Busi Raphekwane on Cultivating Winning Entrepreneurial Mindsets
Join me and Busi Raphekwane in the Presidential Suite at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa as we delve into a topic that holds particular significance for small black businesses and young entrepreneurs and the need to cultivate mindsets that will enable us to think beyond survival and start imagining legacy businesses that shall endure for centuries and leave an impact on humanity.
Busi Raphekwane, an enterprise development expert, is the Founder and CEO of enterprise development company, The Transformation Legacy. Busi’s work encompasses the design and implementation of mentorship and training programmes that cover crucial business functions such as business turnaround, strategic planning, financial management and marketing strategies. She has made consistent research efforts towards business improvement and shared best practices widely on national platforms such as Drum magazine, Destiny magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Your Business magazine, Making Moves TV show, Business Day TV and the ‘Rands & Sense’ TV show amongst others. Under Busi’s leadership, The Transformation Legacy has developed enterprise and supplier development programmes aimed at imparting to entrepreneurs the required skills and knowledge for growing their small businesses sustainably. Ms. Raphekwane holds a BComm Accounting degree and a Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development both from the University of Pretoria. She also holds a Certificate in Women in Leadership from Duke Corporate Education.
For the longest time, a black legacy business was unthinkable; historically speaking, entrepreneurship for black people was about survival and meeting subsistence needs. There was no future-proofing or scaling most black businesses, even ones that thrived during the lifecycle of the owner (often also the operator) eventually collapsed on their passing often leaving families destitute and certainly no legacy to speak of. Then comes people like Busi Raphekwane, Founder and CEO of The Transformation Legacy, to show leadership in this arena and start inculcating legacy business building mindsets to elevate black entrepreneurs in the Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) sector to start thinking differently and to enlarge their mental vistas to imagine and build businesses that we will be talking about centuries from now. Leadership! This is what we celebrate here at Higher Self.
Welcome Busi, so what inspired you to name your company The Transformation Legacy?
The name is inspired by something that I truly believe in. I believe in change and I believe in change that comes from within, change that an individual can bring about using their own interior resources without any external intervention. The Transformation Legacy is about leading change in small black businesses, black communities and other areas where people are marginalized because when people are marginalized their mindsets don’t comprehend the power that resides within them to effect change in their lives. My company is therefore undergirded by values that speak to transforming our societies and transforming them in a meaningful way: societies that are rich in knowledge, rich in resources, rich in self-belief, rich in people who understand themselves as human beings, rich in humanity and rich in kindness.
Although we operate in the small business entrepreneurial space, The Transformation Legacy seeks to touch people, so it’s about human beings because everywhere we go, whether it’s the office or a business, there are human beings there. A core purpose of The Transformation Legacy is building businesses that can transcend from one generation to another and leaving a meaningful legacy. Legacies that we can point to two centuries from now, still doing the work that they were purposed to do by the Founder or Founders and still guided by the same vision. Our work is about supporting entrepreneurs with the tools and skills that get them to believe that they have it in them to transform themselves, their lives, the way they see things and to build sustainable businesses that can outlive the business owner.
In 2006 I completed my BComm Accounting degree and by the time I graduated I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I did not want to be an Accountant. In fact, from the second year of the BComm I had already started a fashion design business selling clothes to students primarily, so I knew by the time I completed my studies that I really wanted to play in the entrepreneurial space. For 6 months after, I was half-heartedly “searching” for a job because I was not yet ready to be honest with myself about really pursuing my entrepreneurial ambitions. I spent most of that time tentatively trying to figure out what type of business I wanted to start. This process of “finding myself” happened in the house I grew up in at Hammanskraal where my parents had built a thriving taxi business. I noticed with a broken heart however that most of the businesses in the community, business that I’d known since I was a child, were now run-down: no stock or one day they’re open, one day they’re closed or had been shut down and windows are broken. And these had been helmed by prominent business owners in the township, the Oupa Jerry’s who’d done magnificent things in their prime and lived abundant lives but many years later, there was nothing to show for it. As a result, the young kids coming up have no sense of the legacy that could have been or how this enterprise actually started and once thrived. I simply could not understand how someone could prosper in business only to lose it all years later and have no relevance and this question kept gnawing at me, I literally lost sleep trying to comprehend it.
