Napo Ramodibedi

Chief Executive, Mendi

“Every now and then you have an idea that is either ahead of its time, or it seems so ‘impossible’ to others that they will try dissuade you from it. If you have tested its flaws and considered criticism, yet are adamant that you can succeed, go ahead. It’s a long and lonely path, but it’s worth it in the end.”

So says Napo Ramodibedi, the 31-year-old founder and chief executive of the Mendi group of companies and maritime law graduate from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Growing up, he always knew he wanted to be an attorney, but when he was 14 he had the opportunity to chat to an experienced legal practitioner, who asked which area of the law he wanted to pursue.

“He looked a bit disappointed when I said I wanted to be a criminal lawyer, so I asked him why,” says Ramodibedi. “He then explained a little about maritime law and I was hooked then and there. I chose it as an elective in the final year of my law degree at UCT, followed by a specialisation in maritime law. Now I always take the opportunity to give talks on maritime law and shipping in general, because most South Africans have not been exposed to the career opportunities in this field.”

Mendi specialises in bulk – and oil and gas – shipping services, and offers a range of maritime services, including maritime law, vessel operations, vessel surveying, vessel chartering and administration, as well as commodity trading. It conducts business across Africa, particularly in the offshore and bulk industries.

Ramodibedi offers some great advice for young South Africans contemplating a future in entrepreneurship: “If you are going to start your own business, make sure it’s in a field that you’re passionate about and understand thoroughly. It is one thing to have worked as part of a team in another person’s company; it is quite another to be in charge of and responsible for all the roles in your own company.

“However, your faith, family support and resilience will see you through the tough times. Stay humble and focused – and don’t be shy to say that you are the best at what you do – if you are – but always have some time for the next man, because the follow-up conversations you have are often the most valuable.” — Kerry Haggard