Success story: Thobile's entrepreneurial spirit nurtured from a young age
By helping out in her father's shop when she was just 12 years old, Thobile Ntswana was exposed to business skills at an early age.
These skills would prove invaluable in her career and in the success of her current business - named after her father - VEB Cele and Associates.
Ntswana attributes much of her success to her early start. Growing up in Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal, her father's shop was a stone's throw from her school.
"So, I naturally spent my afternoons there, helping out. I even assisted in expanding the reach of the shop, by starting a delivery service to pensioners in the community who found it difficult to come to the shop,” she remembers.
An employee just once
Later Ntswana completed a computer programming course. After working a few months as a computer programmer at an insurance company - her only experience as an employee in her life - she went on to study computer science at what was then the Rand Afrikaans University.
Her education and training business started in the Hillbrow flat she lived in with her husband, Abbey, shortly after graduation and the birth of her first child.
"I had started typing CVs for friends, acquaintances and an ever-increasing number of clients. Some of them started asking for basic computer lessons, and soon I found myself owning a fully-fledged computer school in Eloff Street, the centre of Johannesburg," says Ntswana.
For four years she ran her business in partnership with a British computer academy, NCC, before she and her family emigrated for a short stint in the Netherlands, due to her husband's work contract.
When they returned to South Africa in 2000, Ntswana was keen to run a business again and bought a maths and English teaching franchise, which she practiced from home on their smallholding in Vereeniging.
A further opportunity presented itself when South Africa's new skills-development system through the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) was started.
This motivated Ntswana to focus on the teaching of assessors, various vocational training courses, as well as business consulting and training through the government's small business development agencies.
From this point on, VEB Cele and Associates went from strength to strength. They moved into rented offices in Johannesburg and Ntswana’s husband - also a computer programmer - left his job as a business analyst to join her in running the company.
A significant breakthrough came when VEB Cele and Associates won several contracts from various SETAs. The most notable of these was the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing (FP&M) SETA, which hired VEB Cele and Associates to teach vocational skills to retirees and retrenchees at Harmony mines. It was at this point that Ntswana realised she was spending too much on office rent, and that her business needed its own property, with the correct training facilities and storage space.
After approaching Business Partners Limited for funding, she was successful in securing appropriate new premises in Bramley, Johannesburg. She also received further support through an interest-free technical assistance loan from Business Partners Limited for the company's marketing outreach.
Today, VEB Cele and Associates has 25 permanent staff members and continues to expand.
The company is accredited to train no fewer than 40 different qualifications and it has a dedicated projects division that is ready to take on any new training opportunities that arise.
"I am confident that the new company premises will see us growing from strength to strength. I may have started my business career early, but I’m far from finishing," says Ntswana.