The spicier side of Jowayne van Wyk's life

The AEEI CFO shares his biggest achievements, including starting his own spice and sauce business.

AEEI CFO Jowayne van Wyk was born in Sutherland in the Northern Cape, which has no more than 5,000 people, most of whom are beneficiaries of SASSA grants. Growing up Jowayne wanted to study computer science, but due to a lack of infrastructure at the time, had no electricity at home to develop this passion.

Despite its underwhelming size and economy, however, Sutherland is home to the SALT observatory, which features the biggest telescope in the southern hemisphere. Jowayne’s uncle was an assistant astronomer and allowed his nephew to spend weekends working with him at the observatory, because it was the only time he would have access to computers.

Then, in 1999, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (better known as NASA), sent an invitation to South Africa for two citizens to visit the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Because the observatory was situated there, Thabo Mbeki, who was the president of South Africa at the time, decided that two people from Sutherland should be the ones to go.

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Following extensive interviews with the top scholars of Sutherland, Jowayne was shortlisted for the journey. Because he was only 13 at the time, and the invitation required participants to be older than 15, Jowayne’s principal sent an appeal to President Mbeki with motivations from the entire community to vouch for the young boy. To Jowayne’s surprise, the appeal was approved and he was on his first flight ever, headed for the United States.

“It was an unbelievable experience to go through, with people from all across the world participating in courses and simulations. We even got to hear Neil Armstrong tell us about the moon landing,” Jowayne remembers fondly.

He explains that the experience sparked a dream for him, and he came back to South Africa with a hunger to take on the world. “Coming from a small town, I thought if people could land on the moon, and I could have this experience at such a young age, then I could achieve anything I set my mind to. It encouraged me to dream big and not to limit my thoughts.”

Captaining his dreams
Back in South Africa, Jowayne was more adamant than ever to study computer science, but the school in Sutherland didn’t offer such a class. He applied to a nearby school, Worcester Gymnasium, which had the computer facilities he needed. After being accepted, he left home to live in Worcester Gymanasium’s boarding house.

Jowayne was exposed to a lot of good rugby coaches at this new school, which quickly picked up on his potential to become a professional athlete. He was chosen to play for all the provincial teams, and in 1999 he was elected to represent the Northern Province (or the Griekwas at the time) at the under 13 Craven Week, an annual rugby union tournament organised for schoolboys in South Africa.

“In my matric year 2004, I captained the Boland under 18 rugby team at the Craven Week, and ultimately became the first coloured headboy of a model-C school in the same year,” he says proudly.

During his high school career, Jowayne developed a knack for numbers and decided to pursue a career in accounting. And in his first year of college, 2005, he was chosen to play for the Springboks under 19 team, and was dubbed “Jowa”.

After winning the under 19 rugby world cup tournament with the Springboks, Jowayne signed a provincial junior contract from the Western Province (WP) to continue playing rugby. “I was also offered a PwC bursary to further my accounting studies, but I gave it up because I didn’t want to be tied to academics,” he explains.

Life had other plans for him, however, and while playing for the WP under 21 team, he was injured and couldn’t play for the rest of the rugby season.

“I made a decision then to stop playing rugby professionally and to instead chase my CA dream.”

Jowayne completed his honours in accounting at the Stellenbosch University and took PwC up on their initial offer. When he completed his training at PwC, he served as a financial accountant for the likes of Pick n Pay, Lewis Group and Clicks, before joining Milan Listed Italian company Guala Closures, where he was responsible for the finance of the South African business unit.

In 2019, he joined JSE-listed company AEEI as an independent non-executive director and the chairman of the audit and risk committee. In 2020, AEEI’s CFO, who reported to the audit and risk committee, resigned. Jowayne jumped on the opportunity when the CFO role became available. “I wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge, knowing that I had achieved so much already,” he says.

He was appointed CFO of the group in August 2020 and became one of the youngest CFOs on the JSE at the age of 34.

Enter Jowa’s spices
While he has retired from his professional rugby career, Jowayne still plays a bit of club rugby and participates in the Cape Town 10s every year to keep himself busy, but has found a new way to keep his passion for rugby alive – and perhaps even profitable.

After his mother passed away from Covid-19 in December 2020, Jowayne realised how short life is and that there was no time to waste in pursuing his passions. He started a Facebook page where he posted videos of him talking nonsense with friends around the braai. After only three videos, the Facebook page received over 1,800 views.

In April 2021, during one of these shows, Jowayne announced that he would be launching “Jowa’s Spices and Sauces. “I always had this love for braai and I figured why don’t I just make my own spice which would tell an incredible story,” he says.

Jowayne was spurred on by the conviction that he could do anything he set out to do. He brought a manufacturer on board and set out to sell Jowa’s Spices and Sauces out of a food truck at sports events across the Western Cape. He also engaged resellers, called Jowa’s virtual owners, to sell the spices and earn an extra income. And almost a year later, he has sold over 3,0000 units.

“My rugby following makes up the biggest part of Jowa’s consumers,” he says, but adds that he has met a lot of good people through his role as CFO, which has helped him network the spice brand.

Through his rugby career, which has seen Jowayne become the vice chair of 10s rugby team Super Bros, Jowa’s is now the title sponsor of the Boland 10s rugby tournament in Worcester, which launched for the first time in Boland in December 2021.

Jowa’s has since expanded into 10 independent OK stores and Giant Hypermarket in Cape Town, where you can now find its Juicy Steak & Chops, Hot Chicken & Chips, Lekka Salt & Pepper, and Tasty Chicken Fish & Seafood spice, as well as the Jowa’s BBQ Steak & Ribs, and Hot and Spicy sauces. “We are also currently working on new and exciting flavours, which we will launch later this year,” Jowayne says, adding that he hopes to expand their footprint into Pick n Pay and Shoprite stores in the near future.

Jowa’s Coffee has already launched as well, bringing a range of Ethiopian coffee beans and plungers to the table.

The Jowa’s range of spices and coffees has also recently been approved to sell on Takealot, and will soon become available to residents across South Africa and will also sell online at the company’s website www.jowas.co.za

Balancing work and Jowa’s
As the CFO of a listed company, Jowayne has his hands full daily juggling the demands of stakeholders and regulatory requirements. However, he explains that he always finds time to think about strategies for Jowa’s. “Jowa’s is not just a business, it’s a passion. So after a long day of being CFO, staying up until 2am is exciting, as I get to see my passion grow.”

In fact, he explains that his finance experience has helped him build the foundations he needs to run Jowa’s. “When it comes to Jowa’s, I find myself applying things I learned during my first years at university, which you don’t use anymore as a CFO,” he explains.

From the Jowa’s family, to the people
Jowayne explains that Jowa’s is bigger than just the spice and sauces and coffee, and that it represents the South African culture and how he grew up. Because of the support he has received from communities across the province, he plans to give back to them as well. “In the longer-term, I plan to create 1,000 jobs through Jowa’s indirectly by having resellers so that we can change the unemployment narrative for our country and encourage people to join the resellers on Jowa’s website to earn extra income.”

Jowayne also hopes to one day open a Jowa’s restaurant, creating more jobs for the people and giving them a place where they can celebrate and enjoy their culture. “We call it the people’s spice, because it is for them,” he adds.