Winning Women – Molebatsi Ndleve: An electric powerhouse

2014-09-02 08:00

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Tall, slim and elegant, Molebatsi Ndleve could have stepped off a fashion show catwalk.

Instead, she’s telling me about the intricacies of making secure electricity metering kiosks over a cup of coffee at Nelson Mandela Square.

She and her business partner husband, Jabu Ndleve, also fabricate steel structures and bird diverters for the power-line industry at their large Edenvale factory on the East Rand, Lulatec.

An indication of the size of their business is the capital investment in it – R16?million in 2014 alone. This includes laser cutters, a milling centre and press brakes machines recently imported from Germany.

All the fabrication is done in-house. “We now cut, bend and weld all our work internally, outsourcing only powder-coating and galvanising. It gives us production control and also makes good financial sense.”

All Lulatec’s funding has come from savings because no banks were prepared to give them loans. The company’s secure metering kiosks are in demand as the problem of thieves stealing electricity is a headache for municipalities and utilities like Eskom.

“Not only are most existing kiosks easily vandalised and opened by thieves, but children and adults are sometimes electrocuted in the process. Our secure metering kiosks assist utilities to control, monitor, access and enhance their revenue collection.”

Lulatec’s kiosks can be up to 6mm thick.

“They can still be vandalised, but it’s more difficult.” In addition, the units now have heat and vibration sensors, as well as three-phase power monitoring.

They can be controlled remotely and, if tampering is detected, security can be dispatched immediately.

One of the kiosks’ biggest advantages is that utilities like Eskom, which need to access the meter boxes, can do so by tapping a code into a cellphone or via an ISO card to open the doors.

The first company Ndleve worked for was Jen Construction in Louis Botha Avenue in Joburg. She joined in 1999 as a project manager for meter reading services, substations and electrification projects.

“I was a manager for infrastructure installation for City Power and Eskom projects, providing services that included the management of cable laying and commissioning,” says Ndleve.

She has certainly travelled far since growing up in the pretty village of Gopane in Lehurutshe, which lies at the foot of the hills surrounding the nearby northwest town of Zeerust.

She was one of four children of schoolteacher parents. “My mother grew tomatoes and spinach in her huge yard, and when I got home at the end of a school day, there would be a long queue outside our door.

“When people saw me in the village they would say: ‘You’re the tomato girl.’ Sometimes it made me grumpy, but mostly I liked it and, of course, it helped my family.”

Ndleve did her BA Education at the University of the North, which pleased her parents “because they stressed education all the time”.

But she wasn’t keen on teaching and joined Jen Construction on the administrative side initially. She became electrical engineer Jabu Ndleve’s business partner and later they married. They now have two children.

“Back then, Jen Construction was stringing and cabling power lines throughout South Africa. We noted there was a gap in the fabrication of pylon structures and that’s when we formed Lulatec in 2001.”

Ndleve believes husband-and-wife teams can work well. “We share our skills. His lie on the technical and entrepreneurial side, and mine are in marketing, planning and business management. The good thing for us is we share the same vision as business partners.”

The downside is putting all their financial eggs in one basket. “But we keep our eyes glued to our business. It’s all about focus.”

They are careful, though, not to take business home and they don’t work there either. “We make sure we have a break,” she says.

She envisages Lulatec developing a national footprint in time and within five years moving into Southern African Development Community countries.

The company manufactures 400 kiosks and up to 300?tons of structural steel a month, and while there are other manufacturers, “our uniqueness gives us the competitive edge”, says Ndleve.

She recently completed the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) Goldman Sachs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme and says “it was life-changing”. “I’ve had no formal business education and it taught me how to run a business in terms of finance, marketing, negotiating, HR and operations. I need to market our company and I emerged from Gibs with the confidence and expertise I need for that.” Catch CNBC Africa’s Women on Wealth on DStv channel 410 on Wednesday, September 3, at 9.15pm to see Shanduka’s Phuti Mahanyele discuss the challenges facing young female entrepreneurs #WOW410 #WinningWomen Little pink book

»Business Tip

You need to know everything you can about finances, ranging from overheads to taxes.


My husband, Jabu Ndleve. He’s a great teacher because he is patient and resilient.

» Best book

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. He teaches you to follow your dreams, irrespective of the challenges.


My mother. While she was teaching, she also grew vegetables to sell. I admire all women like her.

»Wow! moment

Demonstrating our engineering solutions and products to potential customers, and seeing their faces light up.

»Personal advice

Be passionate. It breeds the resilience necessary to work really hard in your own business.

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