BD: Please tell us who Stella Manaka is.
SM: I’m a village girl who grew up fetching firewood from the mountains, water from the river, who used to walk the long distance to school and still managed to light the candle at night and study.
BD: Where were you born?
SM: Limpopo Province- Ga Sekhukhune Mohlalets. My journey is no different from those that live in villages. The conditions are hard but it builds the strength of character and I have had to draw from that strength on many occasions. I passed my matric in 1997 and went to Tshwane University of Technology to study Business Administration Diploma. I later enrolled for B Tech Business Management with Wits. My first employment at the age of 21 years was with Eskom, Witbank. That’s where I met the man that I never thought existed; Oscar Manaka. He wanted to marry me. I thought he was mad. I never expected or thought of marriage because I was independent and never relied on a man to provide. But one thing I liked about him is he bought me groceries that I did not actually need. To me, that was a message to say I will look after you. He never promised or said anything more than that. He just went ahead and did it.
BD: Is it important that a man “looks after” a woman? Can she simply not be independent and fall in love?
SM: Yes, it is important that a man looks after a woman. It is a genetic predisposition that men are head of the family, therefore they must look after their wife and kids.
BD: Can she still not be independent and fall in love?
SM: This is an individual choice. I don’t know how it feels to be dependent on man and fall in love. I built everything myself.
BD: How did your career progress?
SM: I later relocated to Eskom Megawatt Park where I worked as Business Administration Officer and later went to another in Project Department within Eskom and worked as Project development Advisor. My previous work experience has never had anything to do with Litho printing.
BD: What inspired the establishment of Matcom Technologies?
SM: I needed to assist my community with exposure to Computer Skills. My R20, 000 Contribution to buy second-hand computers and computer training. With steel tressel tables in one room; that’s is how it all started.
BD: What came first, the desire to be an entrepreneur or the interest in the printing sector?
SM: In 1999 when the poverty was too much and I was at varsity, I did not have enough money to buy clothes and groceries. I had to ask Jacky Phaladi, an architect that I had met on campus with his own business, to hire me so that I could type and print CVs for his customers, and he would pay me. I used that money to do my hair, buy groceries and clothes. This sparked my interest and added to the experiences that I already had gained. I added this to my desire to start and run a business, so the desire came first to be an entrepreneur. I just had to find the right horse to back.
BD: Tell us about some challenges you faced starting your own business and how you overcame them
SM: I must say, it is by the grace of God. I work hard trying to push open doors that were previously closed. The angels that have been my saving grace, are the people who see Matcom as we knock on doors with perseverance. There are people who eventually see the potential in our business. It is hard but through sheer grit and not giving up, we have made it this far.
BD: Matcom has about 35 staff members. This is impressive! Are there any challenges that come with managing such a large number of employees? How do you manage or avoid these?
SM: BD: I’m a visionary entrepreneur that juggles between family, work and play in the roles of wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague. Family is very important to me. Stressing about situations is not a solution. Always try to get a solution to the problem. Believe in yourself and always know that we are all born for a purpose, everyone in this works to play their part. God always gives us wisdom and courage, If you believe, nothing is impossible.
BD: How is it going?
SM: Given the training and development that I have put into Matcom staff, I feel that I need to push so that the business gets to where it needs it to be. No matter how difficult things are, I never think of quitting but rather see for solutions. I’m also a kind of person who always believes that there is a future and that it is a good one.
BD: Looking at the growth of Matcom, it is clear that you have excellent business skills. How is this skill attained and what can one do to magnify it?
SM: Every day has a new problem or solution. We keep learning, growing and adapting. I’m encouraged by that fact that when I started Matcom the business was operated in a spaza shop. We started with second-hand computers, with steel tables and printing CV’s and we saw Matcom growing from strength to strength. It gives me the courage to keep going. The business went through its challenges but I cannot give up. I’m also very proud of the fact that Matcom has achieved much from its humble beginnings as a small business, from a spaza shop in the villages to where it is today. I have developed so much tenacity through that process and that keeps us going when times are tough.
BD: What are some lessons you learned since the inception of Matcom Technologies?
SM: Be soft on people and hard on process and procedure. These are some of the tricks I’ve learned in both starting and scaling this business. Processes need to be put in place so that the growth of the business does not all depend on me.
BD: What do you know now about pioneering and running your own business that you did not know prior to the inception of Matcom?
SM: Don’t delay in decision making. Time waits for no one.
BD: What is the business world like for a young black woman? Do you have any future plans?
SM: All I can say is that some will buy and some will not. Some professional business men still wonder how a girl has managed to make it this far. They will always wonder how it happened, and I’m happy to let them wonder.
BD: Who and what inspires you?
SM: Stephen Saad. I have never met Stephen Saad but his story influences and encourages me in a positive way. He started Aspen Pharmacies in a garage and today the business has Offices in SA and around the Globe. In 2009, I was nearly close to going international and I will keep striving for that goal.
BD: Good luck and best wishes!
SM: Thank you.