Sibeko sows a seed

BEE is all too often about individual billionaires buying up shares in established, vastly-resourced companies and continuing their cycles of wealth.

But for an entrepreneur such as Mandla Sibeko, this flies in the face of what true black economic empowerment represents. The 28-year-old is the proud owner of what is now the second Pick n Pay in Soweto, his Pick n Pay family store in Kliptown opened in May.

For Sibeko, being empowered is not only about creating profits, but giving back to the community through things such as job creation as well.

The franchise employs about 115 people and has become one of the most visited locations in Kliptown, says Sibeko.

He says that the historical location — where the Freedom Charter was signed — also made it important to engage with the community and its leaders.

The recognition of the township as an emerging market and a viable site for business growth has also been very important.

”It’s really going back to the township because I didn’t realise how much inspiration I would have on my friends, my own peers, who believe that the future of South Africa is in the suburbs,” he says.

Sibeko’s store is located on a former Score site. The Score franchise was a Pick n Pay subsidiary for township shoppers. Score stores are now in the process of being converted to Pick n Pays.

”Pick n Pay currently has 45 black franchisees, about 20% of the total number, who are dotted around the country,” says Pick n Pay franchise director Neal Quirk.

”However, this percentage is set to rise dramatically in the next 18 months, as about 65 remaining Score stores — which are mainly situated in black residential areas — are converted to Pick n Pay franchises.”

Not only has the shop employed locals, it has also been an incubator for other businesses.

A Soweto-based cleaning company that began work in his store has moved into four other Pick n Pays, says Sibeko.

The opening was the culmination of a four-year dream carefully nurtured by the Wits law graduate.

But it has not been plain sailing. After being granted the franchise rights, he was given eight weeks to renovate the building, train staff and open the store.

At the same time, Sibeko went through very intensive training, learning how to run a large supermarket with a nationwide reputation.

”The training is very, very intensive,” he says.

But no amount of training can prepare a person for the rigours of running their own business, he says. Only time spent on the shop floor can do that.

”The best way to learn in the retail business is to work in it.”

According to Quirk, Pick n Pay has established a franchise academy training programme which covers all aspects of running a successful store. It is certified by the University of Johannesburg.

Quirk says the company’s franchise development model is one of the most responsible and sustainable ways of stimulating BEE in South Africa.

”By providing first-class training and mentoring, promoting access to funding and linking franchisees to the Pick n Pay brand, we are creating future business leaders who will have the wherewithal to grow their businesses sustainably, provide meaningful employment and stimulate other entrepreneurs.”

Sibeko’s franchise serves people from Kliptown, Dlamini, Eldorado Park and Pimville. The items that leave the shop floor reflect the nation’s economic downturn.

”We have the longest bread queues in Soweto,” he says, ”and we have to prioritise products like mealie meal. The store caters for the rich and the poor alike.”

In a bid to best serve his customers, Sibeko says they are encouraging the supermarket’s various departments to source from local producers.

The shop already sources its spinach and cabbage from a farmer in Eldorado Park. The store is also looking to begin its own vegetable garden behind the building to supply its shelves.

The constant challenge and need for innovation is what keeps Sibeko driven. He is, however, already an accomplished businessman in addition to his recent retail venture.

He is a director at Born Free Media, the Paarl Media Group and the chairman of Netflorist, an internet-based flower delivery company. He is also the director and founder of his own investment company, Seed Capital Investment.

With all this in mind, it is easy to understand why Sibeko believes that ”BEE has to be coupled with entrepreneurship to succeed”.

Seed Capital is proof of this philosophy, as the company invests largely in small businesses. It is here that he thinks the most empowerment can take place.

”The reason for Seed — has been because the SMME sector is where we can have the biggest impact,” he says.

”We get into businesses to grow them and its long-term investments. I’m not going to make money today, I’m going to make money in the future — everything we do we’re doing for tomorrow.”

Sibeko believes that BEE has a place in South Africa, but it must involve passing on knowledge and opportunities, as well as being equated with performance.

”I’ve always said that there’s definitely a place for black economic empowerment in South Africa. And there are many levels of BEE, ownership is one, but when you open a store such as Pick n Pay — it’s really true entrepreneurship,” says Sibeko.

”You get in there, you have to look for the finance, you have to operate the store, you are driven by making sure that everything succeeds. You don’t just take equity, you don’t sit back.”

Sibeko is adamant that BEE must result in a generation of black businesspeople who are leaders in their fields.

”We need to look back, in 10 years’, in 20 years’ time, and — say how many people have come through to become leaders in their own sectors?”



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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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