Photos: 2015 EOY winners

Category winners

Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Kim Whitaker, Once in Cape Town

Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Bryan Anderson, Delta Steam Systems

Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®: Nadir Khamissa, The Hello Group

Job Creator of the Year: Lewis Thomas, Partners Hair Design

Innovator of the Year: Nadir Khamissa, The Hello Group

Judges Prize: Ncamisile Maphumulo, Coastal Nephrology Centre


Overall winner

Entrepreneur of the Year® 2015: Gil Oved and Ran Neu-Ner, The Creative Counsel

SA entrepreneur recognised for cutting edge approach to job creation in hairstyling industry

Lewis Thomas, owner and founder of Partners Hair Design, has been named the 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year’s Job Creator of the Year® at an awards ceremony held in Johannesburg this morning. Thomas was recognised due to the significant work he does in educating and empowering individuals within South Africa’s growing hairstyling community.

After establishing Partners Hair Design 31 years ago, Thomas established the Partners Hair Design Training Academy (PHDTA) with the aim to educate, empower and equip aspiring local hairstylists with the necessary tools to succeed in a very competitive industry. The academy is SETA accredited and provides solutions, aligned with the latest in global hair styling trends, to both the general public, as well as Partners Hair Design staff.

The training academy offers a full-time course over a 12-month period to learners, thereby enabling them to complete all three academic levels required for a full ladies hairdressing qualification in one year, and empowering them to enter the local job market far sooner than after the standard three year course.

Lewis has a very hands on approach and plays an integral role within the academy, as he believes that it plays a critical role in growing the business, as well as the hairstyling and beauty sector, as all students are instilled with global standard skills, professional values and work ethic. He explains that the training includes a fully-functional salon that accurately simulates a day’s work in a salon, empowering graduates with real-life skills and experience. “In the simulation they work with real-life hairstyling products from the larger beauty houses, and are trained in the use of the in-salon software that is commonly used by large players in the hairdressing industry.”

In addition to the role that Thomas plays in education, Partners Hair Design employs approximately 250 individuals nationally, who are exposed to continual on-the-job training and education, which extends to advice on savings and financial wellness, dress and even diet. He says that professional, intensive and personalised training and education is the most important factor which differentiates Partners Hair Design not only from other businesses in the industry, but often from businesses in general.

“Our staff are our most important asset, not only as they are the essence of our business, but because we care for them as individuals,” explains Thomas.

Feroze Oaten, a member of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® judging pane, says that Partners Hair Design epitomises what the Job Creator of the Year® award stands for. “Thomas and his team not only employ a significant number of employees throughout South Africa, addressing unemployment rates of the communities which the businesses serve, but also play a key role in continually uplifting and training their employees with world-class skills.”

Thomas believes that entrepreneurs should be celebrated and recognised due to the important role they play in society. “As with most global or multinational businesses which employ thousands of people it starts with just one person with an idea – the entrepreneur. This person focuses on the idea, overcomes the obstacles and ultimately reaps the rewards on his or her journey.”
For more information about Partners Hair Design visit

A stylish route to entrepreneurship

Lewis Thomas, Partners Hair Design, 2010 and 2011 Finalist

For Lewis Thomas, entrepreneurship is a trait he was born with. One of his first memories of wanting to run a business was at the tender age of 12, when he saw an opportunity to earn money by opening and closing a farm gate in Bath, England, for motorists on their way to play golf. Needless to say, it did not take long before he started selling golf balls to the motorists. “If you want to become an entrepreneur, just do it,” Lewis says.

Partners Hair Design comprises of 18 salons strategically positioned in up-market shopping malls in and around Cape Town. The head office and training school is based in Kenilworth, and the newest edition to the group of salons will be opening in 2012 also in Kenilworth but at a separate location – boasting a SETA accreditation. The salons offer the following services: shampoo, cut and blow-dry; colour and highlighting; extensive in-salon hair treatments; and a vast selection of professional retail products and styling tools for home care use. “The company was established in 1984 and, after much thought, I decided that the company was about many people working together, namely, staff, suppliers, customers etc and not just about one entity,” Lewis explains. “Hence the name Partners Hair Design.”

Back in the day

Having started out as a hairdresser when he was 15, Lewis gained as much experience as he possibly could. Fourteen years later, at the age of 29, he opened his first salon. “While I was learning the hairdressing trade, I often found myself feeling uncomfortable about the decisions made by my superiors, several of which I did not agree with,” he shares.

Lewis soon realised that while enjoying the stability of being employed, he should learn as much as possible from his bosses, even though they often made inaccurate decisions. “I would analyse their rationale and often came up with better solutions to the situation at hand. During those years, as a result of me challenging their decisions, I was often left feeling uncomfortable and was made to feel like ‘just a hairdresser’ – nobody important,” Lewis continues. “It was in this uncomfortable and less than ideal space that a seed was born. I knew that one day I would open my own salon, and I made a personal promise that I would never make myself or my staff feel as though they are not important.” According to Lewis, the company’s core differentiating factor can be attributed to its rock solid foundation of education and training, which has been part of their business methodology from the start. He praises his stylists, whom he refers to as “so skilled and of such a high caliber”. “Partners Hair Design only makes use of internally styled visuals that are displayed as branded images throughout our salons.”

Lewis has three children and when he is not busy styling people beautiful, he spends his time with the family, and incessantly attends classes at the ‘University of Life’. “I do not take part in organised sports,” he admits, “but I do spend some time running.”

Although Lewis holds a City and Guilds of London Institute qualification in ladies and gents hairdressing, his most significant achievement at school was achieving immigration papers for South Africa, which he affectionately calls home.