Ayesha Hamid Laher | AHL Water
When my kids were grown up enough, I went back to university and finished my BSc. My lecturers advised me to further my studies so I went on to complete my Honours and Master’s degrees in science. After I’d graduated, we moved to Pretoria and, after a couple of jobs in smaller companies, I went on to work in the water division of one of the largest consulting companies in the world. While there, I received a number of promotions and, for the last two years, headed up their water systems division in Gauteng.
At this stage, I realised that I was not a typical executive and didn’t enjoy the fact that I was no longer doing any technical work. When a colleague offered me a six-month project, I decided that it was time to hit out on my own.
Initially, it was only about making sure I could support myself and my children. I had no idea about business and where I was going; I was just trying to bring in enough money to pay the bills. There was no clear, long-term vision.
One of my clients, Murray & Roberts, then decided to put me forward for their supplier development programme. A representative from Raizcorp made a presentation to a group of potential entrepreneurs. He said that if we were just in business to make a quick buck, then the programme wasn’t for us. But, if we wanted to build sustainable businesses, then they wanted us on the programme. That really resonated with me. The selection process was a lot of work and I was quite intimidated when I had to make a presentation to a Raizcorp panel. When I was accepted and attended my first session of the programme, it hit me like a ton of bricks how little I actually knew about business. I realised that I was an absolute novice, like a child going into nursery school.
Initially, I thought the first session was a little fuzzy but, in reality, it has totally transformed the way I think about myself! I had never asked myself some of the questions we were asked, and have always been really hard on myself. Now, I know that it’s okay to fail and move on. That’s been really liberating. I no longer have to be scared to try something new because, even if I fail, I will have learned something. It’s been a journey of self-discovery and I can now say well done to myself and be proud of how far I’ve come. Also, hearing positive feedback from the other people in my group has been very validating. I’ve found that having them see positive qualities in me – like generosity and strength – has been life changing. Another thing I love about the programme is how we’re all in the same boat so we understand each other’s situations. I know I will always keep in contact with my fellow entrepreneurs and my guides.
Since being on the programme, I’ve realised that I need to set realistic targets but also to dream big. I know that my business has the potential to grow into a huge enterprise and is only limited by my ability to push myself. I need to think big, set targets, put strategies and processes into place, and hire a bookkeeper. My entire perspective on business has changed and I now want to leave a legacy. I want to be an influencer. Since interacting with my guides, I’ve realised that I want to effect change in water services in South Africa and be an advisor to the minister of Water and Sanitation – or even become the minister myself!
I’ve recently signed a large contract as part of a consortium. The person I’ve partnered with has been in business far longer than I have and has ensured that we’ll make a healthy profit. I’ve also secured a few smaller contracts with a large private hospital. In addition, as part of another consortium, we’re bidding for a huge contract with the Department of Water and Sanitation.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that you have to realise how little you know and to learn every day. Learn, learn, learn, and don’t be scared to fail. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Entrepreneurs tend to be their own worst critics and beat themselves up when things go wrong. You need to celebrate your successes, even the small ones.
I am so grateful to Murray & Roberts for allowing me to be part of this programme. They have helped to take me from working on my own to becoming a sustainable business. It has been life changing. I would also like to thank Raizcorp. They don’t tell you what to do; it’s not a school where one size fits all. They ask you questions that make you think, grow and move in the right direction. You don’t come on the programme to learn; you come here to grow!