The intrepid entrepreneur: Nyasha Madavo, CFO of Black Umbrellas

"The beauty of entrepreneurship is the ability to learn from any experience and use it to better equip yourself."

Nyasha Madavo, CFO of Black Umbrellas, is a powerhouse finance head Monday through Friday, but in her free time designs women’s clothing – a passion she has harboured since childhood and a business she has been nurturing for the past three years. “The beauty of entrepreneurship is the ability to learn from any experience – good or bad – and use this to better equip yourself. It requires perseverance and a constant willingness to learn,” she says, from the cool and quiet lounge of her Sunninghill house. It is a home that is open and bright, elegantly decorated, the walls adorned with colourful artworks and gilded mirrors.

Nyasha Dzumbunu recently married her varsity sweetheart Terry Madavo, and an assortment of congratulations cards are on display in the dining room. Nyasha shows us into the garden, where we chat easily, enjoying the fragrances of the semi-tropical plants around us. Our interview is also a photo shoot, and Nyasha smiles broadly, standing tall and proud in clothes of her own design.

Dressing up
A seasoned finance professional, Nyasha’s career includes several years with Deloitte and the last two-and-a-half years in her current role at Black Umbrellas (BU), until recently known as Shanduka Black Umbrellas. It is one of the leading non-profit enterprise and supplier development organisations in South Africa and is backed by the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation.

While she certainly excels in her chosen field, Nyasha has always been fascinated by fashion.“My love of fashion is something I’ve always had. I’m a girly-girl,” she says with an easy laugh. Nyasha recalls her childhood and says she was a typical little girl who loved dressing up in pretty dresses, skirts and shoes, and remembers her mother sewing her some dresses too. “I think it started to grow then already and blossomed with time. I never explored it outside of it being something I enjoyed from a distance,” she says.

As an adult working in corporate environments, Nyasha found the availability of off-the-rack business wear a little dull and uninspired. “I was frustrated when I went out looking for clothing because all I could find was the same stuff and I thought, we are all going to look the same because we all shop in the same places! I thought, I can’t be the only one experiencing this,” she says. “I went into business with a friend and we started small by importing a few beautiful items of clothing. In time, I started working on my own designs. For me, this is a creative outlet but it’s also about helping other women to look and feel spectacular and to help them express their unique feminine brand and increase their confidence.”

Although the business partnership wasn’t meant to be, nothing stopped Nyasha from working towards her own clothing line. Today, she works with a pattern-maker and several seamstresses and does all the fabric sourcing herself. “I have a feel for the kind of materials I want. I want quality fabrics, so that when someone invests in a piece it’s going to last. From designing, to fabric shopping, to manufacturing, to meeting clients – I love the entire process,” she says, eyes twinkling with visible delight.

Entrepreneurship
“I have a passion for entrepreneurship,” Nyasha says. “I think this came from my childhood. I was raised by professionals – my father was a CA and my mother did CIMA – who went on to start their own entrepreneurial ventures. My parents were always in business in some shape or form, and still are. So, that was already ingrained in me.

Nyasha says that, given her demanding career, the road to entrepreneurship hasn’t been an easy one. But, she says she’s learnt a lot and certainly grown a lot. “I now have a lot of tricks in my tool bag,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve also learnt to persevere and to keep moving forward. Any step forward is a step in the right direction. Going forward, I need to really map out what I want to achieve and probably sacrifice a bit more time so that I see all of those plans come to fruition.”

Nyasha says that running her own business has taught her a few things: “Never underestimate the importance of managing your cash flow,” she says. “Corporates constantly need to optimise their working capital too. While managing your small business, you have to ensure that you are running a financially healthy and sustainable entity, and that you deliver quality product, grow your client base and work with your partners in a mutually beneficial manner.”

Asked whether her knowledge as a CFO has been of much use, Nyasha says of course, though on a smaller scale. “I have used my experience to help me with sales and marketing, building and maintaining relationships with clients and suppliers, and negotiating better payment terms, among other things. I’ve also learnt the importance of brand and reputation management. Ethical and responsible business is non-negotiable for me.”

Day job
With such an exciting venture keeping her busy after hours and during weekends, what about her day job? Nyasha is equally passionate about BU. “I love being part of the organisation and seeing the impact of the work we do. We call it ‘heart work’ as we are not only helping black business owners develop sustainable businesses, but we are contributing towards real economic and social transformation. The enterprise and supplier development space is so dynamic and exciting and we see real change happening, which is fulfilling,” she says.

Asked what’s currently keeping her busy, Nyasha’s brow furrows slightly as she answers: “Risk management. Risk is an important aspect that we are trying to entrench into our day-to-day work. We’ve been on quite a journey in terms of entrenching a risk awareness culture into the organisation. We’ve gone through a process of training up the teams, and now you can hear the conversations upfront about the potential risks we are facing, which allows us to actively plan mitigating actions and ensure that we continue to be able to make more of an impact on the SMEs that are our beneficiaries. Risk is a critical aspect of governance and something every team member has to be involved in. The more embedded the risk awareness culture, the better positioned you are as an organisation to achieve your objectives and deliver on performance. Much of our focus in currently on mitigating funding risks and a lot of stakeholder engagements are underway.”

“We need to ensure our coffers are well managed so that they can impact as many beneficiaries as possible,” she explains. “The quality of our reporting – both internal and external – is an important aspect of demonstrating how accountable we are to our various stakeholder partners. We do that through our monitoring and evaluation capability, which is how we track the performance of each business that comes into BU, measure impact and share our performance metrics. Our businesses have hit the R2.4 billion mark recently, in terms of cumulative revenue generated, since the inception of the programme 10 years ago, and this is very encouraging and spurs us on to push for more.”

Big plans
Looking ahead, BU has big plans afoot. “I’m really excited about the new strategy we’ve embarked on, which will see BU become a sustainable organisation – one that will outlive us all!” says the enthusiastic CFO. Nyasha adds that the team is currently looking at different projects in a profit-making aspect, aligned with the work that BU does, specifically around entrepreneurship training, consulting and enterprise and supplier development, while also looking at innovative ways to bring SMEs together with investors for fundraising purposes. “The goal is to develop a sustainable social enterprise to fund the non-profit side of our business,” she says.

Something else which Nyasha is visibly excited about is BU’s recently established entrepreneurship academy: the NextGen SBU Academy, which offers bespoke programmes to entrepreneurs. She says that NextGen differs from a conventional incubation programme in that it doesn’t require a business to undergo a three-year development journey as shorter courses are available. “It allows us to cater for more business as it not only caters for 100 percent black-owned businesses, and we are able to offer a wide variety of training programmes, including those for franchisees and master classes, which are more suited to larger businesses. The organisation has also set its sights on the rest of Africa. “There is great need for entrepreneurial development on the rest of the continent and we excited about the conversations already underway in this regard,” Nyasha says.

This article first appeared in CFO Magazine.