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29 JUNE 2017
Judy Dlamini: Living life to the fullest

Photo: ukzn.ac.za
Dr Judy Dlamini is a qualified medical doctor, accomplished businesswoman with an MBA and PhD in business leadership, and author. Taking charge of her own destiny and refusing to be held back by limitations has been her driving force. For her, it is crucial to live her purpose.

Dlamini’s childhood dream was to become a doctor, an achievement she accomplished while married and raising her firstborn child, earning her degree through the then University of Natal.

In her 40s she completed her MBA and, equipped with this, headed out to tackle the business world.

That included working in investment finance at a large global bank, holding various board positions at blue chip companies, including that of chairperson of major pharmaceutical group Aspen Pharmacare.

Today Dlamini owns and operates luxury retail stores Luminance and is chairperson of Mbekani Group, the business she founded more than 20 years ago.

That fledgling business - offering executive medicals to business people - has since grown into a diverse and successful entity with operations and investments in property, retail, facilities management, health management and medical devices.

Mbekani Group now directly employs 120 people, the bulk of the women.

The family’s education business, Sifiso Learning Group is led by her high-school sweetheart and husband Sizwe Nxasana, former CEO of FirstRand. It includes the online education business Sifiso Edutech, Sifiso Properties and Sifiso Publishers.

Background

Dlamini, the recipient of multiple accolades and awards, including the African Economy Builder Lifetime Achievement Award, is soft-spoken and humble.

She was born in Westville, Natal in 1959 to parents who passed on the merits of hard work and resilience, but more especially the value of education as a way out of poverty.

The qualities they imbued would prove instrumental to her success.

“It is all I have known and all I can be because of that,” she tells finweek, in particular referring to her relentless work ethic.

The lessons in self-reliance and building one’s own destiny she ascribes to her father.

From a young age, she knew she wanted to own property for capital appreciation and income, the example set by her father who apart from running a small painting business, also invested in property, building flats that could be rented out for income.

Her mother, a teacher, also supplemented her income with a second job running a tuck shop at a soccer field over weekends, with Dlamini and her sister assisting.

These secondary jobs were to shape her future business ventures, influencing her foray into both retail and property.

The married couple’s first business venture was a bakery, located next door to her medical practice.

Raising funding for this venture was a major obstacle. Dlamini had to cede medical aid payments from her practice as well as the couple’s life policies to raise the R120 000 for bakery equipment.

Practising medicine, she says, was her calling. But that changed in 1996 when she was mugged outside her township practice. It called for a change in career and a return to studying, at the Wits Business School for an MBA.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Following the passing of her son Sifiso, the family embraced the notion that life was too short to live in half measures. And it was then that Dlamini pursued her PhD.

A new chapter

That doctorate, researching the impact of race, gender and social class on female CEOs in SA, was the inspiration for her book Equal but Different.

“Writing is an escape. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it,” she tells finweek.

Equal but Different is featured in Exclusive Books’ Homebru 2017 Selection (a list of the best in South African writing), and it has already been reprinted to satisfy demand. Some of the books find their way into the educational arm of the business, like those donated to matric students in Umzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal, and to the schools that her husband has established.

The spirit of giving was another quality taught by her parents and philanthropy forms an important part of Dlamini’s life.

She spends a great deal of time working on community projects, her family’s two latest projects Sifiso Community Centre named in her son’s honour and Mkhiwa Trust.

What the future holds

True to form, Dlamini has a five-year plan, both for herself and her business.

The bulk of this year, she says, will involve road shows for Equal but Different.

“It is easy to sell something you completely believe in, and that’s what I am selling; a conversation about gender equality. It’s a passion of mine that the book has allowed me to live.”

Next year, another book (on entrepreneurship) is on the cards.

“At a personal level I would love to spend some time lecturing and writing books. I would especially like to lecture on entrepreneurship and women issues.”

That doesn’t mean a sabbatical from the business. “When, for instance, you lecture at a business school, you are best as a lecturer when you are still active in business,” she explains.

Switching to her plans for her business, Dlamini says she would like property and facilities management to be the main contributors on the operational side. “With people on the ground, both are relatively easy to manage as opposed to the other aspects of the business,” she says.

The bulk of the business in terms of value is property, comprised primarily of commercial assets located in Gauteng. That might soon extend to residential assets.
Useful resources:

Finweek
Finweek is South Africa's best selling business and financial weekly, delivering news, analysis and investigative reporting of the highest calibre to readers who are serious about managing their money and succeeding in business. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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