Divine Ndhlukula, a Zimbabwean national, is the founder and Managing Director of SECURICO, one of Zimbabwe’s largest security companies. The Harare-based outfit is a market leader in the provision of bespoke guarding services and cutting-edge electronic security solutions.
Ndhlukula has done remarkably well. In less than 15 years of doing business, SECURICO has achieved a number of significant feats: The $13 million (revenues) company now has more than 3,400 employees – 900 of whom are women. The company was also the first security outfit in Zimbabwe to achieve an ISO (International Organization for Standardisation) certification. Last December the company was the winner of the prestigiousLegatum Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship.
Divine Ndhlukula is immensely proud of what she’s been able to accomplish so far. The Midlands State University MBA grad granted me an interview recently during which she recounted her start-up journey, shared a few lessons she’s learned in doing business in Zimbabwe and relived her experience in winning the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship.
Take me back to your earliest beginnings as an entrepreneur, right to the time you founded SECURICO. Of all the opportunities in the world, what prompted you to venture into the very male-dominated realm of security services?
I have an Executive MBA from Midlands State University and an MBA (Honorary) from Women’s University in Africa conferred me in recognition of my business leadership and efforts on gender equality. After attaining an accounting diploma from an institution in Zimbabwe, I worked briefly for the government and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation as an accounting officer. I went on to take up an appointment at Old Mutual and later took up a job at a local insurance company in 1985. While I was working at these places, I was always running around doing some small business on the side – I was ordering clothes from Harare factories and selling them to colleagues at work. Sometimes, I gave my friends in other companies some clothes to sell for me and I gave them commissions on clothes sold. Within a short while, I had made enough money to buy an 8-tonne truck, which I hired out to a construction company.
As time went on, a situation cropped up where I had to rescue my late father’s farm from being auctioned. My brother (who had inherited the farm according to our customs) had taken a loan with a local bank which he had been unable to service, so the bank opted to auction the farm which my brother had tendered as collateral. As a result, I had to sell the truck in order to raise funds to rescue the family farm from being auctioned. The title of the farm was changed into my name and I ventured into the farming business in 1992 and quit my job. I then took a loan against my house in Harare, to prop up the farming business and poured the loan in a maize crop that flopped due to a drought that season.
As I was almost losing my house in 1995, I then went back to my former employers, Intermarket Insurance (now ZB Insurance), and asked for my job back. Since I had been one of their top performers, the company was happy to take me back. In no time I moved to the executive team.
Let me say that right from a tender age, I had always told myself and everyone that I was going to start and run my own business which I always envisaged as a large business. Hence the time I had stopped working, I had taken time to learn about all the critical elements of business as I had learnt my lesson the hard way. Among the various development programmes I enrolled for was an Entrepreneurial Development Programme which I did in 1995 and this indeed sharpened my entrepreneurial competences in a big way. I learned elements like opportunity seeking, to goal setting, business planning, networking etc.
My quest to start and run my own company never dissipated and therefore, even as I was back at work, I started scanning at the various opportunities that I could see and think of.
Eventually in 1998 I saw an opportunity in the security services sector. The opportunity was prompted by what I had noted in this sector- a total lack of professionalism, quality and services that customers really yearned for. There were two distinct groups of security organizations: the first group was comprised of the long established and larger companies – there were about five of them at the time. They literally had the market to themselves and did not see the need then of meeting the customer’s expectations as they could simply rotate the business among themselves in a cartel like arrangement.
The second group was the small emerging or submerging companies which did not have the resource capacity to service big corporations and the multinationals. In short, the decision to start this company was made on the understanding that only service and value addition was going to carry the day.