By Pamina Mullins
Josephine Takundwa has come a long way from the curious, self-motivated child, who was often late for class when her father’s beat-up old car broke down on the way to school. The middle child of seven, she was introspective and tried hard to distinguish herself, cultivating an independent streak that ultimately led her to go into business as founder and CEO of Earthlink Technologies, an ICT and surge-protection business in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“I taught myself how to knit when I was five years old and have always thought of this experience as a metaphor for my life. I’ve always wanted to see what I could do on my own, what I could achieve.”
Josephine’s achievements don’t disappoint. She’s won numerous accolades along the way, including Top Female Leader in ICT, 1st place Services Category Women in Enterprise Awards, Megafest Top 20 Outstanding Women in Business, and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce’s Businesswoman of the Year (first runner up), among others.
“Running a business is not a walk in the park and it’s important to face and overcome whatever challenges come your way. You have to believe in yourself in order to achieve your goals. It is hugely rewarding, but success does not come on a platter. A business plan is key.”
As a go-getter and someone always looking to set herself apart, Josephine always seems destined to start her own business. But clearly her entrepreneurial father left an impression on her. When he transitioned to self-employment, the impact on the family was life-changing. Josephine recalls “Our standard of living changed drastically from one or two pairs of shoes, one jersey, one shelf of clothes, and my Dad’s constantly broken-down car to a whole different way of life.”
So when the opportunity came along, she seized it.
“After working six years in the power-protection industry, I noticed a gap in the market I thought I could fill,” she explains. “Zimbabwe is plagued by power shortages and there was no reliable brand of surge protectors available so I approached the local representative of American Power Conversion, to see whether they’d let me take on one of their products. When they agreed, I sold some land to raise the capital to get started.”
Her instincts were obviously sound as business took off. Increasing Earthlink’s product line over time, today, the company sells over 100 items spanning surge protection, power backups, voltage stabilizers, and alternative energy in the form of solar rechargeable lamps and solar lighting installations. The business provides power protection solutions for all sectors of the Zimbabwe economy, including mining, healthcare, telecommunications, education, and retail.
But Josephine’s entrepreneurial journey has not been without its challenges. She has faced – like many startups – a lack of adequate working capital, and the economic situation in Zimbabwe has not helped, restricting cashflow and limiting her growth. Josephine also points to the difficulty of maintaining a good work/life balance, an issue not many women entrepreneurs speak of so freely. Being a parent of two teenage sons and a pre-teen daughter, all of whom are high achievers both academically and athletically, is demanding to say the least. Her ten-year old daughter plays provincial tennis, which requires a mega-mobile Mum.
“Because of this and frequent business trips, I involve my staff in all the key activities of the company and strive to build a culture of trust,” Josephine points out. “That way I’m confident operations will run smoothly when I’m out of the office.”
Internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean businesswoman and ardent promoter of women’s empowerment, Divine Ndlukula is a constant inspiration for her. She employs more than 4000 people in the security sector, and her workforce is comprised of more than 50% women. After an award ceremony a few years back, Divine commented “Josephine, you have achieved! Well done.”
“These words from Divine, my mentor, made me truly realise the impact my business is having, and continue to inspire me to believe in myself and keep the vision alive,” Josephine says.
When asked what she’s learned and what advice she has for others launching a startup in a tough economic climate, the Zimbabwean business owner believes it is important to stay focused on your goals and vision as a business while being prepared for the inevitable ups and downs.
“It is hugely rewarding, but success does not come instantly. You have to believe in yourself, always present a credible business case to build trust with your clients, and don’t forget to value your human capital; they are your company,” she advises.
And having recently won Top Female Business Leader of the Year in the ICT category of the Women’s Leadership Awards, clearly Josephine’s actions mimic her words.
- You can’t be effective if you don’t make the time to rest and replenish.
- Keep up with global trends in order to take advantage of opportunities that may not exist in your immediate environment.
- Running a business is not a walk in the park and it’s important to face and overcome whatever challenges come your way. You have to believe in yourself in order to achieve your goals. It is hugely rewarding, but success does not come on a platter. A business plan is key.
Pamina Mullins is based in Zimbabwe. Learn about her Career and Life Coaching business, Break Free and Reclaim Your Life.