It was inevitable that Cikizwa Nqolobe would one day run her own business. As a 10-year-old girl, she used to help her aunt push her vegetable stock in a trolley for two or three kilometers to her market stall in Gugulethu. Sometimes she manned the stall on her own for the whole day until her uncle came to fetch her in the late afternoon.
And she remembers pouring over the Sunday Times classifieds with her mom, a teacher and single parent, to look for bargain lots that they would sell from their tiny Gugulethu home, which she shared with siblings and cousins.
Today, that home would not even fill the lounge of Cikizwa’s home in Plattekloof from where she runs her Indima Recruitment agency. It is only a few kilometres away from Gugulethu in distance, but a whole world away in economic success.
That Cikizwa participated in her mother’s and aunt’s economic survival strategies was by no means unique. But what set her apart from so many other children growing up poor is that she actually enjoyed the hustle. She loved accompanying her aunt to the Epping market in the early hours of the morning to stock up even though she didn’t have to. And even today Cikizwa finds that she cannot resist the temptation to buy things in bulk to sell to her network of friends and acquaintances, even though it has nothing to do with her business or her livelihood.
It is this love of enterprise that drove Cikizwa to leave her comfortable corporate career – twice – to start her own recruitment agency and, among other successes, to become one of only 15 finalists at the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year® a competition run by Business Partners Limited and the only Western Cape finalist in the Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year.
Today Indima Recruitment manages more than 100 professionals on behalf of various corporates. Indima not only recruits the highly qualified project managers to take on short-term projects but also manages their payroll and HR compliance on behalf of corporate clients.
Before 2020, Cikizwa and her team of three, which includes her husband, also did a lot of headhunting of professionals for placement in conventional corporate jobs, but then Covid19 froze the job market. The result was that this year contract management forms about 90% of Indima’s business, with 10% made up of ordinary recruitment services.
Cikizwa landed in the HR and recruitment field by chance when she was paying her own way through the Peninsula Technikon. She was studying accounting because she happened to be good at it at school. Because she needed to supplement her student loan with travel and book money, she started looking for a job. She knocked on the door of a recruitment agency and made such an impression on them that they promptly appointed her as a recruiter. She found it was such a relief to move away from the columns and numbers of accounting that Cikizwa dropped her accounting and enrolled in HR studies.
Working with people is a natural fit for Cikizwa. Interestingly, she says she has never been good at sales despite all her trading experience as a child. But it was her talent for building and keeping relationships that proved to be crucial to the success of her business
From the start of her career, Cikizwa knew that she wanted to build her own business, and she spotted an under-serviced market in East London, she had family roots. As soon as she developed a good contact in Telkom who promised to make use of her recruitment services, she resigned from her job and moved to the Eastern Cape. “Luckily I didn’t burn any bridges,” says Cikizwa, because a few months later she was back at her old job. Her venture in East London simply did not work, and although the Telkom connection came through with some work, it was not enough to make it fly.
Cikizwa settled into a very successful corporate career which took her to the HR departments of BOE and Woolworths, where she ended up doing recruitment and training for the company’s franchisees.
The urge to start her own business never left her, and twelve years ago she finally made the leap. Once again, her network of relationships was crucial. A Cape Town-based corporate manager whom she knew mentioned in passing to her that he was looking for a financial manager, and she volunteered to do it for him in her spare time. It worked, and Cikizwa knew that it was time for her own venture.
As a single mom of two small children then, it was a scary move. She started off working from home – “in my pyjamas” – with her phone and laptop, tapping into her corporate network. Together with her work as a mother, it was a 24-hour job, but she enjoyed it, says Cikizwa. Soon she landed work from Sanlam, then Old Mutual, Investec, BOE and before long she had 15 contractors under management.
The fact that her manager at Woolworths was very supportive of her idea and encouraged her to start her business played a big role in her decision, but Cikizwa says she refrained from turning to her former colleagues for contracts out of professional courtesy. A year later, however, Woolworths approached her and is now one of her long-standing clients.
It’s been a tough year with the Covid19 pandemic, says Cikizwa, but not the toughest since she started twelve years ago. She is confident that the recruitment market will revive with the rest of the economy, and she still has her eyes firmly set on starting a second branch in East London.