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 Finding entrepreneurial opportunities where they are least expected


 For some, entrepreneurship doesn’t present itself as a career path until an opportunity virtually lands in their lap. Such was the case for Thara Singh, managing director of HJ Shenton Valve Services in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal. The 59 year-old, Durban born businesswoman is making her mark in the competitive valve engineering and manufacturing industry – a historically male-dominated sector.

Singh first joined the company in 1984, having completed her high school education and seeking an administrative position. “Back then, it was a case of finding employment, not searching for a particular career path,” says Singh. She joined the business in an administrative role in the accounts department, and soon found her niche and purpose within the company.

Some 20 years later, in 2004, Singh was presented with an opportunity that had not previously occurred to her. The then managing director (MD) decided to step down and sell the business. It was at this point that she approached the daughter of the MD to propose carrying on the business together, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The engineering-driven business is comprised of two sections: reconditioning and transformer. The reconditioning segment of the business is focussed on the repair of industrial valves of various sizes, classes and pressure ratings – primarily servicing the petro-chemical, sugar, chemical and other general industries.

The transformer side of the business services the power generation industry, through the Shenton-patented manufacturing of aluminium radiator valves, as well as the supply of bronze transformer valves which are specially manufactured for this industry. In addition to this, the business also supplies custom valves which it sources according to specific customer requirements.

Singh recalls her journey to the top of the business fondly – and notes that it was her love for a good challenge that saw her leap at the opportunity to take over the company. “Having been involved in the hands-on running of the business for so long prior to Mr Shenton stepping down, I thought that the opportunity to take over was something I could not overlook, for my own future,” she says.

Byron Jeacocks, regional general manager of Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) says that true entrepreneurs like Singh are identifiable by the paths they seem to find, where others would see dead-ends. “Entrepreneurs are the square pegs of our society, those who see challenges as an opportunity to seek solutions, which is a unique skill set to have and we aim to assist in unlocking this potential. Particularly in our country, with its challenging economic conditions and an environment that is not always conducive to fostering new entrepreneurs, something that is vital for South Africa’s economic future.”

Singh says that the engineering sector is also evolving. “The industry is definitely no longer as male-dominated as it used to be – we’re seeing more and more female engineers and artisans rising up the ranks within this sphere of business and playing prominent roles.” She cheekily adds that it could be women’s ability to pay extreme attention to detail that is spurring on their success within this technically-driven and traditionally male-dominated arena.

She explains that while the current technical recession gripping the South African economy is no doubt having far-reaching effects on all sectors of industry, good quality and great service will lead to business success at the end of the day. Through Singh’s astute business leadership, amid strained economic times, the business was able to purchase property with the assistance of BUSINESS/PARTNERS – which has cemented the company’s positive financial future position.

Singh’s parting advice to fellow entrepreneurs – both established and aspiring – is to “constantly empower yourself and improve your own knowledge foundation. This will ultimately help you to always push for innovative, new ideas and help you spot the opportunities that others may not yet have seen.”




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