Max MatavireBy Max Matavire|June 16, 2021|10 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

"My vision is bigger than billions- I want more.”

Violet Lupuwani is a gutsy woman taking on the macho world of trucking and taxis at the tender age of 36 -the very business that took her father’s life. Cash rich, strident and growing fast, Lupuwani is looking to the skies.

It was a sad story with a happy middle and ending. Violet Lupuwani was born in Lesotho to a well-to-do family, but was also born at what, in many ways, was a bad time. Her mother was an unmarried teenager; her father, a taxi owner in Gauteng, South Africa, died in the notorious taxi wars that plagued the province for more than a generation.

Straight after birth, she was shipped to the Free State where she was raised by her maternal grandparents – teachers who owned a farm. A world away from the oriental meal we share, chewing over her story for Billionaire Tomorrow.

“My mother was 15 when she gave birth to me and because she was also still very young and was not married to my father, I was brought up by my grandparents. They were educated and owned a farm in the Free State so my upbringing was good,” says the entrepreneur and mother-of-three.

“I never grew up suffering like most kids of that time. It was a well to do family. From school, I would assist my grandparents by selling eggs, fresh milk and chicken they reared at the farm. Life was good, and I never took advantage of the good upbringing. I worked hard at school and was one of the top achievers. I was good at maths and science. I have always wanted to be economically independent when I grew up.”

She says she was always excited to help with the farm sales, blissfully unaware that the entrepreneurial bug was being planted into her at an early age.

“My current success in business was not driven by the desire to better myself, as I had grown up with plenty, but by grit and the unsatiable desire to achieve more,” she says.

Lupuwani says a changing moment in her life was in 1998 still in boarding school doing matric when she was “born again” as a Christian.

“This guided how I lived my life to date. I became a motivational speaker and a person of the people.”

She describes herself as a: “Godlike being -very spiritual.”

She carried out her education up to matriculation in the Free State. She moved to the seaside town of Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape and enrolled with the then Port Elizabeth Technikon (PE Tech) to study industrial engineering. After completing the five-year BTech degree and joined an East London engineering company, not far to the north, which manufactured auto components. This is where she worked for seven years.

Her drive for more saw her join chocolate manufacturer Cadbury before moving on to the motor car business with Volkswagen South Africa.

“It was in 2012, when I was still at VWSA, when I decided I now wanted to become my own employer. I downed tools.  My choice of the profession of industrial engineer was influenced by my two uncles who were in the also in the profession. What also made me to leave VWSA was because am developmental and I love developing others. I wanted to move to another department where I thought I would utilise these two attributes, but my boss denied me,” she says.

“I then thought to myself; why am asking permission to live my life? Why do I need validation from my boss to do I want I like best – my passion? So, I said goodbye to VWSA,” she said as she threw her hands in the air.

Living life started with a company, called Chumile Events and General Trading, a consulting and training business. In 2014, she ventured into transport.

“My current success in business was not driven by the desire to better myself, as I had grown up with plenty, but by grit and the insatiable desire to achieve more,”

"People, especially blacks, must not be shy to talk money. I am not content with what I have now, am working towards my goal and I will achieve it,"

I started with one taxi getting contracts from various companies to transport their staff to and from work. My first major contract was with Coca Cola in 2016. From there on, business began to boom as many contracts with other companies were signed,” she said.

Now, with 45 taxis, and five haulage trucks and an annual turnover of between R20 million and R50 million (between $1.3 and $3 million US dollars) Lupuwani says she is looking to venture into aviation. Currently, she is into tours and shuttles in the hotel business.

She can attest to the adage “don’t let a good crisis go to waste” or “when thrown a lemon, make lemonade.” She made her money in the shadow of the Covid 19 lockdown.

“In 2020 I could not cope with the amount of business. I had to subcontract, as my taxis were still fewer. There was so much business that I could not handle it.  I used to make R1 million (about $67,000 dollars) every month during this time. Imagine, taxis were not allowed to a full load. So, it means you could make two trips instead of one and still charge for each trip. That brought in good money,” she says with a coy smile.

She bought her first haulage truck – a Superlink with a double trailer – cash in 2020; in February she bought a second one, cash again. Two months ago, in March, she acquired two more trucks. She said by the time this story is published, she would have “definitely” added about five more trucks to her current fleet.

“We are now on our way; we are not there yet but we will get there. We are looking at zillions (of rands) Our vision is much bigger than billions. After trucking we are going to into airlines. I want to own an aviation company,” she says.

Her trucks ferry manganese, various palleted commodities, fuel, gas, various dangerous goods, iron ore and copper. The intention is to do cross border business. The company is headquartered in Port Elizabeth, with offices in Johannesburg, Mpumalanga, Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Durban.

She says the main problems she faced was access to markets because, as the business grew, finance became a problem to meet the demand. She says she has discovered that where she does not have the capacity, she brings in other people.

“It’s about collaboration,” she says.

Lupuwani’s message to other business people is: “Know who you are. If you know yourself, no one will tell you what to do. Continuously empower yourself. Don’t wait for somebody to empower you. Also, collaboration and relationships are part of the game. Build relationships and maintain them and don’t be scared to talk money,” she said.

“Many people want to play victim, don’t. Don’t wait to be invited to the table, set up your own table and invite them and put yourself out there,” says the woman whose day starts at 3AM Monday to Friday

Now, since her initial company – Chumile Events and General Trading -has branched into various other sectors including transport, shuttling, freight and property, the holding company is now called Chumile Holdings.

Her parting shot: “People, especially blacks, must not be shy to talk money. I am not content with what I have now, am working towards my goal and I will achieve it,” says the entrepreneur who talks non-stop and passionate about what she does.