Simo-Sihle Mvinjelwa, the founder and chief executive of Esihle Solutions, learnt the importance of saving money from a young age.
So much so that it saved him from being a dispassionate lawyer and helped him start his own business.
City Press met up with the Centurion-based entrepreneur this week to chat about his journey from the Mother City to the City of Gold.
Raised in Khayelitsha, along with three siblings, by his grandmother who was very stern about getting a good education, Mvinjelwa’s life story is not a rags to riches tale, but rather stormy.
Though he lived with his grandmother, regular visits to his mother presented him with an opportunity to work for her and save from his early teens.
“When my mother was running her training and development company, I had to work for her in order to get pocket money and even that I saved.
“I would work for her on weekends and I even tried to get involved in the training but she kept me in admin and said there was no future for me there and she was adamant that I had to be a lawyer,” Mvinjelwa says, adding that it was the first time he was exposed to the field he is currently making a name for himself in.
It was also during this period that he worked as a waiter at restaurants and there too saved most of the money he earned.
He started his schooling at a boarding school in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape before matriculating from Simon’s Town High School in Cape Town. He then headed to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to study for a degree in law at the insistence of his parents.
“It was made very clear that I needed to be a lawyer. My parents believed strongly that, because I spoke too much and was involved in debate, I was set up for a career in law.
“This, and the fact that my mother had also studied a bit of law but didn’t complete her degree. My father and mother made it clear that it was law or nothing; they would only pay for law, there was no plan B,” he says, adding that he had told his mother he preferred industrial psychology to law. His grandmother was a child psychologist.
Though UWC was not the greatest experience for him, he knew a lot of people from high school and passed his first year.
“Even though I passed my first year, I took a decision that I was not going to continue and that did not go down well with my parents,” he says.
This was a turning point in his life and he left for the SA College of Applied Psychology (Sacap) in Cape Town and, had it not been for his significant savings, he would have seen flames as his future prospects.
“I had a lot of money saved up, so I went to enrol at Sacap for an industrial psychology training diploma while I was also working at Cresco Skills Development,” he says.
Asked where he learnt the culture of saving, he said, “When you grow up without your parents and grow up with your grandparents, there is always a budget for everything.
“Even when I was at boarding school, I always was disciplined financially. I knew if I wanted a new pair of jeans, I had to save for them,” he says.
After only six months at Cresco, he landed a job at a non-profit organisation, Kheth’Impilo Aids Free Living, where he stayed for a year before he joined accounting firm Mazars as the national learning and development coordinator.
“When I joined Mazars, I wanted to get that kind of experience and after a year I had got it so I left to come to Johannesburg as an independent consultant and got jobs from my network,” he said.
In the City of Gold, his clients were some of the biggest multinationals and he kept at it for two years before returning to Cape Town.
“When my grandmother passed away in 2012, I decided to go back to Cape Town and I managed to get a job at the Foschini Group as a training manager for the sport division in the Cape Town area,” he says.
After only a year at the clothing retailer, he was headhunted by Metropolitan Momentum Investment (MMI) Holdings back in Johannesburg.
“I have always left a company for two things only: either career progression or money. That is why I always knew I was going to start my own company,” he says.
After three years at MMI, he joined Imperial Holdings as the group transformation manager for the motor division and, after only a year, but armed with experience from a variety of sectors, he again jumped ship and started Esihle Solutions late last year.
His company provides training and solutions for corporates, including employment equity and black empowerment.
“When I started I had to spend a lot of money to set it up and luckily, because I had saved up, it didn’t paralyse me financially,” he said.
Mvinjelwa pointed out that one of the discoveries that shocked him when he got into business was that he needed to start charging friends for advice.
“When I was employed, I would do things for free; now I invoice. Selling our value offering has not been a problem at all because all companies are required by law to have what we offer,” he said.
He considers the biggest finance lesson that he has had to grapple with the reality of always having to pay himself last.
The company currently has an impressive client list, providing training for some of the biggest brands in the country.
With a short-term plan of expanding to Cape Town later in the year, this proud man, who enjoys entertaining and is a golf fanatic, hopes his company will grow beyond South Africa’s borders.