Winning Women – Dr Nondumiso Mzizana: Bandages and CT scans

2013-09-23 08:00

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Dr Nondumiso Mzizana, one of the country’s first black female dentistry graduates, now sells medical, dental and pharmaceutical supplies to hospitals and universities across SA and in several African countries. Sue Grant-Marshall spoke to?SA’s queen of?...

Dr Nondumiso Mzizana’s busy Menlo Park office in Pretoria sits at the heart of a network that spreads its medical, dental and pharmaceutical supply tentacles throughout South Africa and widely up north into the rest of the continent.

This one-time dentist, with an MSc degree in orthodontics from the University of Pretoria, walks briskly into her hi-tech boardroom.

She exudes the ferocious energy and single-minded determination that has seen her establish and then grow her company, Sikelela Medical and Dental Suppliers, to where it is today.

Most women might be content with a busy dental practice and a happy marriage with three sons.

But that was not an option for Mzizana, who decided to become a dentist the year she left her high school in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, in 1990 at a time when black female dentists were extremely rare.

“It was challenging. Everyone else was doing medicine and I wanted to do something that I regarded as being both scientific and artistic,” says Mzizana in her passionate, firm manner.

It was during her sixth year as a dental student at what is now the University of Limpopo’s Medunsa Campus, while doing community work, that she found herself “mainly extracting teeth”.

She says: “A lack of equipment, particularly dental materials, left me with little option to do anything else.”

It was a light bulb moment, which she mentally allocated to her “future file”.

After graduating from Medunsa, she lectured there for five years. During this time, she also opened two dental practices in Atteridgeville near Pretoria.

“But I never forgot about those dental materials and, in 2002, I decided to open my own medical-supplies business.”

This she did in Sunnyside, in the heart of Pretoria, so she could be near government departments, which she had targeted as her biggest potential client.

“I had two sales reps who operated from an office where I also had my practice. We sold like mad,” she exclaims.

It wasn’t long before she had to move to her present, easily accessible offices in a house on Pretoria’s busy Brooklyn Road and she increased her staff to the 25 she has today.

She has another office in Pietermaritzburg, because, according to her, “it is the base of the KwaZulu-Natal health department”.

In 2004, multinational companies needed BEE partners to win state tenders in South Africa.

“One of them was Philips Healthcare, which needed an efficient BEE partner and noticed my hard-working, professional sales team,” says Mzizana.

Sikelela became the Netherlands-based healthcare technology company’s sole distributor to government of its medical and dental equipment.

Today, Mzizana distributes, among other things, patient-monitoring equipment, X-ray and ultrasound machines, sutures, skin staplers, defibrillators, and cardiology devices that treat heart defects.

In the 11 years Sikelela has been in operation, it has been contracted to equip several hospitals and universities across South Africa and now has a growing presence in the rest of Africa.

Now Mzizana is focusing her efforts on establishing a foothold in the highly competitive pharmaceuticals industry.

It’s no surprise that she’s finding it a formidable challenge. Reams of media space, books and movies have been made about this cut-throat industry.

“Healthcare is dominated by huge international companies that have made it almost impossible to break into,” she says, adding that the Pharmaceutical Society of SA “is unsupportive of small businesses”.

She explodes about the fortune it costs to register just one medicine.

“It can take up to five years to do so,” she says.

Her initial plan is to import medicines from Europe, the US and India. Down the track, she wants to create her own manufacturing plant in SA.

Mzizana has been training engineers for several years, as well as continually upgrading the skills of her staff members.

She explains that hers is “the only black female-owned company in the medical-supplies business with engineers in a fully fledged technical department”.

Today, Sikelela supplies its own products to countries including Nigeria, Togo, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.

Mzizana’s future has “pharmaceuticals” stamped all over it. Her early battles to supply hospitals, private as well as government, with medical and dental equipment have honed her for the new hurdles she faces.

“I want to be a billionaire,” she declares. “Many men are – so why not women? And why am I usually the only woman in a boardroom!”

she exclaims.

Feisty talk from the one-time Mthatha schoolgirl, who had the best of both worlds in her parents. Her mother was an entrepreneur who sold perfumes and her father was an economics lecturer.

Mzizana followed in both their footsteps when she sold oranges and sweets to her classmates at school, then hired some of them in to increase sales, because she wanted her “own pocket money”.

Mzizana’s energy also helps others. She has founded Success Summit, a company that builds entrepreneurs through workshops and training sessions across the country.

People who know her will be surprised if the Businesswomen’s Association of SA’s 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year does not attain the billionaire status she seeks.

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