Growing African luxury

2012-11-06 11:18

Swaady Martin-Leke left her high-flying corporate job to create Africa’s first luxury tea brand.

What Swaady says:
‘Building a venture from scratch is not for the faint-hearted.’

What did you learn from General Electric?
I was involved in many different divisions of the company across the world, had exposure to great leaders as well as world-class leadership training with former CEO Jack Welch.

The top three skills I acquired are a relentless ability to execute, to solve problems, and energise and excite teams.

Why did you leave the corporate world?

I decided to shift to something that promotes our African resources, culture and identity.

I wanted to capture true African luxury, to change the world’s perception of Africa and produce a luxury brand that is truly African in origin, nature and tradition.

Also, I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to call all the shots.

After working on the concept for a year, I launched Yswara.

Why the luxury industry?
It conveys culture and identity.

It’s a country or continent’s image presented to the world. Africa is too often viewed as a place of low-quality goods and lack of refinement.

But we can do more than produce ‘crafts’ and ‘ethnic’ goods.

The luxury industry is also a great growth driver and export champion.

It generates activities in many sectors, including publishing, tourism, real estate, culture and education.

With the rising affluence levels and increase in disposable incomes, the African luxury market is set to grow at a fast pace.

International luxury brands have taken note of this trend and have a growing interest to capture this opportunity.

What makes a successful entrepreneur?
You need to be able to create a compelling vision, to define the roadmap to execution, and to bring together and relentlessly drive the energies and talents necessary for success.

Never take no for an answer and be solution-oriented, constantly.

How important is networking?
It’s probably the best return on investment of your time.

If you meet the right people, you can learn so much, create wonderful opportunities to collaborate, identify a pipeline of talents and build a support system of mentors and sponsors.

What sort of boss are you?

I give tough love. I ask a lot of my team, I make them work very hard and push them, but at the same time I’m always there for them.

I love to empower and grow people. I set them up for success.

3 statements I treasure
» My motto in life is: ‘Dream big and execute bigger!’
» The best piece of business advice I ever received was from ex-General Electric leader Art Harper: ‘Do what you are passionate about… this is the only way you will be successful.’
» In terms of starting my own business, a wise mentor told me: ‘Everything that is too easy is also easily  replicable.’


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