Heard about women who have beaten the odds and risen high enough to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling? Well, I bet you have. But here’s what you probably didn’t know; there’s also a select crop of women who are smashing the old walls and erecting whole new structures. And quite literally too – enter Laurettah Sibanda!
From the stables of Botswana; a landlocked country in Southern Africa with a landscape that is defined by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, comes the story of a certain young woman that is pulling down all the stops and blazing trails in what many would refer to as a turf exclusive to the menfolk.
Laurettah Sibanda is breaking new grounds in the world of building and construction; not one of the easiest to break into as many would say – or worse still, improbable and unthinkable for a woman to even consider for a venture in this part of the world.
But the Zimbabwean entrepreneur is pulling it off away from her country of birth. She currently holds the reins, calls the shots, and pulls the strings at her own establishment which she named Atlantis Construction Group and Developments (Pty) Ltd; a construction company that is fast becoming the go-to firm for quality project delivery and top-notch service in Botswana and beyond.
Since it became operational two years ago, Laurettah’s construction business has grown in leaps and bounds. The company can be thought to be well on its way building a strong reputation for itself as a full-service building contracting company whose services revolve around such aspects as architecture, residential and commercial building and construction, renovations, and maintenance. Atlantis Construction Group & Developments also has interests in real estate development with special attention to the development of residential properties.
Laurettah Sibanda could be said to have struck gold with her current venture but it has been anything but a smooth ride. Hers was a storied entrepreneurial sojourn interspersed with moments of triumph which turned out to be false dawns, as well as flat-out failures. But having emerged unscathed, she now seems to be well on course to writing her own success story.
On more than one occasion, she had to close shop and call it quits after seeing her initial ventures fail to cut it and go under.
But somehow, she’s managed to get back on her feet in spite of the debacles and what a comeback the entrepreneur is having with her newest establishment.
Laurettah Sibanda can be thought to have come from a long line of shrewd businessmen as she appears to have borrowed a leaf from the playbook of her parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents who had run successful businesses of their own during their time.
Her great grandfather made a name for himself during his days as a bus owner and operator. He sort of got himself into local folklore as the first black man in his village to claim ownership of his own buses. The sage was an astute businessman who amassed a fortune for himself, having managed to grow his business from just one bus to a whole fleet – all without any form of formal education.
It’s a similar story for Laurettah’s parents as both her father and mother seemingly took a cue from the “old man” by not only being spouses but also becoming partners who run a successful media and advertising company. Add all that together and you’ll probably see where she gets it from.
Laurettah Sibanda completed high school at a Christian school in Zimbabwe which was then called Petra High School (now called Petra College), from where she obtained her A’ levels in 2007. For her, making a foray into the business world after obtaining a Law degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal back in 2013 was something of a no-brainer. Of course, she would have considered herself a chip off the old block being the spawn of perennial businessmen and women but no degree of entrepreneurial ancestry would have prepared her for the storm that was to come.
Sure enough, she made the decision to start a business of her own while she was still working as a Candidate Attorney – a decision that was buoyed by a need to supplement her income source – but the rude awakening soon came when she struggled with her initial ventures.
For her first move, she took to the mining industry of her homeland, Zimbabwe. And that move came at a time when many mining companies in the country were having a torrid time due to lack of funds and consequently shutting down operations.
She launched her first company, Blackburn Mining, about the same period and even though it seemed quite a daunting task, she was determined to raise enough capital to acquire and operate a gold-mining property in Zimbabwe.
But in the end, it didn’t quite pan out as she would have hoped.
She did score some points with Blackburn Mining initially, though, as she was able to put together a functioning team of qualified and dedicated mining professionals. With the help of the team, she whipped up a kickass proposal that is believed to have wowed and wooed an executive of a US-based private equity company.
Before long, she was jetting off to the States for a meeting with the potential investors with hope, determination, and her tantalizing proposal as the only weapons in her arsenal. But any hope of securing the funds was dealt a coup de grace when the best deal on the table stipulated that at least 50 percent of the funds be provided by her company.
For an individual who was basically an undergraduate just a few months back, that was always going to be quite a reach. The paucity of funds essentially put paid to her dreams of building a mining business.
She did have her second coming a few years later when she delved into media and advertising – a move that can be thought to have been inspired by the business of her folks. With the little she had saved up while working in the private sector, she went about setting up her own media company that would publish an industrial magazine.
In between registering the company, setting up a website, and recruiting personnel, Laurettah had eroded the bulk of her funds and was now staring down the barrel. It was becoming a familiar territory for her as once again, she was going to hang out to dry – deja vu of the terrible kind if you ask me. Her ‘second coming’ was not to be the epiphany.
Like many before her, the business couldn’t thrive because she ran out of funds and was unable to raise capital to keep the company afloat. “Despite all the advice that is constantly posted on the internet on how to raise funds for business ventures, the truth is that raising funds is very difficult, especially in Africa,” she told WeeTracker. This second fiasco in as many attempts did take its toll on her as she found herself on the verge of giving up on running a business of her own altogether.
It wasn’t until 2016 before her fortunes began to do a one-eighty. This time around, it was a cousin of hers whose words provided the spark that set things in motion. About that period, the construction industry in Botswana was proving a real cash cow and the said cousin was one of the few persons milking it for every penny it was worth. Though, Laurettah was born in Zimbabwe, she was actually raised in Botswana as she had been living there ever since she was just a child.
