Winning Women: Moira Tlhagale – A business built on opportunity

2013-07-21 14:00

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Moira Tlhagale realised nine years ago that there were investment opportunities in the construction sector. She established her own consulting firm and surged ahead, writes Sue Grant-Marshall.

As leader of the technical team of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), the slim shoulders of quantity surveyor Moira Tlhagale bore one of the heaviest construction burdens during the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Five consulting firms made up the technical team, which was the central liaison between Fifa, the LOC and the three tiers of government.

When the LOC appointed Tlhagale in 2005 to head one of the biggest construction projects that South Africa had undertaken, some described it as “an act of recklessness, or an inspired choice”.

And when it came to the regular feedback time to the LOC board, it was the diminutive Tlhagale, then aged 34, who rose to her feet.

Tlhagale was one of the youngest professionals in the World Cup history to handle such responsibility.

There were many who doubted “the ability of a black woman in the white male-dominated construction industry to deliver”, says Tlhagale, who is owner of TMTJ Consulting Gauteng (Pty) Limited.

“But at the last report-back meeting of our consortium, the board gave us a standing ovation. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”

However, the five years of grinding stress from 2005 to the 2010 World Cup took its toll and Tlhagale suffered from a serious pulmonary embolism that threatened her health for months.

Today, she is once again the strong-minded, determined person who could have remained in her comfort zone as a quantity surveyor for a Cape Town-based company a decade ago, but chose to go it alone.

In 2004 she and a colleague, who also comes from the historic town of Mahikeng in North West, established TMTJ Investment Holdings, which was based in Cape Town.

They started with nothing but their wits and Tlhagale’s house as security.

Says Tlhagale: “We stripped down (the house) and painted doors, then used them as desks and got hold of second-hand computers. A friend let us share his office space, rent-free, for six months, but at the end of it we still did not have a project of our own to work on.”

Two months later, the two were up and running but were experiencing cash flow problems.

“My grandfather came through for us with a R100?000 loan – his pension savings. Furthermore, he refused to be reimbursed,” she says.

At one stage, Tlhagale consoled herself with the thought that if the business did not work out, she could always go back, with her little boy, to her single mother, a teacher in Mahikeng. “At least we would have a roof over our heads.”

That point never came.

“But I was a quantity surveyor, not a businesswoman, so I bought every book on the subject that I could afford. I read in one of them that most small businesses fold because of cash flow problems,” she says.

“So when our clients didn’t pay us on time, I simply quoted the book to them.”

Since her graduation from the University of Cape Town with a BSc Honours in Quantity Surveying, Tlhagale has worked on various projects ranging from the Cape Town International Airport’s departures terminal to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

In 2006, she established TMTJ Consulting Gauteng, where she acts as owner and managing director.

The company focuses on construction project management and property development facilitation.

After her 2010 World Cup construction contract ended, Tlhagale’s company became involved in various projects in both the public and private sector.

TMTJ Consulting’s programme manages the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative that is building 49 schools in the Eastern Cape.

At the moment, she is playing a development facilitation role in the building of houses in Rustenburg, North West, for two mining companies.

“I’m focusing on the mining world because there has always been an issue around the minimum acceptable living standard for mine workers,” she says.

“I am therefore consulting in order to ensure compliance with the development of housing in terms of the law.”

In the process, Tlhagale has returned to what has always been her passion – that of property development facilitation.

In this, she brings together all the role players in a development and starts virtually from scratch.

It is not what quantity surveying is essentially about, “for we are the accountants of the building industry. Basically, we manage costs. It’s boring.”

Yet, it has been the springboard for Tlhagale’s construction project management consulting company.

Ironically, it was the much-maligned former Bantustan government of Bophuthatswana that urged schoolchildren to go the technical and engineering career route.

It backed its words with action by providing bursaries to empower them.

Tlhagale did then what she has done since – recognised opportunity and leapt at it.

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