I really felt led to interrogate this further. My father was also an entrepreneur who operated a successful taxi business and he had had different businesses such as a dry cleaner and a retail business before he went into taxi ownership, so I spoke to him a lot about how this could all happen? Because I was in boarding school most of the time and only came home during school holidays which is why this was such a shock to my system because I was not there daily to witness this disintegration of these once-thriving businesses. Those conversations with my father opened up this conversation of, how do we build more legacy-driven businesses as a people to a point where people don’t even have to know who founded the company, but the impact of the work can speak for itself? What impact do you want your business to leave in the community, and most importantly, in the world?
Our work at The Transformation Legacy equips entrepreneurs to not only look at the business as a physical thing because the business has no DNA, the DNA lies in the entrepreneur, in the individual, so it’s about us asking the entrepreneur, how do we equip you to believe in yourself, to believe that you can effect change in your life, to take control over your life and to look beyond? One of our phrases at the company is, “getting entrepreneurs to think beyond” because that’s where it all starts, if we think differently, we see things differently, we act differently, so it’s all about getting entrepreneurs to think beyond the current circumstances, to think beyond “eish I’m building this business but I must make ends meet, rent is due at the end of the month”. Yes, that’s the reality of where your business is at currently, but what foundation do you have to lay for your business to be sustainable and for you to retire from your business in a way that it can still run perfectly without you? A year after my father and I had started this interrogation of the failure of black-owned businesses to transcend generations, my father passed away and we didn’t know what to do with the taxi business. So, my Mom sold the taxis and that was it.
That was the end of the business, the end of it was his death. And that is the reality of a lot of small businesses and some of them are not fortunate enough to have children that have graduated from school when that happens. You run a relatively successful business, you pass away one day, and your children cannot even reap the benefits of your hard work because you had not set it up for it to run by itself.
So, all that combined to inspire me to say, things must be different, we must think differently and most importantly, we must interrogate the way we do things. So, that’s the backstory of the concept and practice of The Transformation Legacy.
So, at the time when the family taxi business was being sold, was it a case of you not feeling personally equipped to take over its running, or you genuinely felt that it was set up in a way that made it difficult for you to take over?
In retrospect, when I really think about it and if I’m honest with myself, the business was easy to run. I used to do the bookkeeping for the business from the age of 15 and I understood the operations side of it. My mother was also involved, so it boiled down to us not seeing it as a possibility at the time. If we had gone ahead and operated the business in my father’s absence, yes, we would have made mistakes along the way, but it wouldn’t have been because we lacked the skills to run it. So, the inability to see this as an opportunity was all in the mind.
Now years later I keep hearing the same complaint from people about there being a lack of opportunities but here’s the thing, opportunity only meets a ripe mind. Opportunity meets you when you are prepared mentally, you don’t even have to be as prepared tool-wise. The question is, when an opportunity comes knocking, does your mindset seize on that? We simply didn’t see the taxi business as an opportunity, I didn’t view it as an opportunity to grow or as a way for me to actually realize my dream of being an entrepreneur in my own right. We saw it as a burden and that happens a lot when people are not ready mentally. If our minds had been in the right frame, we would have run with that business and taken it to the next level and beyond. So personally, I feel that I had what I needed at the time to at least run the taxi business that my father had built. Remember I was also running my clothing business from second year in varsity, so I had that bit of experience plus my Accountancy degree, so I had the commercial background as well. I had all the basics, the problem was, I just did not believe that I could.
So, from that lack of belief in your own entrepreneurial acumen, to founding The Transformation Legacy, what happened for you to evolve into this woman who is preaching and practicing this message with such power and conviction?
You know, I’ve noticed over the years that everything that we are doing for others is fueled by the fact that it had been lacking in you at some point and there’s an urgency, if you are that way inclined, to help others avoid the same mistakes or be imprisoned by the same beliefs.
