NONKU NTSHONA – “I’M DRIVEN BY THE DESIRE TO DIFFERENTIATE MYSELF”

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Nonku Ntshona started her career with Rousseau Probert Elliot Quantity Surveyors in Port Elizabeth. She then joined Bham Tayob Khan Matunda in Johannesburg, after which she joined Turner and Townsend as a Quantity Surveyor. Whilst at Turner and Townsend she worked her way to Associate Partner over a period of seven years to head up the retail and mixed use development sector within the cost management division. Her level of project experience includes infrastructure developments in the mining industry, roll out projects in the automotive sector, office developments, retail developments, housing developments, commercial mixed use developments and watching brief projects. Her international experience includes leading and managing office and mixed use development projects in the Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

In 2007, Nonku left Turner and Townsend to start Nonku Ntshona and Associates. She spoke to SAprofessionals.com in the winter of 2016.

How do you view your role as the founding CEO of this company?

I think being the founding CEO of a professional practice is different from any other company given that as a professional you need to be an all-rounder – to manage both the people and the clients. It is like wearing two hats – that of a professional quantity surveyor and a human resources manager. At the end of the day you need to ensure the vision and strategy is implemented while keeping the firm on target.

What do you want to achieve with your firm by the time you retire?

I think that is still quite far away. I think in terms of the next decade and we have a ten-year strategy in place which aims to make us a multi-disciplinary practice. We want to be visible in all areas in South Africa and to also be able to work anywhere in Africa. Actually by 2020, we aim to have 80% of our revenue coming from the rest of Africa.

Do you experience any additional challenges being a female professional from your male counterparts?

There is a huge difference when you are a black female professional. This is an all-boys club dominated by white males do business on the golf course. It is difficult to break into that circle. You constantly knock hoping they will open but everyone there knows each other. They remark that they are happy with their current service provider and ask us why they should change. I think the only way to change things is to have a critical mass of black business people then we can form our own club.

What would you say are have been the highs and lows of your working career?

I think the high has to be the courage to start my own business. I initially didn’t have faith in myself but I managed to push myself to this point where I have a firm that supports 15 families. I am particularly proud of having female quantity surveyors come through this firm supported by bursaries. Some have gone on and started their own firms. There haven’t been many lows other than knocking on doors for business and frequently not breaking through. It is tiring but we have to keep going.

What would you say is your management style?

In the nine years of running my own company I have encountered different people and have had to manage them differently. I believe I am an open person with an open door through which anyone can reach me. I have staff meetings every two weeks where I seek out their views and I also involve them in all our strategy meetings. But I do have a strong personality. I have my views which I believe in strongly and it takes a lot of convincing to change my mind. Sometimes people find this intimidating.

 

Do you take part in mentoring?

I get a lot of requests to mentor younger professionals. I ask them what they want to achieve and ask them to schedule time and to drive the process. I am of the view that the initiative must come from them. Unfortunately, the request for them to drive the mentorship often results in them pulling out. I do mentor the people who work for me; I share with them my personal stories. I like to get involved with younger quantity surveyors; I have given talks such as a recent one I delivered at Wits University.

What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night?

Cash flow keeps me awake at night. I constantly think about how to make ends meet at the end of the month. I am driven by the desire to take the company to the next level. I wonder about how to set myself apart from the many black owned quantity surveying firms out there. What makes them decide on us rather than the many who are coming up and playing in the same field? I feel that I shouldn’t be playing in the same field as many of these firms and therefore I am driven by the desire to differentiate myself.

What awards have you and your firm won?

Over the last four years we have won awards from the PMR surveys. I was the winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Oliver award. In 2013, I travelled to Peru to receive an award for the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge and I have also been honoured locally by the Women Property Network.

How has your firm faired in terms of business growth?

It has been up and down. This year it looks like we will not achieve our projections but that is only as a result of the state of the market and the economy. Our industry is unfortunately one of the first to take a knock when the economy is struggling. I think we have been lucky not to retrench although we don’t replace staff when they resign as part of cutting down on costs.

What has been your firm’s contribution to transformation?

We are a BEE Level 1 company which is black female owned. It is how we sell ourselves and it is reflected in the people that we recruit. We do have white male professionals but they are aware of their responsibility to train younger black professionals. We also promote black talent; we recently made one of our black QS’s an associate director in March this year. I am proud of the number of black professionals who have been registered as quantity surveyors, some of who have started their own firms. I am keen to also teach people to be entrepreneurs.

What has been your contribution to the quantity surveying profession?

I have served on the board of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors and I currently sit in the South African Council for Quantity Surveyors. I have also served within other associations in the property sector; I was a council member for the South African Property Owners Association up until June this year. Finally, I have been on the Executive Committee of the Women Property Network.

What is your company’s contribution to the community?

Last year we spent our 67 minutes serving at a home in Soweto. We don’t have a planned CSI programme simply because we are not that big a company. But on a personal level I contribute to churches as well as contributing my time in the aforementioned ways.

Are ethics and integrity important objectives in the way you do business?

You cannot be a quantity surveyor if you don’t have integrity. It is a challenge in the industry in general because at times you tender for a job and you are the lowest price, then the rules are changed for unexplained reasons. I personally have not had any ethical dilemmas. The only situation I can mention is when I was once approached to take part in a joint venture with another firm and it turned out that they just wanted to front our black credentials. I walked away from that situation.

How do you measure your customer service?

We are an ISO accredited company and as a result we are required to get feedback from our clients as to the quality of our work. We have a quality policy statement which says that we will exceed our client’s expectations. We have a pledge not to exceed the budget agreed by more than 10 percent. Whenever we ask our clients to score our service it is always within the range of 4 out of 5 and 5 out of 5.

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