a report by Forbes, Mthembu was also named the Industrialist of the Year at the AABLA (All African Business Leaders Awards) this year.
Briefly.co.za learned that Mthembu grew up in KwaZulu-Natal. He had a difficult life as a child; his parents didn't have it well financially.
Mthembu's dad worked as a truck driver but was underpaid and his mom sold what she could.
Mthembu had to sell biscuits at school to help bring in money for things like his school uniform. This is where he learned how to be an entrepreneur. He would also sell fruit at a local railway station on the weekends.
Because there was little money, Mthembu had to start working as soon as he finished school. He started working at the Nampak factory with his dad.
But Mthembu was very unhappy doing a job that not paying much and offered no opportunity for growth. One of his managers told him that his only hope was to go to university and get office work.
Mthembu's professional approach also impressed many:
Mthembu took the advice to heart and although he could not go to university because he didn't have enough money, he did start thinking of other options.
Innovative thinking led to Mthembu to getting a loan from a bank to buy a caravan and provide the patients at a clinic close to him with food.
His little business grew and Mthembu had to hire an employee to help him with the caravan while he kept on working at Nampak.
People really find Mthembu's story inspiring and are sharing his story as much as they can:
Eventually Mthembu bought a pickup truck that he converted into a taxi of sorts. Only 2 years later he could buy a real taxi and operate better.
But Mthembu is a true entrepreneur and he didn't simply stop there. He went on to buy a petrol station in 1995.
It was difficult at times because his supplier would ask him for cash payments before delivering any fuel, which was huge sums of money.
During his time as budding entrepreneur, Mthembu also worked himself into a better position at the Nampak factory. He became a plant manager.
However, the factory was operating at huge losses and closed down. Mthembu was offered a position as manager at the Pretoria branch, but he was convinced that he should stay in KwaZulu-Natal. He felt that he could achieve his goals right where he was.
Two weeks after the factory closed down, Mthembu was approached by Nampak about a deal. They would sell him the factory and its machines and he could sell them tissues in the future.
While Mthembu was aware of the massive losses the factory was running against, he also knew a lot about the production processes and knew how he could turn the losses into profit.
After two months of deliberating, Mthembu decided to sign the contract. The company was renamed Mthembu Tissue Converting.
This was 12 years ago and the company has been growing very successfully since. But it was a battle from the start. The old employees didn't want to work for Mthembu because they believed he would not pay them.
The company's old suppliers were also wary and wanted upfront payments before supplying Mthembu with materials.
For the next three years Mthembu worked without a salary. In 2006 the company had a setback when more than R200 000 worth of products failed a compliance test and had to be sold off as rejects.
This was the worst period. To correct this, I had to implement [a standards] system in the plant to prevent it from happening again
The biggest lesson in my entire journey was to be focused and have systems in the business that work well and to always follow business goals.
But Mthembu did not give up and he created a successful company from the ashes of an old one. Today his factory earns millions every year and has given jobs to more than 100 people so far.
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