7 months ago

Opportunity Issue 102

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Opportunity magazine is a niche business-to-business publication that explores various investment opportunities within Southern Africa’s economic sectors. The publication is endorsed by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI).


WOMEN IN BUSINESS Turning ideas into designs and buildings Sanna Sebone, founder and Managing Director of Sebongi Construction, says the best part of her entrepreneurial journey has been employing people and paying them fairly. Please tell us about growing up and your schooling: what influenced you to study quantity surveying after school? As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to study medicine and be a medical doctor. In matric I applied at the University of Cape Town and MEDUNSA for medicine and Wits for Mechanical Engineering. Although both those universities accepted my application, I ended up going to Wits because I had been promised a bursary that would cover all necessary fees and give me a stipend. So, I dropped my dream to become a doctor for the bursary stipend. At the time it seemed like a lot of money but the bursary promise did not materialise. This is after I was told to proceed with registrations with my own money, with a promise that I would be refunded after the paperwork was finalised. During this time, I had come to know of various courses I had never heard of, including Quantity Surveying. I started applying to different institutions for the following year. I failed Mechanical Engineering with flying colours. I was accepted for Quantity Surveying by the University of Johannesburg for the following year and went on to complete a National Diploma in Building Science, followed by a Bachelor of Technology in Quantity Surveying. Sanna Sebone, Managing Director, Sebongi Construction Was it tough being away from home? It was not difficult being away from home because I had been at boarding school for most of my schooling. Boarding school taught me how to be independent and how to go long periods without seeing my family. 36 |

WOMEN IN BUSINESS What aspect did you like best about your studies? I like my in-service training the most. During the second semester of the second year of study, we had to do experiential learning as a prerequisite for proceeding to the third and final year of the diploma programme. I did my experiential learning at a Quantity Surveying and Project Management firm. I enjoyed site visits and interacting with project stakeholders. Have you always been entrepreneurial? I have not always been entrepreneurial, but I realised earlier on that I had leadership skills. I was made a prefect in my second year at a new primary school, and then I held various leadership positions through high school. I was the vice-president of the Learners’ Representative Council in my matric year and went on to tutor firstyear students in my final year at the University of Johannesburg. Has there been an entrepreneurial influence on your life? I only realised later during my entrepreneurial years that my parents may have indirectly influenced my decision to start on my own. Although both my parents are educators by profession, they always had a “side hustle”, selling stuff like paraffin and cow heels. Even now as retired teachers, both my parents continue their side hustles with my mom serving as a consultant for a funeral parlour. To this day, my siblings and I still take part in the family businesses whenever we are back home. How did the idea of a construction company come to you? There are two main streams that a Quantity Surveying student can take in their career. You can either work for a consulting firm or work for a construction company. I did not have any specific route I wanted to take. I just wanted to be part of infrastructure development projects. I wanted to see an idea turning into a design then into a mega structure. What has been the toughest part of running your own business? Project funding. Projects require a lot of money upfront for mobilisation and establishment. For SMMEs, it is very rare for a client to give you an upfront payment to kickstart the project. Financial institutions also have requirements such as security before they can assist you financially. Once you manage to start the project, you run into a whole series of challenges such as community strikes, employee strikes, etc. I have run into just about every challenge that women in construction face. What part of your business journey has been the steepest learning curve for you? Human resources! As an SMME, we do not have all of the functional departments you would normally have in larger companies. At some point in time, I was the HR Manager, Commercial Manager, Procurement Manager, Office Admin, Driver, etc. I have run into minor troubles with our labour force regarding UIF registrations and disciplinary procedures. I have lost cases at the CCMA for minor procedural mistakes. Cashflow issues have also negatively impacted every aspect of the business. What have you enjoyed most about being in business? Employing people and paying them fairly have been the most rewarding things about being in business. Having employees come to you to thank you for the opportunity you have given them is a feeling I cannot put into words. Another thing I have enjoyed is teaching interns about the ins and out of the business and equipping them with a skill that will elevate their careers. I work very closely with all my employees. I have an open-door policy. I make it a point to engage with employees regularly. What are your goals for the business over the next few years? Sebongi has just turned four years old. The immediate goal is to have a permanent office with permanent employees as we approach the five-year milestone. Afterwards, we will continue to grow the business into a reputable 100% female-owned company and diversify into other sectors of the construction industry. Contact details Sebongi Construction (Pty) Ltd Address: 47 Lemoendoring Street, Kathu 8446 | Email: | Tel: +27 53 714 9126 | Cell: 072 860 6377 | 37

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