Young businesswoman Mmabatho Montse-Hlabangane is founder of Tea Tree & CO, a boutique interior design studio in Johannesburg. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG -  Astute entrepreneur Mmabatho Montse-Hlabangane says she is excited to be among 15 businesswomen selected to take part in this year’s EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme in Johannesburg.

The leading accounting firm describes the programme as an executive leadership programme that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale — and then helps them do it.

Montse-Hlabangane is the founder and sole director of boutique interior design studio Tea Tree & CO.

The company’s product offering includes silk flowers, luxury 100 percent organic cotton bed linen, accessories, home furniture and décor, contemporary artwork and gifts. 

She also runs ANH Investment Holdings with her husband, through which they acquired their franchise business, a Steers and Fishaways combo, on the East Rand. Montse-Hlabangane holds a 51 percent shareholding in the company and oversees its day to day operations.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Regenesys Business School, a BCom honours degree in business management, and a certificate in marketing, both from Unisa.

The businesswoman says she is excited to be in the EY programme.

Young businesswoman Mmabatho Montse-Hlabangane is founder of Tea Tree & CO, a boutique interior design studio in Johannesburg. Image: Supplied.
“I mean EY is one of the leading accounting firms globally! Getting to meet like-minded women is fantastic, as most will agree – entrepreneurship is very lonely,” she says.

“This programme will provide me, as a business owner, with endless opportunities. It will definitely assist me (to) structure my business processes more efficiently. And I believe it will bring great opportunity in terms of access to the market.”

Montse-Hlabangane says she has always been very enterprising and that she took her business acumen from her mother, who has never been employed but sold clothing items and vegetables to put food on the table. 

She explains that one of her reasons she ventured into entrepreneurship was to get much-needed financial freedom.

“I want to be able to impact people’s lives, and generally in order to do that, one needs resources,” says Montse-Hlabangane, who lives in the affluent and exclusive Midstream Estate, north of Johannesburg.

The young businesswoman, who turns 30 in a few days, says inasmuch as she wants to be wealthy so as to travel the world and provide her children with the best, she also has a strong passion for women and orphans in Africa, having been orphaned at age 17 herself.

She says it looks a lot of self-discipline and hunger to succeed to surmount her challenges. She says she was fortunate to have met amazing people who noticed her drive and willingness to go the extra mile.

“I made use of opportunities that were presented to me,” says Montse-Hlabangane, who started her first business at the age of 21, which subsequently failed.

She then ventured into a boutique travel agency, which she later sold and moved on because “I’m a big dreamer”.

Montse-Hlabangane, who considers herself as an authentic, self-aware and empathetic leader, says Tea Tree & CO. will be participating in an interior décor’s exhibition in Dubai this month (September).

Her vision for the business, she says, is for it to be a high-end global brand. She says her clients are corporate businesses and affluent homeowners.

Montse-Hlabangane, who has worked at JSE-listed hotel and casino group Tsogo Sun, women are still lagging behind in holding strategic leadership positions in the cut-throat business world.

“I think there is a lot of work to be done in this space. We are still lagging behind, not because women, black women, in particular, are not capable – but because big business is still predominantly owned by white men,” she says, lashing out at the so-called “boys’ clubs”.

“I think women lead better because by birth we are more empathetic than men. I think when people can relate to you as a person, as a human being, you’re most likely to get more out of them.”

Young businesswoman Mmabatho Montse-Hlabangane is founder of Tea Tree & CO, a boutique interior design studio in Johannesburg. Image: Supplied.

Montse-Hlabangane says she would love to have a few Tea Tree & CO. boutique studios across the country and abroad, and have a strong manufacturing element to the business as well.

She lists Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul, and Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses, as some of the books that have left an indelible mark on her”, adding: “These books have really just enabled me to navigate through this life thing.”

Montse-Hlabangane says she is proud of average businesswomen who continue to disrupt industries and do things they have been told we cannot do. 

“(I’m proud of) women business leaders who advocate for other women, and remain true to themselves when everything else in our environments tells us to be people we are not.”

She calls on wannabe entrepreneurs to believe in themselves and take pride in who they are. “Be genuine, people see it. Just be real.”