Aphiwe Msutwana's lives by the motto, "Learn how to roll with the punches when adversity hits." Image: MRP Foundation/ Farzanah Asmal
Twenty-four-year-old Bachelor of Administration graduate, Aphiwe Msutwana, has big dreams. Entrepreneurship has run in his blood since he was a young boy with his experiences teaching him that, “you do not need a secret recipe to make it in life, just the determination, passion and patience!”
“I was an inquisitive little child, fascinated by the processes that involved selling merchandise and creating an income,” says Aphiwe. “When my mother brought back a bicycle from the city for me, it became a business without me realising it. I started charging other kids for taking turns to ride it, simply because they didn’t have one,” he chuckles. “I quickly realised that it was an opportunity to deliver something that they did not have.”
Amongst his other successful business opportunities as a teenager were gardening, delivering sand with a wheelbarrow and fetching water for neighbours to make a small income. As it turns out, his flair for entrepreneurship paid off, as Aphiwe now holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Aphiwe’s grandfather used to own a general merchandise tuckshop in the Eastern Cape but it closed down when he passed away. A few years later, Aphiwe’s determination and optimism motivated him to reopen the business with the assistance of his grandmother. Despite tough economic conditions and stiff competition from foreign nationals, Aphiwe’s tuckshop provided locals with choice fresh goods, value for money and personalised customer service.
“I love challenges that arise in the business world as they excite me and spark a lot of thinking in my mind. Attempting to solve challenges drives me to communicate with companies and small business by reaching out and offering advice and possible solutions to their problems,” says Aphiwe.
Born in the Eastern Cape and raised by his mother and grandmother whom he affectionately refers to as “both his parents,” Aphiwe was taught that even when faced with adversity, he should never give up. “You should never allow circumstances to make you a victim. My grandmother taught me that I should never complain, instead I should be grateful for what I have and go after what I want,” he adds.
Growing up in a rural area can be a disadvantage, as the career choices children are exposed to are very limited. “Rural kids often believe that they can only be a policeman, a pastor or a teacher,” he laughs. His mother encouraged him to move away from home to gain more exposure.
Moving to the city was a huge culture shock for Aphiwe. “The environment was very different as things move very quickly here. I had to adapt and learn very quickly,” he says. “I was forced to read newspapers and I hated it, until I stumbled upon an article about Bill Gates, who was the world’s richest man. I was so fascinated that I started doing research about him and how he acquired his wealth.”
Such was his intrigue that he was inspired to learn more about the life journeys’ of other influential businessmen who all had a common vision like Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, Bernard Arnault and Amancio Ortega. “I realised that my grandfather was also a man with a vision, just on a smaller scale. He turned his vision into a reality by opening a store from nothing but just a dream, and he made it a success,” says Aphiwe proudly.
Aphiwe jokes that the favourite part of his day now is catching up on local and international news. He also loves helping the community through community upliftment projects and church programmes, as he is of the firm opinion that individuals who work together make more of an impact as a team than by themselves. Aphiwe firmly believes in the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
Currently training as a store manager at a leading retail group, Aphiwe emphasises that the retail industry has more to offer than being a store associate. However, he says that progress in the retail world depends on passion, hard work and perseverance. What piqued Aphiwe’s interest in the world of retail was the Professional Retail Programme, which he completed in 2017. “The programme turned me into a retailer and strategist in retail processes. It taught me about the corporate world beyond textbook definitions,” he says.
“I plan on becoming a store manager and learning how stores operate from stores that makes R2 million and grow systematically right up to ones that makes R100 million. Once I know how stores in different provinces operate, I would learn how stores operate in other countries. I would love to have a Master in Business Administration (MBA). Investing more in Africa is my future plan because Africa’s problems are opportunities in disguise, which is something you see with international players coming to invest.”
Words: Farzanah Asmal