Collen Mashawana started as a small businessman, and has become a major player.Photo: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG - Collen Mashawana rose from being a small-scale car washer, taxi owner and pay phone operator in Thohoyandou to becoming the executive chairman of a black-owned investment company called Afribiz Invest.

Mashawana says his stint as a small businessman helped him to understand the intricacies of the business world.

He says today he can make big executive decisions based on his experience as a player on the fringes of mainstream business.

“Afribiz has opened more opp- ortunities and expansion for me,” Mushwana says. “It is more involved in the entire built-in environment in which information technology is just one aspect of the entire built-in environment or infrastructure environment.”

Mashawana joined Afribiz in 2009 - four years after the company was established.

He says he always knew that he wanted to be a big player in computers and technology, hence his stint as a small pay phone operator.

His experience as a multiple player in the Thohoyandou economy has helped him understand the value chain of big organisations such as Afribiz.

“We focus strongly on establishing a diverse, sustainable mix in key economic sectors,” he says.

“Our company stretches from infrastructure, consulting services, construction, property development, information communication technology, energy and mining, security, plant hire, training and financial services.”

Mashawana, 36, began his career at Microsoft South Africa after obtaining a diploma in information technology through the University of South Africa.

He says he also struggled like many other students relying mainly on his mother for support.

But he says it was not easy as she could not afford to pay all his expenses.

“I had to find a way to pay for accommodation, food and transport, so I took a part-time job as a salesperson to supplement the little my mother was able to afford.”

Mashawana joined Dimension Data as a senior account executive after graduating and went on to receive the Esprit de Corp Award for the best person representing the organisation’s culture and vision.

In the same year, he was appointed as public sector executive at Internet Solutions, a division of Dimension Data.

“My initial background was information technology, for me joining Afribiz obviously opened more doors for growth.”

He argues that Afribiz is pushing the same agenda of transformation that the government is pushing.

“The reality is that in the nine sectors we are about, most of them are still occupied by historically advantaged people; our idea is to say we are to bring more companies within those sectors and those companies need to be transformed.”

Mashawana says Afribiz has created a balance between public and private sector clients.

“As Afribiz we are doing lots of work for governments, we are building schools, roads, hospitals and at the same time also doing work for the private sector such as student accommodation, by converting private sector buildings into student accommodation.

“It is a huge achievement for us to be able to create that sort of balance.”

Aside from business, Mashawana is committed to corporate social investment by giving back to the underprivileged and has been involved in many programmes to empower others.

He is the founder and chairman of the Collen Mashawana Foundation which focuses on linking unemployed youth in South Africa to career opportunities across all sectors.

“I think the best of what I have delivered thus far is being able to sell a vision to partners that are able to share the same vision for other responsibilities besides growing the business.”

He has devoted his time in understanding government’s service delivery mandate that resulted in his strategic approach of aligning his business interests and ideas.

“South Africa (still has) more opportunities for investors to come on board,” he says.

Building relationships with other countries in the Southern African Development Community is important for business survival, he adds.

“People should be bit alert to the risks of the current political instability but also focus on the opportunities that lie in South Africa.”