Bulletproof against stereotypes

2013-03-17 10:00

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Every cliché in the book about women working in a man’s world has been tossed at Nothando “Thando” Baloyi but her unflinching gaze and firm manner soon dispel any notion that she is anything but deadly serious about her business.

We meet at her offices in the commercial sector of Kew, a Joburg suburb not far from upmarket Sandton City.

Outside it, her white vans with their distinctive Lady T (for Thando) logo in feminine type set the scene.

That logo is a measure of her determination to run a business on her terms that ensures, far from hiding her gender from prospective, mostly male clients, she puts it out there big time.

The most high-profile of these is the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Baloyi’s appointment in September 2009 to guard the union’s senior officials came in the aftermath of an attack on NUM’s deputy president, Piet Matosa, at Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg mine.

After a meeting between the union’s leadership and workers, Matosa was so badly assaulted that he lost an eye.

Baloyi stepped into this tricky situation, guarding Matosa in hospital, and then extending her protection services at the union’s request.

Since then, South Africa has experienced the Marikana massacre, and the growing animosity between trade unions NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Baloyi says: “I am confident about my business because we have taken NUM through some of its most difficult times and so far nobody under our protection has been attacked or murdered.”

Her other clients include the Johannesburg Housing Company, Seolo Trading, LKB Homes, South African Breweries’ Alrode premises and the Zonkizizwe Athletics Club.

Baloyi has landed in the security industry through a circuitous route that’s taken her from a Pimville, Soweto, childhood, “with extremely strict parents who were teachers”, to a marketing and management diploma from the Institute of Marketing Management.

While studying there, she worked at night for Standard Bank’s internet banking division, “to earn money for the beautiful things, like clothes, that I’ve always loved”, she says in her musical voice.

Her nails are perfectly manicured and her dress has soft, feminine folds.

She did so well at the bank that on completion of her studies, she became a full-time employee there.

In 2000, she joined Discovery Health as a corporate accounts manager and three years later, moved on to the position of marketing manager at NSA Security Services, whose clients then included the SABC, Eskom and Telkom.

For the next six years, she learnt everything she could about the security industry, even becoming NSA’s operations manager before taking over the position of marketing director.

Baloyi says: “I managed their operations for a while because I had attended client meetings in an effort to understand why some things were not working as they should. Once that was sorted out, I felt better equipped to market the company.”

Her hands-on, dynamic approach to problem-solving and the unexpected spin-off in gaining insight into the whole security industry gave her “a great sense of oomph, excitement and achievement”.

During this time, the energetic Baloyi continued to study doing the Management Advancement Programme at the Wits Business School and then a labour law diploma at then Global Business Solutions.

In 2009, armed with her substantial studies and experience, Baloyi decided to open her own protection services company.

“I applied for firearm licences, bought vehicles and slowly hired staff, and within six months, I was ready to go,” says Baloyi, who had in the meantime already started working for NUM both in Gauteng and North West.

She regards this particular client in her portfolio as “one of the toughest security jobs in South Africa because we are rendering VIP protection and physical security services”.

The mine workers’ rampages have been well documented both locally and internationally.

No wonder her anxious father, David Twala, urged Baloyi to find work in another field, yet her mother, Edith, “has been very supportive”.

Her mother’s encouragement helped the young woman to continue with setting up Lady T, even though she was going through a divorce at the time.

She says: “I married too young but I’ve learnt from the experience and you could even say that my divorce freed me because I had nothing to lose. I forged ahead.”

Her future plans include buying an office as opposed to renting one, but she “will wait a while as it’s important to have as little debt as possible”.

Recently, Baloyi, who has, it seems, bought into the thinking that we will need to study for the rest of our lives, completed the Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme For Women Entrepreneurs.

“It has enabled me to double my turnover within a short period of time,” she says.

She realises the importance of creating a balance in her stressful job and runs regularly with a group of fellow athletes at the Zonkizizwe Athletic Club as well as playing golf, although she’s “only on the course a few times a month”.

She believes it is a blessing that she’s achieved what she has and gives back by supporting a nursery school, Dimphonyana Tsa Lapeng, in Centurion.

Her determination, her attention to detail and responsible outlook on life will undoubtedly help her company grow into the prosperous future she envisions for it.

» If you’re a female entrepreneur who needs a springboard to more success, sign up for the fully sponsored Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10 000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. To apply, visit www.gibs.co.za/10000women

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