Max MatavireBy Max Matavire|October 27, 2022|10 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

"Wood you believe it ? From a shack to a king!"

In Africa, education is prized. Would you let your son drop out of college to risk it all as an entrepreneur ? The Halloms in South Africa did and this is how it turned out.

It was a big decision for a family to take. Should they let their son drop out of college to take a risk ?

This is what 31-year-old Mhleli Hallom did back in 2014. He decided he didn’t enjoy his electrical engineering diploma course and didn’t want to be an electrician.

”I wish many young people had parents like mine -they are understanding, tolerant and respect one’s decisions;” said the ambitious, driven and confident New Brighton-born Mhleli during an interview with Billionaire Tomorrow. His  parents allowed him to drop from technical college to pursue his  ambition -business.

Seven years later he owns three companies and has few regrets. He owns Imibono, which means vision, a furniture manufacturing company, Raw Native Kreations (RAW), an edu-entertainment business and Molo Mhambi Relations, a public relations and marketing business in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, his home town.

He says, unlike others, he is lucky that,at an early age, realised he had talent and business acumen and pursued it.

Seven years on, Mhleli is looking far beyond South Africa and across the continent to the future. He is a strong proponent of intra African trade, Mhleli said he does not understand why it took African leaders so long to set up the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Mhleli claims this poisoning came through jealous neighbours

”I am one of the many young entrepreneurs seeking markets for our products. Africa is a very rich continent with a diverse range of products from minerals to manufacturing and agricultural products. Imagine if African countries  were trading among themselves where we will be now in growing our economies and creating employment for our citizens. This association (AfCFTA) is long overdue,” he says shaking his head in disbelief.

”AfCFTA creates a single continental market for goods and services

with free movement of business persons and investments. It also expands intra African trade allowing exposure to young entrepreneurs entering into business. Also costs of doing business are cheaper and the usual trade red tape is significantly reduced. However, am excited that finally something is being done about intra African trade. That is the only way for the continent to realise growth and exploit its rich resources to the maximum.”

The second born in a family of three, Mhleli describes himself as: ”fearless and talented”. He did his primary education in New Brighton, Gqeberha, and had to move to Ngqushwa, formerly Peddie to be treated by his grandfather, who was a traditional healer, after he was poisoned. He was eight. More than 20 years on, Mhleli claims this poisoning came through jealous neighbours. He says he was a bright, obedient, scholarly,  child, whereas other children of the neighbourhood were lazy and skipped school.

He returned to then Port Elizabeth after treatment and continued with his schooling this time at Cowan High School. Here  say he played soccer, rugby and cricket.

”I remember at primary school, I was made a class monitor when there were bigger boys than me and they did not like it,” he remembers.

”When I was in Grade 5, I noticed that the school uniform’s colour resembled that of inmates, and I mobilised the entire school which was up of Grade 7 to protest against the uniform colour, and indeed it was changed to white shirts and grey shorts.This shows how motivated and influential I was.”

Mhleli says he grew up in a very poor family; his love for wood – which gave birth to the furniture business – was due to his family moving from one area of New Brighton to another, and watched his family build new shacks wherever they went.

”My father used to ask me to help him build the family shack. He was an expert in shack building to the extent that people used to request him to build theirs. He had a unique way of building a shack -it would be as strong as a brick-and-mortar house. From then on, my passion for wood grew,” he says.

After completing his matric at the age of 15, he started to help his cousin sister sell clothes she brought from Johannesburg. They  had agreed with her that she would give him a certain percentage from the sales.

”This did not happen so I started to put my own mark-up on each item I sold so that I get something. For example, if a jean was R500, I would sell it for R550 and I will get R50,” said Mhleli.

He enrolled at Iqhayisa Technical College for an electrical engineering course, but soon dropped out. It was in 2014 when he registered his first business. It started as a foundation, but later was turned into a furniture business. In fact, it was anything to do with wood and a bit of construction. ”I was hustling so I just wanted to be in business, any type of business before I could settle for one.”

”Imibono became an official business, in 2014, and was started in the backyard of my parents’ shack in New Brighton. There I re-upholstered couches, designed custom-made cupboards, home furniture -almost anything to do with wood. Today, I operate from a workshop in Central Port Elizabeth and now doing shop fittings, property maintenance, office and events furniture, props and garden furniture,” said Mhleli.

RAW, his events company specialises in edu-tainment. He organises musical and fashion shows but invite influential  people as speakers at the event to motivate the youth, impart skills and inspire confidence in them.

”I am from New Brighton, a crime and gang-infested area. So, I want the youths to see that you can achieve your goals even if growing up in such an area. I want them to see that, if I can do it, why can’t they. Everything is possible”.

At a tender age, Mhleli has achieved what many have not in a life time., even those older than him. In 2019, his business was brought under the mentorship of Werk 02, a much bigger business than his, and assisted him by supplying modern equipment and marketing mentorship.

The following year, 2020, he graduated from the Enterprise Development programme sponsored by the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber (NMBBC), the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) and the Nelson Mandela University (NMU). Imibono was voted in the Top 10 in the programme.

This year, the young entrepreneur graduated from the Exporters Development Programme again sponsored by the NMBBC and the ECDC.  Last month, his company took part in the international trade fair held in Durban.

”The recent Intra-AfricaTrade Fair in Durban was an eye-opener. I wish such events are held every time. There, I networked with potential buyers from the entire continent. It is a platform to do business, and am happy that we secured a number of deals there. Imibono products attracted many potential buyers and besides orders, purchases were made by businesses from Ghana.

”We have also identified Kenya and Egypt as new markets where we will very soon start exporting to. The free trade Agreement between African countries will enable my business to access the supply clients in Ghana, Kenya and Egypt at lower costs,” said Mhleli.

He says he very soon intends to go on a business trip to East and West Africa to open up borders for his business.

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