Founder, Maneli Group
Growing up in Soweto, Nhlanhla Dlamini dreamed of studying dramatic arts or teaching, but when he couldn’t obtain bursaries for those disciplines, he chose to study commerce. Quickly developing a passion for economics, finance and entrepreneurship, he went on to complete an MPhil in development studies at Oxford and an MBA at Harvard Business School, as well as being a Rhodes Scholar in 2008.
After dreaming of the arts, studying commerce and working for the likes of McKinsey & Company and Morgan Stanley abroad, Dlamini started up his own company, the Maneli Group, which seeks opportunities to build and expand businesses in the food and agricultural sector.
“I wanted to address some of the biggest challenges that the world is currently grappling with, such as food security and sustainable farming,” he says. “I believe that well-run agribusinesses are catalysts for economic growth and job creation, and I relish the opportunity to build my own business after years of advising other companies and management teams.”
The Maneli Group has two subsidiaries — Maneli Pets and Maneli Commodities. The former manufactures pet foods using game and ostrich by-products, which are exported to the United States, while the latter is one of the first black-owned grain trading businesses in South Africa.
In the face of the country’s most crippling drought in decades, Dlamini’s advice to industry players is twofold. “Firstly, food companies have to build up cash reserves in the good years to help them through the bad years as a form of self-insurance, because droughts are inevitable. Secondly, agribusinesses need to diversify away from pure farming — if all your profits come from farming, your business will be very exposed to weather events.”
Dlamini believes in surrounding yourself with good people, making sure that your colleagues are smart and have your interests at heart. “Be curious and energetic, and soak up as much information as you can from as many sources as possible,” he says. “Take the initiative. Being new to an industry gives you a fresh perspective, and you should use those insights to drive positive change.” — Kerry Haggard