Winning Women: Lynette Magasa – A vision for solutions

2014-01-20 08:00

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Lynette Magasa sold fish and chips at her grandmother’s shop during her school holidays. Today she heads her own firm, which operates in SA and the rest of the continent, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to be an “open-book” personality who does not try to hide her failures and challenges.

It takes even more courage to run a company, with an annual turnover of many millions, along the same lines.

Yet that is what Lynette Magasa, the founder and CEO of Boniswa Corporate Solutions, does. Every staffer, from the cleaners to the engineers, may ask to see the company’s books.

Magasa says: “It makes me sleep better at night because everyone knows how much money is coming in and whether or not we can afford increases or new vehicles. It becomes a collective responsibility and not a top-down one.”

The company she started in 2004 provides services for major organisations in the telecommunications field, such as Vodacom. “We have a strategic partner, Poynting Antenna, which is on the AltX stock exchange,” explains Magasa.

The most recent project Boniswa (siSwati for “vision”) has worked on is the lamppost project, where an innovative, subterranean enclosure is used to house the radio equipment necessary for cellular masts.

You hardly see the base station because it is housed underground. Magasa takes me downstairs from her elegant, light-filled office in Midrand to the factory floor below to show me how, with the flick of a button, the base station rises out of its container.

The antenna for it is positioned above a street lamppost’s light fitting and yet you hardly notice it because the diameter of the pole and the antenna are so similar.

Flick?...?and the base station disappears at Magasa’s command. Part of its beauty lies in it coming equipped with all the necessary batteries, power supplies, alarms and cooling systems.

Conversely, a small cell base station, not much bigger than a large hand, can be installed on a wall and digital content is uploaded remotely.

In spite of all this technical prowess being an integral part of her life for the past nine years, Magasa didn’t leave school intent on becoming an engineer or an IT whiz kid.

She started her career at state-owned defence technology conglomerate Denel as a receptionist while she studied human resources. She was soon was promoted to a human resources administrator’s post.

Three years later, she moved to Sambou Bank, where she was responsible for creating financial packages for corporate clients.

Behind her drive to succeed was her determination to study, which she has done with hardly a break for nearly all her working life.

She has a national diploma in logistics, a BTech in IT and is currently working for her master’s in IT.

“The turning point in my life came when I began doing work for Vodacom through Siemens. I’d found my passion in this industry and began going to sites myself, doing radio frequency upgrading.”

Her mentor was Joe Dlamini, a management executive at Vodacom.

She registered Boniswa Corporate Solu-tions and began working in and around Gauteng before moving into Swaziland, thereafter expanding into Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Zambia, Mozam-bique and Botswana.

In the process, hers became the first female-owned company to be awarded a project-management contract for MTN South Africa.

Today, Boniswa’s annual turnover is about R35?million and it employs 70 people, ranging from engineers and technicians to administrative staff and cleaners.

Her inclusive approach means she never talks about “my company”. It is always “our company”.

So it’s unsurprising that 80% of her original staff are still with her, quite a record in the restless staff-turnover world of today.

Magasa – tiny and elegant in really high heels and a smart suit – has had a tough year, “learning the hard way” that she needed to have had a business risk department, as well as corporate lawyers to fight for her.

She mentions this because she lost a big MTN contract, yet in her courageous way, she philosophically ascribes it to lessons learnt.

“I’ve turned down lucrative tenders because I realise they are too big and I can’t finance them,” she says.

She also talks about the problems involved in BEE compliance. “The more successful you become, the more difficult it is to comply with all the BEE levels. “This is due to certain companies compelling you to use their approved contractors.” This coming from the head of a female-owned, mainly black-staffed company.

Magasa was a finalist in the 2013 Topco Top Women Awards and the winner of the BBQ 2013 Trade and Investment KZN New and Innovative Business award.

That’s some tribute for this mother of three, whose own mother, a Swazi housewife, ploughed her own lands.

Her father was a miner in South Africa. “I got my entrepreneurial drive from my grandmother, who ran an Mbabane fish-and-chip shop as well as renting out residential properties that she owned.

“I helped her during my school holidays.” Magasa relaxes by studying. “I zone out in the library. It’s another world,” she says.

So it is no wonder she intends doing a PhD. “But I do take the occasional holiday,” she says.

“Maybe I’ll take my children skiing this Christmas.”

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