Thobekile Ndlovu: Building her own success

Magnate Thobekile Ndlovu is proof that age is just a number

The poised and humble Umhlanga, KZN, mother of three achieved millionaire status when she was just 26 

What: Thobethulani Trading

Start-up capital: R300 000

Turnover: R5-20 million 

Now 38, Ndlovu has taken on the male-dominated construction sector as founder and Managing Director of Thobethulani Trading, a construction and design company based in Cornubia Business Park, Mount Edgecombe.

“When people ask why I’m in the construction industry, I have to smile. They probably wouldn’t ask that question if I were a man,” she laughs.

“Construction is a very rough industry, but I’m testament that if you do what you love, nothing else matters – not even your gender. You just have to work really hard and always put your best foot forward,” she says.

“I’ve been a go-getter since I was young. I always loved good things, but I knew I had to work hard for them,” says Ndlovu, whose career began as an interior designer.

Her innovation and creative flair saw her excel in various projects, including shopfitting at popular Durban theme park uShaka Marine World and several office renovations.

However, the big break that helped earn her a seven-digit fortune came unexpectedly, after she’d successfully completed the design and decor of the KZN Legislature Speakers cottage.

“That was huge. I was the youngest of the candidates, many of whom were industry leaders. Yet I never allowed that to deter me. I listened attentively to the brief and applied my creativity in my pitch,” she says.

With minimal capital, Ndlovu was forced to turn to her father, whom she describes as her mentor and business advisor, for a R300 000 loan to kick-start the project.

“There I was, the envy of all industry professionals, most of whom thought I’d fail because I was too young and a woman. But I stood tall and was ready to take them on,” she grins.

She exceeded expectations, completing the project within the allocated time and budget. Her work quickly gained recognition within various government departments, which leading to rapid growth within a short time.

It was then that Ndlovu realised she could increase profits by establishing her own construction company, rather than outsourcing the work.

“It was a huge growth point in my business to have both the design and construction sectors complement each other, which – in this case – proved to be highly beneficial to our clients. It gave my company a unique selling point.”

Thobethulani Trading was duly born, with Ndlovu’s husband, Thulani, joining her in the business. Today the couple employs 160 workers within the sector.

Over the past 12 years, the company’s successfully completed more than 50 structures within deadline. Last year, it oversaw more than R20 million of construction projects. “No matter how difficult a job is, I don’t believe in quitting,” says Ndlovu.

She attributes her success to ethical business practice, respect and humility.

She was honoured by the KZN Master Builder Association as a leading lady in construction in 2015 and was recently nominated as a finalist for this year’s award.

However, profit-making is by no means her sole driver. Last year her desire to uplift others saw her launch the Great Impact Lifestyle brand. “This is a platform for us to give back to the community and enhance the growth and ethical practice of the African economy,” she explains. The initiative seeks to empower young entrepreneurs and students by equipping them with essential business skills, exposing them to potential mentors and helping them secure investments.

“I was raised watching my parents assist people in our community any way they could. It taught me that we should never be defined by our assets and that we can never consider ourselves successful unless we’ve helped others,” says Ndlovu.