VENTURES: Finding The Path To Entrepreneurial Success
Recent Western Cape Business News
LEON Jantjes is proof that a person’s life can turn around in an instant. Four years ago Jantjes wasn’t sure what the future had in store for him, (he was “stuck in a rut”). After years of trying to find his place in the world, with a string of jobs and a few failed businesses behind him, he was not sure where he was heading. Now he is the co-director of a flourishing company called Medifoam, which manufacturers the foam used for medical equipment like wheelchairs.
How did he get there? His life, he says, was changed in a single afternoon after a routine visit to his neighbourhood petrol station.
Perhaps it was luck or perhaps it has always been his destiny, but that afternoon while fuelling up at a garage in Bonteheuwel, he saw an advertisement in a local paper. It was from the IoD (Institute of Directors) Educational Trust, now known as the MDT (Management Development Trust), offering previously disadvantaged adults scholarships to attend the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB).
Throughout his childhood Jantjes had envisioned himself owning a business some day, but because of financial constraints he had not been able to realise his dream. The MDT advertisement re-awakened his ambitions. He was excited by the prospect of attending a business school where he could get the skills he lacked. Although he never dreamed he would get the scholarship, he took the chance and applied.
“I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be considered for the scholarship. When I received the news that I had got it I was ecstatic. The Trust and the UCT GSB gave me the opportunity to truly be the person I have always wanted to be,” says Jantjes.
Jantjes started at the GSB in 2006 and enrolled in the AIM (Associate in Management) programme, which is an entry-level general management programme that empowers students to realise their full potential and progress in their chosen careers. “The AIM programme was perfect for me because it does not require you to have a previous degree,” says Jantjes.
In 2007, again with the help of the Trust, he also pursued and graduated with his PDBA (Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration) also at the GSB.
Jantjes looks back at his time at the GSB with great pride and boasts that his training gave him the confidence and the business acumen to venture into business. He also credits the success of his new business to the GSB, saying that the courses he did has given him the strategic business sense to analyse the markets properly and go out there with the right knowledge to secure big business. Almost as proof of this, his company has recently received one of its biggest tenders yet to supply government medical institutions with wheelchairs, seating systems, positioners and commodes.
“This is our most successful tender yet, I see great things for the future of this business,” says Jantjes.
But Jantjes remains humble and recognises that it is only through past actions that we can determine our future successes. He believes that everything he went through as a child and as a young man growing up in the rough areas of Bonteheuwel and trying to find his place in the world is what eventually led him to this juncture.
“I attended Bridgetown High, not exactly a school where geniuses are born,” jokes Jantjes.
After he matriculated, Jantjes wanted to study, but his parents could not afford to send him to university so instead he started working. He went through a string of jobs from the age of 18 and into his thirties, including working as a jewellery maker, where he received some training, and working at various retail department stores.
In his thirties the entrepreneurial bug bit and Jantjes set out to find a way to make his mark in the world.
“In my heart I knew that I was not doing what I was meant to be doing – just going through life passively,” he says. With the help of his mentor, Andy Young, whom he had met through his church, Jantjes started to find his own way.
Young helped Jantjes to develop character, instill good values and discover his talent for entrepreneurship. He went on to try his hand at several businesses including a supply business, supplying products to township spaza shops, and a consultancy business, which he went into with a friend in the import-export industry.
Although these businesses were not successful, Jantjes looks back at the experience with little regret. “Those experiences made me take note of what was lacking and what I still needed to learn in order to get a successful business off the ground,” he says.
He adds that it was then that he realised that he needed the formal training. He lists finance (costing and budgets) marketing and strategy as just a few of the skills that he acquired at the GSB that have helped in his current business.
Jantjes also says of both the AIM and PDBA courses that what he learnt was how to be open-minded, to work with people, have self-awareness, have the ability to analyse and ask the right questions and most importantly to lead with confidence.
The business today has nine staff members and Jantjes is happy to see it grow, but not too much so as to compromise the value that comes with a small business in this type of environment.
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