The spacious glass-and-chrome head office of the Indigo Kulani Group in Bramley, Johannesburg, with its stunning interior design, is about as far as you can get from the crowded Soweto childhood of its founder, Sibongile Manganyi-Rath, who is one of 14 siblings.
She welcomes us clad in smart business attire – and takkies. The latter symbolises her attitude, for she is a determined entrepreneur who has run at life, suffused with energy and verve, leapfrogging obstacles that bring down others.
Interestingly, her goal is not to make money for money’s sake. “I make it to enable me to carry out my goals, for we are an infrastructure development company and our projects need funding,” she explains.
She points to a model of a mixed-use development they will soon be building in Limpopo. It has, among other things, houses, a shopping centre, a police station and crèches.
Indigo Kulani is looking at building schools in Vuwani, Limpopo, where so many were recently destroyed, “and we’re busy speaking to the department of education about this”.
The company’s aim is to integrate community needs and the challenges of government and developers into “successful, cost-effective, viable socioeconomic solutions”, says Manganyi-Rath.
The group has an impressive line-up of architects, engineers, urban designers, quantity surveyors and financial modelling experts in its service.
“We understood early on in our existence that government is the largest asset owner in the country and that it made sense to collaborate with it,” says Manganyi-Rath.
Just one of the areas she identified was the need for government departments to develop asset registers and property valuations so they know their worth, where their assets are and how they can be used.
“I’ve always wanted to go into environments where I can change the dynamics, break the mould. Change motivates me. I thrive on it,” she declares in her musical, well-modulated voice.
“Where people see difficulties, I have a burning desire to simplify whatever it is they find so difficult.”
She points out that a school should not take six years to build when a shopping centre only takes eight months.
Manganyi-Rath is the daughter of two extremely hard-working parents, neither of whom went to school.
“I was selling maize for my father when I was 12 years old. My mother, who looked after us kids, as well as our cousins, instilled my sense of philanthropy.”
She was 15 years old and top of her Meadowlands High School class when she decided she needed to attend a better school. She did some research and decided on a multiracial school in Bedfordview.
Unaccompanied, she caught a taxi and reported at the school, but the principal told her that his Grade 10 was full. Undaunted, she returned the following day assuming that “all black children looked the same to him and he wouldn’t recognise me”.
Clearly impressed by her determination, he told her she would have to repeat Grade 9 for admittance.
Thereafter, she rose in her family’s Soweto home at 4am, using three different modes of transport to get to class on time.
After that, it’s not surprising to learn that she held a job while simultaneously obtaining her National Diploma and bachelor’s degree from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Working for a pay cheque for top architectural companies in Cape Town and Johannesburg did not appeal to the plucky youngster’s sense of mission and ambition.
She soon went it alone and in 2006 she founded the Indigo Kulani group. Today it has 85 staffers working in all nine provinces. “In Africa, we have established relationships with consultancies that require our skills in Tanzania, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya.”
Now the restless businesswoman is looking at expand her company to Geneva. “I’ll take on the executive leader role and my business partner will become our CEO.”
She’s been accepted by the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, to do her MBA.
She’ll be taking her three-year-old daughter with her. “I decided from the start that I wasn’t going to delegate mothering to anybody. It’s the most important job in the world.”
Her passion for children and their education come together in the Indigo Kulani Educational Foundation, which she established in 2012.
“Its primary mission is to provide mentorship and encouragement to our country’s youth for their future careers,” says the woman who did the latter, almost single-handedly, by herself.
Little Black Book
BUSINESS TIP: Always stick to your core value system.
MENTOR: Richard Branson. The few hours it took me to read his book, Screw it, Let’s do It, changed my life.
BOOK: The Next 100 Years by futurist George Friedman.
INSPIRATION: Working mothers who juggle multiple roles.
WOW! MOMENT: Winning the 2012 BBQ Businesswoman of the Year award.
LIFE LESSON: I have not given the world around me the power to change what I feel and think.