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 Turning femininity into strength in male-dominated industry


 It is a measure of Thando Baloyi entrepreneurial chutzpah that she chose a feminine name for her business which operates in probably the most macho of all sectors, the security industry.

​Lady T Protection Services is a name that could have backfired, says the former marketing director turned security entrepreneur. But judging by Thando’s track record, her gamble that the name would project solid service and a fresh approach paid off. Over the past six years, she has single-handedly built Lady T Protection Services into a company of 200 employees operating in the Gauteng and North West provinces.

Growing up in Soweto, Thando would never have guessed that she would manage her own business one day, let alone in the security industry. Her parents were both teachers, and she and her sister were expected “to study and find a job”.

Yet entrepreneurship was always part of her make-up, says Baloyi. She studied at the Institute for Marketing Management, and in her early career as a marketing professional at a large medical aid firm she dabbled in sidelines such as selling clothes to her colleagues.

She took on her next job, as marketing manager for a mid-sized security firm, with a great deal of apprehension. Besides not knowing anything about security, she viewed the industry as rather boring. But it turned into an adventure.

Not only was she able to apply all aspects of her marketing training to the new job where she had to start the marketing department from scratch, but she delved into the operational side of things when she realised that there were gaps that hindered her marketing efforts.

After a few years, she saw that the owner of the firm was passing over many business opportunities as he neared retirement. This was too much for her entrepreneurial urges, and she stepped out to start her own security business.

She had nothing but three months’ worth of income, but Baloyi’s experience shows that one industry network is a rich source of start-up capital, even if it does not come in the form of pure finance. Just as her money was about to run out, she landed her first contract for personal protection services for top officials of the National Union of Mineworkers, who were at risk due to labour struggles at various mines.

It was the network that she had built up in the security industry that had delivered the contract, and it also provided her with the means of fulfilling the contract. Because she lacked the finance to employ her own staff at first, she subcontracted out to an associate, but branded the guards as her own.

The contract allowed her to build up her own resources and staff. Today, Lady T Protection Services have more than 180 security personnel placed with NUM, the City of Tshwane, the Johannesburg Housing Company and Department of Health

She recently appointed a marketing director who also happens to be an expert in the technology side of security, which allowed her to add the installation of alarm and CCTV systems to her services. “As a small business, you need to employ managers who are multi-skilled,” says Baloyi.

She is also not neglecting the development of her own skills. She won a scholarship for an entrepreneurial management course at the GIBS Business School. Although it put a big strain on her by taking her out of her business for four days a month, she found the training invaluable.

“It allowed me to step back and start working on my business, instead of in it,​ she said.

Financing the growth of Lady T Protection Services has always been the most difficult part of building her business, says Thando. New contracts require new equipment and additional appointments, which become an unbearable burden on a cash flow which suffers sometimes from tardy payments from clients. The banks are unwilling risk lending to businesses such as Lady T Protection Services that do not have unencumbered assets as collateral.

But BUSINESS/PARTNERS takes a different approach. It evaluates not only the strength and sustainability of the business, but also the entrepreneurial strength of the business owner in deciding who to finance.

BUSINESS/PARTNERS gave Baloyi a loan of about R600 000 to finance new vehicles and working capital for a new three-year contract with the City of Tshwane.

After twelve years of experience in the security industry, Thando finds that conditions are still tough for a woman, who has to work so much harder to prove herself. But as she predicted when she chose the name of her company, once the word gets out about how good you are, your femininity becomes one of your strongest selling points.




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