Divine Ndhlukula, soaring without fear in a male dominated industry

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Divine Ndhlukula founded SECURICO Security Services from humble beginnings in Zimbabwe in 1998. Divine identified a need in the market for a quality oriented security company and she has driven SECURICO to become the market leader in Zimbabwe. She has tackled a previously male-dominated industry head on and her business success story is nothing short of remarkable – marking her as one of Africa’s most tenacious and inspiring women entrepreneurs. She has gained Africa-wide recognition for her entrepreneurial skills, having built an over 4,000 strong employee base from the humble beginning of her garage.

SECURICO today provides its clients with a complete security solution – uniformed armed officers, armoured vehicles for transportation of valuables, onsite banking, trained guard dogs, and electronic security systems. The company also does private investigations, employee vetting, and security consulting.

In 2012, Forbes magazine recognised her business prowess, naming her as one of Africa’s most successful women.

Born in 1960 in a rural Gutu, Divine has multiple qualifications, her first being an accountancy diploma. She went on to receive an MBA from Midlands State University and in the 1980s worked in industries spanning broadcasting (at the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation), investment (Old Mutual Group) and insurance (Intermarket Insurance). As early as in high school, Divine was already thinking about her own business. She started by buying clothing from factories and selling to her colleagues at work and later bought a truck and rented it out to a construction company. She also cut her teeth in a catering business.

As a woman who has conquered a male-dominated industry, Ndhlukula wants other women to succeed and fulfill their potential, whether in their career goals, home life or community service. As a prominent figure in business on the African continent, her insights are sought-after. To date, she has presented over a hundred papers to SMEs and top executives.

From a young age, Divine had always told herself and everyone around her that she would be an entrepreneur and run her own large business in the future. This was driven by her recognition of the need to create a decent and secure livelihood for her family. Her quest to start and run her own business stayed with her throughout her formative years when she was studying and working to build her career.  She set out to learn all the critical elements needed to run a successful business, undertaking various development programmes along the way, enrolling on an Entrepreneurial Development Programme in 1995.  At the same time, she started researching and tracking various entrepreneurial opportunities in the local marketplace, eventually in 1998 seeing a potential business opportunity in the security services sector.   Divine had identified what she saw as glaring service delivery and professionalism gaps in the private security sector, inspiring her to create and build a new type of security company with a difference.  She was also motivated by a desire to empower previously disadvantaged women in Zimbabwe who were not able to access opportunities for formal employment, recognizing that the security sector had the potential to be a large-scale employer.

According to her, “I thought there was a gap in the industry. Companies that were there were not living up to the needs of the clients. The industry was renowned for wild cat strikes and guards generally were perceived as the lowly-paid in any sector. I wanted to change the perceptions and create a niche in which people could carve out a career and I knew I needed to go in with a different approach and that approach was going to make the difference, the people had to be key or central feature of the vision.”

Divine started up her new business venture, SECURICO in December 1998, using a small cottage on her property as an office, equipped with one desk, and staffed by three security operatives and one administrator in addition to herself.  She did all the office administrative work, the financial accounting, training, supervising and deploying her security guards using her one vehicle.  In the early days, her business encountered a number of major challenges, the first being that the security sector in Zimbabwe was historically very male dominated, and there was a general perception that security was not a job for women. Divine’s first challenge was to convince potential clients that she could successfully run a security services business, and ensure the services provided were of the highest professional standard, all despite being a woman herself, and employing women as security guards in the business.  Initially, clients needed a considerable amount of persuasion to accept her business model and approach, particularly when it came to hiring women guards to provide key security services to their businesses and industry interests.  However, she persisted and today, women are widely accepted in the security services industry.  Her other challenge was her lack of specific industry knowledge on running a business in the highly specialized security services industry, but she learned practically on the job, innovating as she went and making significant changes to the way the business was traditionally run, as a result out-performing the competition along the way.  Her final challenge was launching a new security services brand in a marketplace that had been dominated by a small number of big name players for so many years.  Funding in the early years was also an issue, but Divine took a decision to make do with the small amount of funding she had, and ploughing back all the profits into the business to help it to grow.

“I have never really been a half-measure kind of person and this period of my life was characterised by me trying to take on everything, all at once even when this meant swimming against the stream” she says.

Back then, the company focused on offering uniformed guarding services, eventually growing to the point where it could also offer cash and assets–in–transit services by 2002. Today, SECURICO has grown exponentially and is now the market leader in this service in Zimbabwe with a fleet of numerous armoured vehicles.

The year 1992 saw her foray into bigger business when she used funds she had accumulated to save her late father’s land, Zvikomborero Farms, from being auctioned off. As custom dictated, after her father’s death, her brother had inherited the farm by virtue of him being male, but he was unable to service the loan on it. When Ndhlukula successfully saved it, it became hers.

The timing for her farming career was not favourable, however, as at the time there was a drought and her maize crop failed. In 1995 she had to return to her previous company in the insurance industry. But over the years Divine Ndhlukula has managed to grow Zvikomborero Farms into a profitable, diverse farming business that today is involved in cattle, goats, eggs, crops and foraging, and have started integration along the whole value chain. In light of climate change and environment awareness, the farm business has incorporated climate resilience strategies by harnessing water wherever there is runoff, by reinforcing cultivated legumes and forage plants. In addition, there is an ecosystem that brings down the cost of production where chicken waste is fed to cattle and goats whose manure feed crop produce that feed the chickens.

It’s Divine’s experience in the early days of running Zvikomborero Farms that prompted her to add an education component to the business. The School of Farming Excellence offers education and skills for those looking to pursue farming as a business.

“I always say there is no easy road to anywhere worth going. One’s got to apply themselves. One’s got to put in that extra effort. One’s got to have the discipline to be able to say: Look, I’ve made a bit of money, invest back the money into the business so that it grows.” Says Divine.

Source: Business Daily 

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