Headstrong determination, a sense of urgency, pushing boundaries...
South African Entrepreneur of the Year 2005/2006
Set in a historic building in Parktown, Johannesburg, the offices of Flexi Personnel exude a feeling of warmth and serenity. The moment I meet Busi Ntuli, I can see why. As owner and MD of the company, her personality is reflected in every detail of the building. Sitting next to her in the airy boardroom, I find it hard to believe that this beauty never finished her tertiary education due to a lack of money. I soon discover that this struggle has made her the determined and focused individual that she is today.
Sowetan-born Busi Ntuli was the firstborn of five children. Her mother passed away when Busi was still a toddler, resulting in her being raised by her entire family. After primary school, Busi was sent to a convent school in Pretoria, where the nuns took over the role of raising and educating the teenage Busi. She speaks of these years with a fondness in her eyes. "You could almost say that I was educated and trained by nuns. It was a wonderful experience," she says.
After matriculating from Loreto Convent Queenswood, Busi went on to study marketing at Wits Technikon in Johannesburg. To earn a bit of extra money during her years of studying, she was always on the lookout for temporary jobs. "There was an in-house company at Wits, which recruited students in temp jobs. We always got the most horrible jobs, like stocktaking or handing out pamphlets. But I did any job just to earn a bit of money," she says. Never the one to let people walk all over her, Busi was always fighting for her and her fellow-students' rights to get better jobs. "I argued with the manager of the agency all the time about the jobs that we were getting. In the end we became very good friends and I got a job as a marketer for the in-house agency," she says and laughs spontaneously at the memory.
But the worst was still to come. Busi got kicked out of her residence because of non-payment. At this point, many students would just give up or run back to their parents' homes. Not Busi. Her headstrong determination and entrepreneurial spirit would turn out to be the greatest asset she possesses. "My friend and I were sitting on the steps of the university, wondering what to do. Then we had this idea that we could start our own agency that would compete with the Wits Tech in-house agency where we too recruit students who are looking for jobs. All we needed was a phone, a fax and a corner in an office!" she recalls. A close friend offered them a corner in his office, with one phone. "That was all we had. It was just the two of us and one phone. We didn't even have chairs to sit on. But we spoke the Queen's English over that phone," she enthuses.
In 1995 Busi and her friend settled in the office and started Flexi Temps, a recruitment company that found jobs for students on tertiary level. One of their first clients was Pick 'n Pay, which was looking for 100 students for stocktaking. "We were ecstatic! We jumped on the phone, thrilled to be serving our very first client," she says. The two women soon realised the potential of their business. "We got a call from a company that was looking for a permanent employee. They asked us for our terms and conditions. We didn't know what they were talking about," she laughs heartily and continues, "We then realised that people wanted permanent staff, so we had to offer that service. In 1996 we started Flexi Personnel, where we expanded our services to full-time placements."
The company's big break came in 1997, when South African Airways selected Flexi Personnel to recruit numerous permanent flight attendants. Since then, Flexi has grown from strength to strength. It is a fully-fledged recruitment solutions company with three main offerings – recruitment from temps to permanent staff in all levels, labour brokering, and recruitment advertising. Busi believes that what sets her company apart from the pack is the fact that they offer all these extensive services in one building. "Our challenge is to keep our clients aware that we offer a service that stands out from the rest. We give our clients the chance to use us to find the perfect employee as well as to advertise their jobs and tender notices through our channels," she says.
Ever the optimist, Busi sees an even brighter future for the company. "We are looking to be national soon. Our first start is the Eastern Cape, and then we will look at the Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and so on. All our focus for 2006 will be on the Eastern Cape, where there is a definite need for recruitment specialists who are particularly black-owned." It is this entrepreneurial spirit which has kept her going through the years. "I had a lot of friends and family asking me what I was doing. They obviously meant well, but I just decided to stick with my gut. And I truly love what I do," she says with bold honesty. "I am not a businesswoman, but a true entrepreneur. We always ask ourselves how we can do things differently. We are constantly pushing ourselves to one day be the best black-owned recruitment solutions company in the country."
Busi follows a hands-on approach when it comes to the running of her staff of 11 employees, eight of whom are women. "Managing Director is merely a title. For me it is all about being involved with the business on every level. I do a lot of business development for the company and I touch base with my employees on a regular basis. This company is about building relationships after all," she says with a serious tone.
It is obvious that Busi's heart lies in the development of the company and this year her efforts were rewarded when she won the Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2005/2006 Award. She says about this achievement, "It is wonderful when you get recognition for what you do. But for me it is all about building lifelong relationships with my clients. Our philosophy is simple, yet powerful – 'We are your partner'."
When this 34-year-old woman isn't building bridges with clients, she likes to spend time with her partner and their one-year-old daughter, Sade. Busi also enjoys some downtime with a book in hand or meeting up with friends for a few cocktails. "Now that I have my daughter, I don't party as much as I used to. It's wonderful just playing with her. She takes up most of my free time!" she says with a twinkle in her eye.
Busi Ntuli shakes my hand and warms my heart with her beautiful smile as we say our goodbyes. As the face of Flexi Personnel, she is sure to touch even more lives of those who will have the privilege of meeting her. She is poised, elegant and honest. And unashamedly gorgeous. Busi Ntuli might be the best thing that ever happened to the face of recruitment