Confidence is the secret sauce in starting and running a successful business

Wanting to start your own business, and actually having the confidence to do so are two very different things as Claire Nombika knows firsthand. Despite having years of industry experience and a life-long dream to be her own boss, something was holding her back – until she enrolled at Henley Business School Africa. There she discovered the missing ingredient – a belief in herself and her abilities – and now there is no stopping her. Her recruitment company Lusapho Professional Services, which she founded two years ago, is booming, with 40 employees and a branch in the UK. It is 100% female and black-owned, no mean feat in the tough South African mining industry.

Only a few weeks after handing in her last assignment on the Advanced Diploma in Management (ADMP) – an NQF-level 7 qualification at Henley Business School Africa in 2021 – Claire Nombika launched her own business. She invested her and her husband’s life savings and started Lusapho Professional Business Services, a recruitment business that provides key personnel to mining industries in South Africa, with only two permanent staff members and a few contract workers. 

It was a lifelong dream in the making, says Claire, who is also the managing director of the business. And it took a lot of self-belief. It's never easy to start a new business and it’s especially hard to do so in the wake of a global pandemic and in a sector that is historically and traditionally the enclave of white men. 

In fact, Claire still remembers how a certain individual told her directly over the phone that he would not do business with a black woman. But to Claire, this was merely a sign that this business relationship was not for her. “I prefer to work with clients who share my values and my approach to business,” she states simply. 

Honing a strong, principled approach to business that doesn’t compromise on who she is, and turning this into a signature leadership style would be an unexpected benefit from her studies at Henley Business School Africa. 

Initially, her main motivation for enrolling on the ADMP had been to increase her financial and business know-how. “At first, it was about becoming a better manager and leader,” recalls Claire, remembering the modules on risk management, business processes and the financial aspects of running a business as being highlights. But then came the personal development modules and this brought revelations in terms of her psychological profile, which would help shape her personal leadership style. 

With a background in the service industry, notably the hospitality sector, as well as recruitment and staffing, Claire already had plenty of experience when it came to understanding the value of good interpersonal relationships and quality customer relations. But on the ADMP course, she gained a deeper insight into how the way she communicated was perceived by others. 

“I discovered that my manner could be interpreted as intimidating. I was dismayed to learn that when I was trying to get my point across, this could be seen by some as raising my voice and showing anger. This made me examine my way of conducting professional conversations, which I found has helped to improve relationships with employees especially.” 

The experience was so rewarding that Claire wanted to keep on learning. She decided to sign up for the postgraduate diploma in business management (PGDIP) at Henley Africa, to continue her personal development journey and deepen her knowledge in accounting and financial management. By then she already had her business up and running and was able to draw a salary for herself and wanted guidance in considering the kind of growth best suited to long-term success. And now she’s enrolled on the international MBA, a degree that is guaranteed to open her business up to the global marketplace. 

Henley is the perfect learning partner for entrepreneurial journey because the way the degrees are structured means that she can turn her business challenges into her learning project and literally practise what she is learning as she learns it. And Henley’s flexible, family-friendly approach also means that there is lots of support when times get tough. 

“Studying the PGDip was often difficult, especially when my mother fell ill, and my family was plunged into crisis. But Henley staff stepped up to support and my study group also took care that I did not fall behind, checking in with me and keeping me up to date.” 

Henley Africa’s dean and director Jon Foster Pedley comments that supporting students in this way is part of the business school’s passion for developing entrepreneurs.

“We need to be intentional about how we develop entrepreneurs. There is no magic formula, of course, but research and experience points to it being a combination of education, practice and experience.” 

He adds that confidence is vital in business, as in life, and is not achieved simply by hearing or repeating words of encouragement. “It involves hard work in terms of personal development, a kind of digging into the soul of an individual to search for the ore of gold they will have to mine if they want to become successful entrepreneurs. It also involves failing, and trying again, and learning that through perseverance you can succeed. At Henley, we really strive to walk that journey with our students so that we can create a national movement of confident, capable, brilliant managers and entrepreneurs who are able to get out there and build the businesses that can transform our economies and societies for the better.” 

For Claire, this has certainly proved to be the case. “I always wanted to start my own company, but I never had the confidence to do it,” she says. Since its small beginnings just two years ago, Lusapho Professional Services is booming, with 40 employees and a branch in the UK. 

“I really believe that if I hadn’t gone to Henley Business School, I never would have had the confidence to do all this.” 

Follow Claire on LinkedIn or visit Lusapho Professional Services.


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