Sisa Ngebulana Entrepreneurship Lessons for Building an Empire

Updated on 2 November 2020

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This article was originally published on 15 June, 2017.

Sisa Ngebulana Entrepreneurship Lessons for Building an Empire | SME South Africa

Property mogul, Sisa Ngebulana is a self-made millionaire with an estimated net worth of about R400 million. However, despite his incredible success, he has had his fair share of failures along his long journey to the top.

Ngebulana revealed this to Bruce Whitfield in an interview where he was featured as a “ShapeShifter” on Whitfield’s The Money Show on the radio station 702.

He has suffered the failure of various sideline businesses and had to claw his way out of a R1.1 million debt while earning a R10 000 salary, as well as losing millions in some of his earlier properties.

“There’s always opportunity with every crisis, with every challenge in life, and I think those things are necessary in life to build us up to get stronger and I think with experience you just leverage out a lot more out of every crisis,” Ngebulana says.

Ngebulana is the executive chairperson and sole owner of the multi-billion rand property company, Billion Group Limited, which he founded in 1998. In 2010 he founded Rebosis Property Fund Limited, the first black-managed and substantially black-held property fund to be listed on the JSE.

He has also won various awards including Entrepreneur of the Year (2006), the Pioneer Award (2014) and the African Business Excellence Award (2014).

Speaking about the ups and the downs in his entrepreneurial journey, Ngebulana says his going into the property business was something of a given because of his upbringing.

“I grew up with my grandparents in a village out of town in Umtata. They had a general dealer store there but the interesting part for me was they had a brick field and I used to spend a lot of time in the brick fields helping out and then spend time with deliveries to sites. And I took interest in that and I ended up knowing bricklaying, plastering and carpentry. So that’s really how I got into property because it just kind of rubbed off on me. My first house I actually built myself out of just passion more than anything else,” he says.

An admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa, Ngebulana describes himself as driven, saying this was the one quality that has helped him through what were seemingly insurmountable odds.

“I tend to be very driven and my first house took me literally four months to build and complete. It took a little longer to sell. [It took] another two months. I didn’t have a plan to stay that long and I think like any first-time business owner you always hope that things will happen a lot quicker than the reality. It took longer to sell and I was able to make some decent profit on the first property and I lost it on the second property,” he says.

After gaining and losing hundreds of millions of rands; here are 4 qualities that are essential for any entrepreneur who wants to build an empire, according to Ngebulana.

1.  Have A Calculated Approach to Taking Risks
Taking risks is a big part of entrepreneurship, Ngebulana says, however you need to be strategic about the types of risks you take. The right kinds of risks can make your business while ill-conceived risks can sink it, he says.

“​I’ve been in trouble a couple of times,” says Ngebulana. “It is the nature of things. I think generally you find with lots of entrepreneurs, you’re a risk-taker. It just depends to what extent you are able to use your experience and use your background in terms of [how successfully you manage those risks]. I always say to people that education is very important and exposure in life is very important because you tend to take measured risks generally, more particularly when your business grows and you’re able to access more credit lines and that sort of thing.”

2. Learn From Your Falls
Although the fear of failure keeps many potential entrepreneurs from starting their businesses, Ngebulana says failure is a part of the process and learning from those failures is imperative for success.

“​I’ve had to close some companies in my life. I’ve lost some money on some of the homes. My first big shopping centre, (the second largest shopping centre development that I did) Hemingways Mall in East London, I lost a lot of money – a couple hundred millions. It almost sunk my business. I battled for a while. Sometimes you think you learn from the lessons and they’d just come again disguised in a different form,” he says.

3. Keep Your Eye On The Prize
Ngebulana says one of the biggest misconceptions about business is that it is easy, and that many throw in the towel when they discover that a lot of work goes into succeeding. But having the end-goal in sight at all times will help you plan properly and hopefully make it through the tough periods, he says.

“When you have a vision, you know what it takes. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the kind of things that we do and it is quite important that you take your time. And I think sometimes people see the end result of what happens [and think it is easy]. It’s not easy. The kind of stress levels you go through [can be quite high]. Sometimes you look back and you wonder if it’s worth it. But as it were in life, I think if somebody had to warn you about these things before you start, you probably won’t do them,” he says.

4. Disregard Negativity
Ngebulana says he has adopted a simple strategy – never mind the negative talk.

“I think inadvertently, you leave a lot of people perhaps unhappy about a few things and it does lead to bad-mouthing of each other and that sort of thing in the market. We never really do ourselves because we just stay out of it. My belief is always to focus on the future and where you’re going rather than be dragged by negative things. We don’t really have people or companies we can call enemies because we’ve competed with them before,” Ngebulana says.

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