Just before my Dad passed, he had started talking about diversifying his business interests. He kept saying, you know I’ve been in this industry for a while and I want to try new things. So, because he and I had been having these running conversations about the struggles that small black businesses face, we’d actually started conceptualizing establishing business information centres in the township to give people basic startup information. Our intention was not to go deep yet with the entrepreneurial education, it was more of, if you want to start a business, these are the 5 key steps you need to follow. These business centres were going to be housed inside containers because we had decided not to complicate things and look for funding, we wanted to use what was at our disposal and just start the project.
We were also going to provide basic health information because we were quite concerned about people being sick and passing away in our community all because of lack of access to information. On the day my father passed away, we had planned a session where we were going to sit with my laptop and capture the plan in a way that would enable us to execute it. So, I was devastated because we had so many plans. I began to see just how much actions, and not thoughts, matter. We have a tendency as people to just wait instead of swinging into action, even if it’s small measured steps, we just wait. And half the time, we don’t even know what we are waiting for. Whether it’s a book or an article that you’re supposed to write, you wait, you wait for permission, for approval from somewhere, you wait for chemistry and magic to happen. So, as I was introspecting it soon became evident to me that I had self-limiting beliefs and my beliefs have held me back from pursuing my dreams.
Instead of starting somewhere, I would spend ages overthinking things and wanting them to be perfect and stalling when I knew deep down inside what I needed to do. I would stall and create all kinds of excuses, for example, “government doesn’t give us information, the municipalities are not helping us” whereas truly, this was not the case. The fact of the matter is, we have everything we need to execute our purpose in life. So, 6 months after my father’s passing, I took the leap and started my own clothing manufacturing business which also included a corporate clothing division. Now that was an interesting journey. Right off the bat, things started off very well. I had clients and things were running smoothly. Then reality set in, and the typical startup business owner nightmares started cropping up: problems with suppliers, cash flow, collection of payments and so on. When I started experiencing these problems I felt very deeply that there was something missing, that there was something I was not doing right. I started thinking to myself, maybe I just need to come up with a killer strategy that will solve all these problems or maybe it’s because I don’t understand costing, so I need to get that right and things will fall into place. Another thing that really held me back is that I shied away from following up on incredible opportunities and networks. I would literally create excuses in order not to show up. After 4 years, things were really tough, and I lost a lot of money through that venture and I was exhausted! My sister suggested that I register for an entrepreneurship course that would give me insights into how to run my business. I took her advice and enrolled in a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development at the University of Pretoria and my sole objective was to turn my business around and take it to the next level. In the second semester we were given an assignment to turn around a real business in a way that would equip us with the practicalities of implementing turnaround strategy. I was allocated an Afrikaans man who owned a business in Brakpan which was operating at a loss and I had to go in and advise him on how to develop a sustainable strategy for his business. While working on this business, the penny dropped. A lot of things started making sense starting with all the things that had bothered me about the businesses in Hammanskraal, the conversations and plans I had with my father to address some of these issues, my own experiences in entrepreneurship and the interior issues I’d been dealing with over the years. I found such meaning and fulfilment in helping another entrepreneur with their troubling business and it brought me such joy and happiness to advise and co-create solutions with the owner and the staff. That was the turning point and I became energized by the realization that business mentorship is my calling! I realized that I was not just brought into this world to be in business or to transform other businesses, but I was brought into this world to really empower others. I’d been in many situations prior where I’d felt disempowered and lacked the agency to do something about my circumstances. I’d also sabotaged myself many times by not pursuing opportunities because I felt disempowered. There is nothing as painful as having to deal with people looking at you and seeing something in you that you don’t even see in yourself because in your mind and in your heart, there is something that’s whispering, “no you can’t”.
What in your view is the source of this “but I can’t” attitude, where is it really coming from? Because it’s really holding a lot of people back.
