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Young woman building a legacy brick by brick

By Athenkosi Sawutana

When her dad passed away, Siyasanga Ngcongca, an internal auditing graduate, took over the family business. Ngcongca Building Consulting, as her company is known, is a service provider to five insurance companies, handling building and commercial claims.

The big decision

Ngongca’s father passed away in 2013 on the morning of her 25th birthday. Until that point the only experience she had was that of a junior accounts manager at one of South Africa’s biggest retail stores.

“I didn’t know anything about the building industry at the time. I used to help my dad with the reports, but I didn’t even understand what those were.”

She was just doing what her father was telling her to do, but little did she know that he was preparing her for something better in life.

When she took over the business, she only had R5,000 in her account.  But with the help of the clients, she managed to keep her father’s legacy alive.

“If you want to grow in this business you need to knock on other doors,” says Ngcongca.

She faced many challenges because she didn’t know how to handle the money she was receiving.

“I had no relationship with money. The only relationship I had was with the R7,500 I was earning. Suddenly I was looking at R50,000 and I ‘ve never seen that in my life.”

She would have R30,000 in the morning, but R5,000 by the time she went to sleep. With no idea how it happened.

 Going back to basics

The first two years were a struggle, and she was heading for disaster. Then she decided to draw up a budget.

“I learnt a lot of things along the way. Yes, I studied internal auditing, but what you study and what you practise are two different things.”

It was time to figure out what she was doing wrong and what she was doing right.

“As money came in, I opened different accounts to manage it better. I didn’t even know how I was going to pay bonuses to the employees at that time. I was running the show all by myself.”

She started reading a lot of books on financial management, taking suggestions from other people, and doing everything step-by-step.

Being a woman

Siya, as she is affectionately known, says that being a woman did not hinder her from pursuing her goals in the construction industry.

She says she used that to her advantage when she was pitching to her clients. She says she would tell them that she was a well-equipped woman in construction and the business was already established.

Now her brother manages the employees on the site, and she takes care of the day-to-day activities. Her assertiveness has helped her earn respect from her employees – even if it means hiding your tears.

She refers to the time she fell from the roof of the house trying to fix a geyser.

“I refused to cry in front of the guys until I got to my house. I wanted to show them that I could do it. I was not just a pretty face.”

 No credit

Ngcongca steered clear of debt when she started her business.

“I never took out a loan and I don’t have a credit card. I just built my cash float and put money aside.”

Once you start building your capital it’s tempting to spend it, but rather build on it, is her advice.

“I had to have money for emergencies and bonuses at the end of the year. I had no time to tamper with my investment.”

The importance of paying yourself

Ngcongca wasn’t aware of how much damage she was doing by not allocating a salary to herself. 

When she saw how much of the business revenue she spent on herself, she decided to draw up a budget to figure out how much she needed per month. The need to pay herself was further reinforced when she attended a business seminar where a speaker told her she was entitled to a salary.

“The minute you don’t pay yourself in your business you’re setting yourself up for disaster,” says Ngcongca.

Receiving guidance

“Mentorship is everything in the business. You need someone to empower you, and to stroke your confidence,” says Ngconca.

Yet, mentorship will only be effective if you take the initiative. Educate yourself. Read. Gain experience. Over the years she learnt that you mentor yourself daily by reading.

“All that a mentor does, is tell what you already know. She makes you accountable for everything you are thinking.”

Recognition is key

Siya does not take her employees for granted. Last year she organised a year-end function where she showed them that they are valued.  

She wanted to move away from the traditional braai that her father used to organise for his employees. Instead, she organised a dinner at a restaurant where everyone dressed up in tuxedos and brought their partners. She wanted her employees to feel special and valued.

Moving with the times

When she took over, the 30-year-old introduced the EFT system to pay her employees since they were receiving their pay in an envelope.

“I told them I can’t have so much money in my handbag and it was not good for them as well because they could spend that money in a minute.”

Unlike her father, Siya does not like the idea of working from home. She used to work from a restaurant, until she saw that she was wasting money. She is now renting an office space in Mowbray. One of her future plans is to build an office for herself.

“I’m young. I wanted to dress up, and look like I was going to work,” she says.

The business has grown tremendously since Siya took over. It has more stakeholders compared to when her father was in charge. She has also never retrenched anyone and all the workers have been working there since 1993.

With his daughter's determination, Siya's father can rest assured that the company is going to feed generations to come. 

 

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