When 4-year-old Judy became mesmerised by a doctor who’d come to treat her ill father, a seed was planted that would change her life forever. “Dr. Vusi Gcabashe sold the profession to me through his professionalism, healing powers and the beautiful car he drove. He showed me a different kind of black person; one that I wanted to emulate,” reminisces the Durban native who now calls the City of Gold home. Growing up in Westville at the time, there weren’t many really affluent black professionals that Dlamini could look up to, but her fire was fuelled and she decided to study towards becoming a medical doctor.
In 1985, after receiving her medical degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she became a family practitioner for a couple of years. But it wasn’t enough. The entrepreneurial bug had bitten her years before when, from the age of 11, she and her sister had spent their time working at her father’s tuck shop on Sundays. “I love believing that I’m in charge of my destiny and business gives me that feeling,” she says. There’s no denying that this wife and mother of two is very much in charge of her destiny.
Armed with a Master of Business of Administration from the University of the Witwatersrand, it’s very clear to see that Dlamini had a carefully mapped-out game plan. Business is not for the faint-hearted. And having sat on the boards of dozens of companies including Woolworths and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, she’s a perfect example of what it looks like to make the right moves at precisely the right time.
For many who’ve tracked her career it might be hard to pinpoint exactly which business decision benefitted her the most, although one in particular does stand out – the Mbekani Group, which Dlamini founded in 1996. Described as “having investments and operations in fashion retail, health, retail property, tourism and facilities management”, this company has produced an array of very impressive investments and acquisitions. “Each venture has its special place. Starting something from scratch and witnessing it grow like Mbekani Group is doing is fulfilling,” she says. Another investment she holds particularly close to her heart is the one she made in Aspen Pharmacare Holdings just over a decade ago through BEE group, Imithi. “Aspen stands out for me because of the value that Stephen Saad (the owner) and his team, created for the shareholders,” she explains. Her belief in people and their ideas is something that can be seen over and over again in her choices. And getting the right people to invest in a business and empower it is another of her many golden tips, as well as delaying gratification while reinvesting to grow a business. With her numerous rankings as one of South Africa’s top 10 richest women over the years, it’s plain to see Dlamini just keeps striking gold.
However, one can’t speak of Dlamini without also considering her partner of 42 years, former CEO of FirstRand Limited, Sizwe Nxasana. This power couple has been effectively reshaping the way that black business is perceived for over two decades, and has managed to make it look so effortless. This hasn’t been without their fair share of heartbreak, which includes losing their beloved son, but they’ve risen above adversity time and time again. The Nxasana’s have been married for an incredible 32 years.
How do you go from being a general practitioner to becoming one of the most respected women in business? Zamahlasela Gabela finds out how it’s done from Luminance owner, Dr. Judy Dlamini.
Another thing that she’s managed to master is being relevant in some of the toughest sectors in business. A prime example of this was when Dlamini and her family took over ownership of luxury boutique, Luminance, in July 2014 from Khanyi Dhlomo, removing the dark cloud that was hovering over it when Dhlomo’s National Empowerment Fund loan for the company came into question. Dlamini quite literally swooped in and saved the day. With luxury brands like Carolina Herrera and more recently Jimmy Choo, situated in Sandton City’s Diamond Walk, under the Luminance brand, her love for fashion and the finer things has resulted in yet another lucrative avenue.
So what motivates this wonder woman? “Knowing that the fruits of my toil will make a difference in my life, my family’s life and the communities I serve is what encourages me to get up in the morning,” she says. But the people that she absolutely cannot live without are her husband and daughter, Nkanyezi. In fact, the best day of her life was when Nkanyezi got married. “Our daughter got married last year, the traditional wedding was in August and the white wedding was in Franschhoek in December. While August was stressful because the traditional wedding was at our house, the weekend of the white wedding was the best weekend of my life! To see Sizwe and Nkanyezi that happy made it truly special. It doesn't hurt that she married a remarkable person. Everyone in the family loves our son-in-law Lufuno,” she elaborates.
The buzz of Johannesburg has played a significant role in the backdrop of Dlamini’s life. It’s hard to escape this city, and it often crawls into the corners of your heart when you least expect it. “The energy is amazing, it allows you to choose the speed and pace yourself. But because of its size, you can be completely invisible if you choose,” she concludes.