Image: Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD

CAPE TOWN -  Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD, is an entrepreneur who owns and operates a forestry contractor business in Mpumalanga’s White River/Nelspruit area and is beginning to make her mark on the industry.

(Image: Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD)

Ndhlovu's dream came alive thanks to an MTO Contractor Development Programme, which was established with the explicit goal of enriching and galvanising MTO’s supply chain.

"My inspiration was developed through my love and passion for the forestry sector, as well as starting my own business. I want to help reduce the unemployment rate and at the same time eradicate poverty in the country", said Ndhlovu. 

The program was created in 2016 after a leadership change in the previous year.

MTO Group CEO Lawrence Polkinghorne saw room to help develop the large community of businesses that work with MTO Forestry and invited forestry development veteran Parmas Chetty to help establish the MTO Contractor Development Programme.

Polkinghorne said, "The goal is to teach them the peripheral business skills that will help them expand and improve their companies. For Ndhlovu, this was a unique opportunity to enhance her business skills. The program aims to develop 36 contractors at any given time and is currently home to 24 contractors who, over a three to five year period, will learn valuable business skills and relationships."

"People like Lilian are the beneficiaries, but so is MTO. Instead of a development initiative made to bolster BBBEE and empowerment credentials, this programme was established with the explicit goal of improving MTO Forestry as an enterprise", explains Polkinghorne. 

“Our contractors have always been loyal to MTO, especially through some of our most testing times,” said Polkinghorne.

“During the fires across our Cape region, all of the programme’s contractors put their teams and their own lives on the line to save the plantations that they build their livelihoods on. This programme is not for BBBEE purposes. It’s the right thing to do, for communities and for MTO’s business. Supporting our locally owned business and communities adds massive value to us, we are privileged to be able to empower and grow with our partners", said Polkinghorne.

Her journey started from humble beginnings, initially working alongside her husband as he offered silviculture, harvesting and transportation services to MTO Forestry in the region.

Ndhlovu was born and raised in Acornhoek, which is based in Bushbuckridge in the Limpopo Province.

After matriculating, she studied Business Management at Boston City Campus & Business College, then later studied for an HR Management Degree, Productivity and Road Maintenance Certificate and Productivity Management Certificate.

"I also achieved certificates in Finance, HR management and Entrepreneurship at MTO", Ndhlovu said. 

This introduced her to the relevant skills and experience, not to mention a love for forestry. “Looking at the lack of black women in the forestry industry, I then decided to register my own company and explore available opportunities. I approached MTO Forestry management and was awarded a short-term contract of six months on a trial basis. Based on excellent performance, relationships and my willingness to learn, the contract was then extended to a longer-term basis", said Ndhlovu. 

Her diligence and professionalism helped Ndhlovu qualify for MTO’s new incubation program to help develop its contractors. 

“I wanted to learn and get improvement from my weaknesses. I’ve learned about improved financial management, the importance of record keeping, statutory and legal compliance as well as the benefit of being actively involved in the daily running of the business. I am still learning more on business communication in terms of protocols, etiquettes and presentations, and also the importance of monitoring and measuring the performance of each employee", she said. 

"I established Marian and Lilian Transport and started operating it in July 2016, at Hazyview MacMac, with my own small capital investment". 

She added that the program gave her chance to interact with fellow contractors, helping her realise the importance of those relationships, learning from each other instead of just competing.

Currently,  Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD employs 25 people and operates MTO contracts in the Bergvliet, White River, area for silviculture - forest growth and management - services.

(Image: Lilian Ndhlovu, owner of Mirian and Lilian Transport PTY LTD, and her employees inside an MTO forest. Lilian is one of the students of MTO’s Contractor Development Programme and her company provides silviculture services to the group) 

Ndhlovu explains that transportation was her biggest challenge when starting her business. 

"When the business started, we focused on harvesting and silviculture, which is forest maintenance. It was a challenge transporting the product to the markets. I struggled to get financial backup to allocate funds for the transportation", she said. 

When starting her business Ndhlovu made personal sacrifices. 

"I relied on personal savings. No proper financial funding was sourced from the outside or other parties", she said. 

"The future for Marian and Lilian Transport is in more harvesting and silviculture, so I want to create large expansions and working towards those goals. I would like to expand both internally and externally, including expanding the number of employees we have", concluded Ndhlovu.