Working your way from the bottom to the top: former packer becomes CEO

Working your way from the bottom to the top: former packer becomes CEO

- Thembinkosi Mthembu is the embodiment of starting at the bottom and working to the top

- Mthembu started his working life as a packer in the Nampak plant

- Today Mthembu owns his own company which supplies Nampak with tissue paper

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Thembinkosi Mthembu is the very embodiment of someone who started at the bottom and worked his way to the top. Mthembu started his working life as a packer in the Nampak plant in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Today Mthembu is the owner and CEO of Mthembu Tissue Converting, which supplies Nampak with products made in their former factory.

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Mthembu had a rough childhood, his father was a truck driver and his mom a hawker who sold anything she could to supplement the family’s meagre income. Mthembu learned the basics of economics at a young age from his mom. He would sell fruit and biscuits with his mom throughout his childhood. gathered that Mthembu started working at the Nampak factory when he left school. He got a job as a packer in the plant and remembers breaking down one evening because of the tough working conditions.

This was the moment when his life changed. One of his managers found him crying and asked what was wrong, Mthembu told him that the work was not only physically demanding, but he wondered if he would ever move up in the world.

The manager gave Mthembu advice which changed his life. “He told me if you want to stop doing this type of work you need to go to university.” Mthembu took the advice and started thinking outside the box.

Mthembu started selling food out of a caravan at a local clinic in his off-hours. He saved up enough money to buy a taxi and later when he had enough money he bought a petrol station.

Meanwhile, he had been promoted to plant manager at Nampak, but the plant was closed shortly after he was promoted because it was running at a huge loss.

Nampak offered Mthembu the opportunity to buy the machines and supplying their other factories with the same product. Mthembu got some financial advice and after two months of intense number crunching, he signed the contract.

Mthembu knew the business and knew how to mitigate the losses, yet it wasn’t easy. He struggled to hire staff and suppliers were unwilling to offer him credit. This put a huge strain on his cash flow.

Mthembu says for the first three years he did not draw a salary.

Eventually, he got the business right and after 12 years of hard work Mthembu Tissue Converting employs 104 people and has become hugely profitable.

In recognition of his amazing work, Mthembu was named the Industrialist of the Year at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA).

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