It’s a combination of a few factors. Let me start by saying that you are born with authenticity and with a special assignment to go into the world to do only what you can do. No one else can do it the way that you have been mandated to do it. Everything is set up around your special assignment: from the parents that bring you into this world, the community you are born into. Everything is orchestrated for you to carry out your special assignment. So, we are born with authenticity and purpose. You are equipped, from the time you are born, to do it. But then, here’s the reality, you’re not flying solo in the direction of your purpose: there’s the family that you are born into, a family will obviously influence your behaviour and your mindset. Meanwhile the assignment is sitting in your core but everything else around you is trying to shape you into something entirely different. Communities, your teachers, your friends, it becomes a lot to deal with while you’re trying to forge your identity and unearth your purpose. There are people who get it while they are still young, and they are convicted, and they are very stubborn, and they achieve a lot of things. By the time they are 20 they have achieved a lot of things because of the power of their conviction and their ability to shut out the noise, and then there’s the majority: we listen to the noise and I did too, in fact, it’s one of those things that I consciously work through even today – all these external influences converge to dictate to you how you should behave and what you should do with your life, and then you contort yourself into all these shapes trying to make everybody happy and meet their expectations for what is essentially your life. But the inner voice will tell you if you listen to it because whatever you’re trying to do will feel fake and you’ll feel exhausted for putting on an act because the inner voice will be telling you that, no, this is not our special assignment, you are doing other people’s assignments.
We are disconnected from that special assignment that only we can deliver, and it is a source of incredible internal (even external) strife because we even feel intimidated when we see people playing in the same spaces that we’re in to a point where collaborating and exploring joint opportunities is a scary proposition to many. These are all self-limiting beliefs fueled by scarcity mentalities emanating from not really knowing why you exist. Now imagine the power of knowing that no one can execute your special assignment. You may be in the same space: Coach A, Coach B, Coach C, all coaches but different assignments. Imagine the confidence we could all have and the work that we can free ourselves to do with that knowledge and conviction and the world we can create with everybody knowing, with real clarity, what they are here to do and how they are going to go about executing their purpose in alignment with who they really are? Collaboration can be a magnificent thing that can make a huge impact in communities and even the economy of the country however it can be very destructive as well when people don’t know where they’re operating from because that’s where people bribe, cheat each other, backstab each other, they front, they lie and use money for destructive things…why?
The more I sink my teeth into the world of entrepreneurship, the more I’ve come to realize that the manner in which it is being glamourized in traditional and new media is actually breeding the kind of young entrepreneur who has the wrong idea about what it means to be an entrepreneur, what would your view be on that?
Just as a baby is born into a world with all sorts of influences, similarly when entrepreneurs start their businesses, they start with the concept and they’re passionate about it. But now for them to give birth to this concept, they have to use the vehicle known as “an enterprise” so that they can generate money and profit from it. The world called “entrepreneurship” that they’ve now become a part of has its own sets of influences and people have defined it, the media has defined it. A “successful entrepreneur” template has now been created in popular culture about what this “successful entrepreneur” should look like, how they should talk and how they should conduct themselves. So, we simply adapt and don’t stop, look and question and ask ourselves why, why “should” I? We don’t question whether we fit into this paradigm to begin with and how we can navigate it using our own authentic compass. Entrepreneurship needs our true selves, but instead we emulate, we don’t have role models proper anymore, no, we have people we simply want to copy: behave like them, dress like them and talk like them. Have you been to these motivational talks where it’s being drummed into aspiring entrepreneurs that it’s okay to “fake it till you make it baby!”? If you are faking it, it’s not you and it’s not for you! You’ll experience so much conflict within you that you will not be able to achieve that special assignment that’s meant solely for you. Sure, you may make a bit of money here and there, but it will not be sustainable to a point where you end up leaving a legacy. If you are not authentic, how do you leave a legacy?
In closing, what’s your singular message to entrepreneurs and professionals and all people out there?
Legacy springs from authenticity.
There’s a mindset that’s fueled by an assumption or expectation that if you release a product or service, everybody must like it, no, it will never be for everyone, if it is, then it’s not real because you’re probably trying to be everything to everyone and compromising yourself in the process. Your unique fingerprint, the fingerprint that will leave a mark or make an impact on South Africa, the rest of Africa and the world, will not necessarily resonate with everyone, but rest assured that it will be valid for some.
Question everything as you chart your way forward and zone in on why you exist and what your unique contribution to the world is. For instance, I am very uncomfortable with is this popular reference to “hustling”. I think we’re promoting something that we shouldn’t, if something is for you then it shouldn’t be about being all over the place trying to desperately make things happen. Instead be steady in what you do, be firm and be anchored.
Photography by Makgomo Mushwana – Sali Sali Photography