This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be.
"Do not let your gender hold you back from being your best version of yourself".
Johanna Mukoki is an accountant and B.Comm graduate from Rhodes University. She is the co-founder of Travel with Flair, a company she started 18 years ago with her two partners. She started with only 3 employees and one office in Pretoria. Currently her company employs 800 staff country wide and they have offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.
She is the first person from the African continent to sit on the Global Tourism Board (ACTE) - Association of Corporate Travel Executives where she represented the Middle East and Africa. ACTE has members in over 86 countries and the membership includes senior executives involved in the purchase and supply of travel with 200 billion Euros business travel spent from Fortune 500 companies.
Johanna has been blessed with many business accolades which include "Most Influential Woman in Business and Government in Tourism" and the Ernst & Young Emerging World Entrepreneur of the Year. Recently she has been awarded with a certificate for Africa's Most Influential Women in Business -- July 2014. She has also been awarded with an Exceptional Commitment Award from the ASATA Diners Club Awards.
She is also a board member of the Salvation Army and assists them with fundraising for their children shelters.
Learn more about Travel with Flair on their website and follow them on Twitter @TWFTravel
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
I have 3 great role models.
1) My mother. She had a full time job as a schoolteacher and ran two businesses concurrently. I started helping her with her business when I was 11. She organically raised me to be an entrepreneur and taught me resilience and perseverance. At the time I didn't understand the benefits, but now I know I learned about believing in yourself and your passion, understanding the pitfalls.
2) Richard Branson. I am lucky to have him as a mentor and I love the way he is fearless and brings joy to whatever he does.
3) Madiba (Nelson Mandela). I met him 1:1 when I was 25 and he shared many life lessons with me. When you met him, you could not walk away without understanding the power of humility. When I once asked him how he was able to be so forgiving, he answered, " What future would I leave you and your future children if I plunged this country into civil war?".
He knew he had the power to ensure we had a future that was brighter. He also taught me the importance of time. You must always keep time and let someone know if you are going to be late -- it's the first sign of respect.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
My children. As you build a growing business, it can be difficult to have the time to focus on your family. The other achievement I am most proud of is building our formidable business from 3 people in South Africa to 800 people, with 9 other footprints in Africa. I am proud of starting something from nothing and to be able to leave a legacy.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
My pageantry background (Johanna was a former winner of Beauty Pageants). I always have to make sure I am not being judged because of how I look. Gender also came into it.
My male counterparts in the business world always felt I couldn't achieve as much as them and that I would be limited. My father raised me to believe that "if I could think it, I could do it." I am a capable woman with strong competencies. Everything good that happened, did so because I stood firm.
What in your opinion is the key to your company's success?
The dedication and high standards our staff give to our customers. You are only as good as the last service you give. We are very proud to say that we have the highest staff retention rate in the travel business! We build relationships with our staff and look after them. We are also leaders in the tech space in our industry. I'm a team player and my team feels they have access to me. My door is open as much as possible.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I don't think I would do anything differently.
All the experiences I have had, have made me into the strong woman I have become. It was a journey I needed to take to be the leader that I am. All the good and back experiences, I take them as they come.
What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea that keeps you awake at night and you think about it all the time - that means you are passionate enough to make it work. You need an opportunity, passion and a great funder!
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a team player. My genuine love for people has helped me be very connected to my staff and to keep them. I always tell them 2 things:
- Make it happen
- If you can think it, you can fullfill it!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that it's ok to make mistakes, people are generally forgiving. Hard work ultimately does pay off, so stay the course!
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
To take Travel With Flair global. I have been invited to look at opportunities in India, Croatia and other places. I want to be able to have a global footprint. I would also like more time for my philanthropic work, raising funds for children's homes for abandoned children. I want to let my management gradually take over more of the operational running of the business, so that I can do more charity work and feed my sense of purpose.
3 key words to describe yourself?
- Hard working and loving
Watch Anne Ravanona's TEDx talk on Investing in Women Entrepreneurs.
For other interviews with Trailblazing Women leaders on Huffington Post Read More Here
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