Although Laurettah’s cousin had no claim to a formally-registered construction company in Botswana, he was still doing quite well for himself since he could call upon a group of men to get jobs done. Having picked the brain of her cousin on a few more occasions, an idea struck Laurettah – one that is beginning to prove itself the gold mine.
Partly due to her background in Law, Laurettah Sibanda offered to act as an agent for her cousin’s informal construction outfit. For a share of the proceeds and provided it would be her prerogative to handle pre- and post-construction cleaning services, she was going to leverage the networks she had built during her two unsuccessful spells in business to secure contracts from friends, clients, and colleagues. The offer must have sounded like music to ears of her cousin as the duo got down to business right away.
Within a few months of working with her cousin and running her part-time construction cleaning outfit, Laurettah had learnt the ropes of the construction business and was spoiling for another stab at founding and running a company – this time, a construction firm.
Once bitten, twice shy, huh? How come no one ever said anything about twice bitten? Perhaps four-times the shy? Well, that pretty much sums up how meticulous Laurettah was going to approach things in what was to be the third time of asking.
After the failure of my media company, I took a break from entrepreneurship and went back to full-time employment.
The failure of my first company served as a valuable lesson as it gave me so much insight on how I could improve in my next business venture.
The time, she knew better than to dive in, guns blazing, in a blind-sided kamikaze move. Having suffered failures with both her previous ventures, she was determined to go about things differently this time. And so she bade her time and plotted her entry.
It was sort of ominous that Laurettah had yet again decided to run a business that required a lot of funds when both her previous endeavours had basically hit the rocks due to lack of it. She feared doing a Titanic for the third time running but now armed with determination and some outside-the-box thinking, she summoned the courage to go at it again. And true to the saying, the third does look the charm.
I had realised that I tried to grow the media company too fast and in a short time to the point where I was depleting my resources on things that were not necessary at the time.
When I started Atlantis Construction Group and Developments my main goal was to learn as much as I could about the construction industry and to take my time in building the company. I started the company as a small construction cleaning and labour brokering agency and kept it sizeable so that I could grow the company from my salary and not have to depend on outside funding.
In setting up shop in the construction business, Laurettah realized early enough that keeping her expenses low was vital to the survival of the business, especially during those initial stages. She subsequently acted on that thought by recruiting employees who work on a project-to-project basis in lieu of hiring full-time employees.
More so, she encouraged the workers to bring the tools and equipment they possessed to job sites in an effort to cut down on costs associated with equipment purchase or hire.
I also employed part-time staff that was paid on a project-to-project basis. What a lot of people do not know about this company is that I started it at home, and for the first two years, my bedroom served as my office after my normal working hours. The small profits that I made from the business, I put back into the company so we could have cash reserves for future operational costs. After a few months of referring clients to my cousin, who is a skilled builder, I decided to venture into building and construction and recruited him and his team to complete projects for my clients under Atlantis Construction. After the decision to venture into actual building and construction, I had to come up with new strategies to keep my operational costs low and these still included employing a small full-time staff compliment, encouraging our builders to bring their own tools to supplement those owned by the company, and using shared office spaces.
Just a couple of years down the line and that basic move is already beginning to seem like the ultimate masterstroke. After two years of operations as a general contractor, she cranked things up a notch by formally registering the company. Within that same time frame, the company had made a significant profit and this fuelled subsequent expansion.
Atlantis Construction Group & Developments currently boasts operations in a number of African countries including Botswana and South Africa. The company claims to have also set the ball rolling on completing the formalization of its operations in Zambia and Zimbabwe in the near-to-medium term. Laurettah’s establishment also currently lays claim to 8 permanent members of staff with as many as 60 more employees working with the company on a project-to-project basis.
“I have had people refuse to assist with contacts of potential investors and as discouraging as it was, I have told myself that I will build this company into a multi-national construction and property development company with or without outside funding. My entrepreneurial journey has taught me to celebrate every small achievement and milestone I make and to think outside the box. Staying small does help when you are still starting off and growing your business idea, the bubbly entrepreneur enthused.
Having shaken off her initial woes, it sure looks like Laurettah Sibanda is now reaping the rewards of her gritty resolve despite the overwhelming urge to quit and walk away at different points in time.
Hers is a lesson to learn from past mistakes and rise up from the ashes like the Phoenix after every fall. As discouraging and debilitating as failure may seem, no venture is really a lost course until attempts are cut off. For entrepreneurs like Laurettah, the idea is to see failures as teachable moments and not knockout punches.
For aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to pull off a similar feat from diifficult positions, Laurettah advices that they learn about the industry first.
“Get your foot in the door by starting a small business that will allow you to interact with others in the industry so that you learn how the industry works,” she remarked.
“Through your interaction, you will learn from their mistakes and come up with strategies for avoiding similar pitfalls in addition to building relationships with people who might be of assistance in the future. Most importantly, never give up your day job. Most businesses do not make a profit over night so you will need a regular pay check to fund the business once in a while,” the fast-rising Atlantis Construction boss added.
As shelter is undoubtedly one of the most important basic necessities, the future does hold promise for Laurettah Sibanda’s venture as it is quite easy to envision endless possibilities for growth and success.
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Featured Image Courtesy: Laurettah Sibanda via LinkedIn