From Kitchen Table to Boardroom Table

Well appointed Illovo offices, blue-chip clients, a leadership position in its niche, international growth, no debt and a positive cash flow… Talent Africa puts a tick in all these boxes, yet it’s a start-up that began life in the depths of recession.

The business principals moved from an oak kitchen table to a walnut boardroom table in two years – an encouragement to every entrepreneur, both young and old, with more ideas than money.

The company offers integrated talent solutions to corporates, with strong focus on the recruitment of senior executives and professionals. The founding vision called for world-class development of customised talent solutions for every client, local or global.

Yet this “home grown” business started life in the kitchen of the Sandton home of co-founder Auguste ‘Gusti’ Coetzer.

Home doubled as initial offices until Talent Africa moved to its well positioned premises in Illovo in late 2011. Yet in the first two years, all the strategic decisions that drove unprecedented growth were made in the ‘kitchen boardroom’.

In that time, Coetzer and her partners cooked up a recipe for entrepreneurial success involving just six ingredients …

1. Self-funding is smart funding: even with interest rates at historical lows, it still makes sense to commit your own money – it motivates high performance.

2. Strength matters more than size: five strong partners (four women professionals and a seasoned businessman) launched the business. They remain a tight-knit unit with a passion for what they do.

3. Small doesn’t stop you being world class: adopt world best practice from the outset and deal only with top international associates.

4. Be the solution you sell: Talent Africa is hired by firms looking to build multi-racial, multi-talented, gender-empowered executive teams – a model solution adopted from day one by this start-up. This isn’t window-dressing. We were committed to achieving a BBBEE level 2 rating. Live your values and clients respond.

5. Be multi-generational empowered: a range of skills, experience and insights balances the business, even a small one. Partners with different ages, from the early 30s to the 60s, bring built-in balance. Older contributors draw from the risk taking attributes of the youth. Younger top team members benefit from access to wise and experienced older heads.

6. Get a good accountant and lawyer: legal requirements, compliance issues and red tape complicate local business growth. Among the first outsiders you hire should be a top legal and accounting professional to handle these matters.

“Our recession-tested business model continues to serve us well,” says Gusti Coetzer.

“In less than two years, we repaid our seed capital from earnings. Our new offices create the ideal ‘face’ for a business focused on senior corporate talent, but overheads are still strictly controlled.

“We interrogate every expense. Growth has not gone to our heads.

The kitchen-table heritage helps keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Annelize van Rensburg, another founder-partner, comments: “We’re not embarrassed by our beginnings. They’re inspirational. We still chase every business lead with the same energy. We’re still passionate about our business and totally absorbed in the search for ideal solutions.

“We now serve agri-business, the airlines, telecommunications, financial services and manufacturing as well as multinationals eager to build revenue streams across Africa.

“These building blocks were all in place in our first two years – the period when 62% of local start-ups fail. We succeeded against the odds because we stayed humble, stayed faithful to our founding vision and stayed disciplined. Other start-ups can do the same …”

Auguste Coetzer

Director Executive Search


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