The whip-hand didn't come easy for Louisa
A CLASSIC example of an African woman's ambition to succeed against all odds, Louisa Mojela refuses to buy into the criticism and scepticism of the male-dominated business fraternity.
At the helm of Women Investment Portfolio Holdings (Wiphold), Mojela has travelled a long way since being relegated to the kitchen with the tea lady when she worked at Carletonville's United Bank.
She has worked her way up the ladder to become a high-powered businesswoman at the head of a company which now boasts a portfolio worth more than R1-billion.
Wiphold bought 10% of Ericsson SA for R10-million this week and is poised to announce a further purchase of an equity stake in an IT company by the end of the month.
The group, which lost its bid for a slice of MTN's 3.5% share allocation to black empowerment groups as part of its R1.75-billion sale of SBC Communication's 15.5% stake in the network, still hopes to become active in the cellular industry through the two new licences on offer.
"We are considering joining one of the consortia now being finalised in preparation for the third and fourth cellular network licence bids," says Mojela.
This dogged determination in the face of adversity is the secret behind Wiphold's success. It is also the thread which binds the four women who founded the group.
Wiphold was set up in 1995 by Mojela, Nomhle Gcabashe, Wendy Luhabe and Gloria Serobe after they managed to scrape together R500 000 as an initial investment while holding full-time jobs.
"Women, regardless of race, were traditionally disempowered in SA. Our vision was to empower ourselves as women, for women," says Mojela.
Mojela's leap into a "women only" investment company was founded on a solid banking career, including stints at the National Development Bank of Lesotho, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the World Bank and Standard Merchant Bank, and on an unwavering sense of self-esteem.
Her self-confidence saw her rise from an environment of hardline Afrikanerdom in Carletonville, where she was born, to the uppermost echelons of the corporate world. In the process she had to overcome Bantu education and survive a heart operation. "My challenge was never to give up, and always to move forward, regardless of how difficult it was."
Power-dressed, sitting behind a desk bought on auction in Wiphold's Johannesburg down-town offices, Mojela says one of her biggest challenges these days is making it through the traffic from her home in Morningside.
Reluctant to divulge details of her private life, Mojela nevertheless concedes that she shares her home with her 20-year-old son, Bongani, who is also her "best friend", and that she is engaged to be married before the end of the year.
She believes the private has no place in the world of the professional - the work she has to do on preparing Wiphold for its listing in the first quarter of 1999 comes first, she says.
After the company's poor start - it had to write off its investment in Pepsi - Wiphold's existing investments in Afrisun, Capital Alliance, Forbes, Software Connection, Theta and Specialised Outsourcing are performing well.
And with R380-million cash on hand, it is strengthening its position in the high-growth telecommunications and information industries.
She says the listing will allow the group to unlock shareholder value and increase its shareholder base from the present 18 000 women.
"Its a whole new playground for women, so we need to build awareness, especially among black women."
Refusing to be labelled a feminist, she says it's important for women to remain feminine in the macho world of business.
But having said that, she adds: "We must be taken more seriously."