Our featured entrepreneur of the week Israel Noko shares why every entrepreneur needs to build a network of strong business contacts
Position: CEO and Managing Consultant
Can you tell us a little bit about your background – personal, educational and professional?I was born in KwaZulu-Natal. I spent a good part of my youth living in Europe and Canada before returning to South Africa in 1997. I went on to study Law and Social Sciences Diploma at the University of Warwick, UK and pursued and completed my LL.B in Business Law at Coventry University, UK. l serve on the few Boards in an Non-Executive capacity. I regularly present at conferences on topics around transformation, Broad-Based BEE and sustainable development.
I have extensive working experience in France, Switzerland, UK and South Africa in both private and public sectors. I did extensive work at the United Nations Environmental Program, the Canadian High Commission Trade Office (as Trade Commissioner) in South Africa, Enablis (as Head of Partnerships) and in the financial services industry. I guided a number of Canadian companies to understand BEE as a policy and how it may impact on their business growth. I also presented Canada’s Clean Development Mechanism programs and private sector expertise to over 50 companies in South Africa during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002.
In April 2012, I was elected as the Chairman of the National Association of BEE Consultants (NABC), a professional body that represents the interests of over 120 consulting professions and practitioners. Furthermore, I sit on the Department of Trade & Industry’s BEE Joint Technical Committee and I engage with other industry stakeholders engaging in addressing the implementation of BEE.
Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do?NPI Governance Consulting is a niche BEE Advisory and Project Management practice that is quickly positioning itself as an advocate for sustainable economic growth, strategic transformation intelligence and a trusted BEE Advisor to local and multinational companies investing in South Africa. NPI Governance Consulting’s end-to-end BEE Services are offered to all market sectors through our dedicated business functions of advisory, consulting and project management.
I’m passionate about the intentions behind Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (“BEE”), including the economic transformation of South Africa. My experience has focused on developing and executing strategies that will enable companies to better position themselves in the market, and develop partnerships with companies and organizations that want to implement “business-sense” enterprise development, socio-economic development and BEE strategies.
I understood that “success breeds success” and that it was important for me to associate myself with successful people
I have advised on BEE joint venture structure and business models, worked with a number of multinational clients and advised on the implementation of Equity Equivalents, BEE compliance and forged strong relations with the Department of Trade and Industry, the verification industry and various transformation stakeholders.
I have also been able to pursue interest in the property and facilitates management sector, tourism and interested in pursing opportunities outside of the South African borders.
How did your journey begin and how have you achieved success thus far?
I started off as a one-man show from my living room with the equivalent of four month’s salary in my bank account. I had no intentions of failing and I was acutely aware of the competitive nature of my industry. What I had to my advantage was a network of strong business contacts developed over 14 years and a strong determination to succeed.
During my journey, I understood that “success breeds success” and that it was important for me to associate myself with successful people. One can certainly learn a thing or two from people that have not been successful but it doesn’t make sense to spend too much time with people that have no proven track record. Successful people with integrity are willing to share their experience and expertise with people that are serious about their business.
To date, we have been able to work with over 65 private sector clients since our inception, and lectured to over 200 NGOs and universities across the country. For the majority of our clients, we have been able to ensure that they transform in a meaningful way and at the same time become BEE competitive.
Has it been difficult? What were some of the obstacles you face and how did you overcome them?
The big challenge is cash-flow. It is very exciting to have more clients and being to create jobs but it does come with financial responsibilities. Ultimately, our business has had to fund its own growth with no funding from any of the banks.
How many people does your company employ?
10 people for now, with a view to grow our business over the next 3 years. We are also keen to bring in young passionate learners too.
Don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t want to do business with you
What is your overall vision for your business?
We have big dreams and intend on increasing our market share. Ultimately, our vision is to be able to provide ongoing value-adding solutions to clients that enable them to realize a return on investment and attract and retain talented people that are passionate about economic development and transformation.
What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?Skills, a strong base of business contact and integrity and good reputation (which includes being accountable).
How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?
In the early days, I was very fortunate to have two multinationals provide me with an Enterprise Development grant. To this day, I have never received any financing from any bank and government funding institution but instead continue to fund the business through client acquisition and reinvesting the profits back into the business.
What are the three things you attribute your business success to?
When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?
Probably around the age of 12 years but the environment I grew up in encouraged people to study hard and get a job.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I really don’t lead by micro-management as I also hate it being done to me. Whilst I prefer to give people their parameters which which they operate and I also expect people to be accountable for their actions and performance. Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you in growing your business?Currently I am reading two books called ‘Julius Caesar CEO’ and ‘The Bridge – The Life & Rise of Barak Obama’. But my all time favourite, which I read at University, was the ‘Autobiography of Malcom X’. It took me three days to read and inspired in several ways.
What pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?
What’s the worst and best business advice you have ever received?Best: The secret to successful hiring is this: look for the people who want to change the world and share your passion.
Worst: You have to be cheaper than the other guys.
And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?Both. But I also believe in reading your market correctly and be able to see any dynamic changes when they come and being able to adopt to those changes. Change can be a very hard thing to do.