BUSINESSWOMAN, ‘Marethabile Sekhiba, ditched the corporate rat race as a chartered accountant to found a bustling hospitality business that employs 23 people.
Ms Sekhiba (43) is the owner the two Scenery Guesthouses lodges located in Maseru East. The two facilities have a combined 31 rooms which can accommodate up to 62 visitors.
She is also the treasurer for the Lesotho Hotels and Hospitality Association which has over 70 members across the country. In this interview, Business Journal (BJ) reporter Bereng Mpaki talks to Ms Sekhiba about what has made her tick in the over a decade she has been in business.
BJ: Who is ‘Marethabile Sekhiba and where were you born and bred?
Sekhiba: The woman who is today known as ‘Marethabile Sekhiba used to be known as Likeleli Manare before I was married. I was born and bred here in Maseru. I have a family of two children and a spouse.
For my educational background, I attended Maseru LEC Primary, from there I went to Morija Girls High school. I then enrolled at the Centre for Accounting Studies (CAS) to be a chartered accountant. From there, I went to Ireland to complete the full ACCA program. I also did a masters in accounting.
I then worked at Production Systems as an accountant and got promoted to be the manager. I value so much the experience I gained there. I then worked at the Office of the Auditor General in the parastatal section.
Since the agreement for me to go and further my studies in Ireland was that I come back to work for CAS, I also worked there when I came back, although it was not for the first time as I had worked there part time. While at CAS, I was on secondment at the Irish of Embassy in Maseru.
BJ: When did you realise your passion for entrepreneurship?
Sekhiba: In between these jobs, I started developing a dream for venturing into business. I have always wanted to be a business person, but I didn’t have a clue what business I wanted to do. I noticed an opportunity in the hospitality industry. The idea to go this route was inspired by an observation I made while at the Irish embassy that most foreign consultants working in the country resided in either Ladybrand or as far as Bloemfontein!
I then saw the gap in our country’s hospitality sector, started doing the necessary research on the subject. Fortunately, I was also mentored by Mme Mawinny of Phomolo Guest House which made the going easier. I established the first guest house near the Stadium Area while still employed. I gave myself two more years in employment before focusing on being a businessperson fulltime.
I then went back to CAS to work in their business development unit which was a new position. I figured that it would help me in my aspirations on becoming an entrepreneur. I, however, earned far less than what the embassy was paying me.
The people close to me did not understand the rationale for my decision to take a salary cut and the reduced benefits. But I made up my mind that life was not about the money only, since there are a lot of more important things.
So when I got to CAS I told myself I was going to leave after two years. But the passion for business was so intense that I could not finish the intended two years and resigned to focus on my business venture. It became unbearable for me to stay employed.
BJ: And then you focused on your business career?
Sekhiba: I started my first guest house with only three rooms due to financial constraints. They later on became five rooms. At one point, a customer promised to hire the entire 11 rooms of the centre, which were not yet completed but after we borrowed funds necessary to complete the rooms, the customer was nowhere to be found. It left us with huge unplanned debts.
But looking back, I think it was good for that incident to happen because it helped us to complete building the rooms with the pressure it presented. It also taught me lessons I was to later encounter in my line of business; like someone making a booking and then not turning up when I have made arrangements. It taught me that nothing is certain in business.
Also, when I needed to develop the second guesthouse due to the growing demand, I encountered financing challenges with my banker failing to approve my loan application due to the high default rate in the hospitality industry at the time. I eventually secured the loan to go ahead with the second guesthouse which was opened in November 2013.
BJ: How easy was it to venture into business?
Sekhiba: The actual work on the project started back in 2006 with the loan application and lease processes dragging on. So, in January 2007, I told myself that we are going to commence with construction works although the bank had not yet approved the loan application.
Starting the project was so frustrating that I considered giving up at one point with its never ending problems. I even told my family I was considering selling the project as it was giving me a headache. But my daughter disagreed saying so much had already been invested in the project. So we soldiered on and the business was finally opened in January 2008.
BJ: How does being a woman impact on your career?
Sekhiba: When I first started out it was very tough especially with regards to the laws which seemed to be against women. Business still feels like a man’s world. As a woman, you often feel something is lacking in order for women to show what they can do. But as an entrepreneur, you learn to manoeuvre and carry on. But luckily, the hospitality industry is dominated by more women than men.
BJ: What are some of the biggest challenges and lessons you have picked up rubbing shoulders with businessmen?
Sekhiba: Some will look down on you as a female entrepreneur especially during big meetings. When you try to speak, they don’t take you seriously. But you just have to stand your ground. It is a challenge women entrepreneurs have to be prepared to face to get their point across.
BJ: What has been your secret for success in business?
Sekhiba: In life, you have to know where you are going. Sometimes, people start off without being clear on the direction they want to take because the moment you know where you are going, it’s easier to get there than when you don’t know. Even when you meet the challenges you find a way of getting past them since it is your dream.
It has always been my character that whenever there is something I want, I just go for it irrespective of what other people may think. When you know what you want, you persevere no matter what difficult challenges you meet. When I encounter a challenge, I relax knowing there is the power of God behind me that I can rely on while giving my best to what I can do. I always ensure that I play my part so that I leave the rest in the hands of God to complete.
As people, we like good things but what we don’t realise is that we have to pay the price to get those things. And in business, the price you have to pay is very big, and you need to be prepared to pay it.
Sometimes I spend three straight days without sleeping a wink. There are sacrifices that you have to be willing to take because if there is an urgent need for something in the business you have to attend to it right away.
BJ: What is your advice to ladies aspiring to be entrepreneurs in future?
Sekhiba: What I can say is that if you have a dream you pursue it. You should not expect everyone to buy into your dream. This is the mistake done by many people. When people don’t subscribe to your business ideas it does not mean you have to lose heart and be angry with them, what is important is to move your dream forward regardless of what the people say.
Being in business is not always about the money. Many people believe that dreams are fulfilled because of money. No! It’s not the money. If you are determined about what you want, you will ultimately get it one way or another. I actually believe in miracles. They happen but you have to be ready for them because if you are not ready they will not happen
BJ: What do you like most about being in business?
Sekhiba: It gives you the freedom of time, and time is something so valuable. It is more fulfilling in that when you are employed, you only have a salary between you and your family. But when you are the employer, you are able to serve yourself and the family, as well as your employees and their families. So it gives you that satisfaction of contributing more to society.
Also, in business you are forever learning because there can never be a time when you say you have achieved. And since you are not only competing locally, you have to constantly find ways to fit in internationally.
BJ: What are the general challenges you encounter in the hospitality industry.
Sekhiba: Although tourism is seen as a priority sector, there is no action on the ground. It’s not like we are expecting government to give us money, but there are places making this country very attractive for tourists should be developed as most of them are seemingly white elephants. That is killing the country as a brand because when you sell the country you sell it along with those places.
So when the tourist arrives having heard about a certain place in the country only to find it not functional, and that is actually killing the tourism sector.
For a long time, government’s focus has been on the manufacturing sector, yet we players in the tourism sector even invest a lot of money unlike those who find ready-made factory shells, subsidized rentals and so on. There are no incentives for us to venture into the sector.