Tumi Phake is a South African based entrepreneur, business speaker, and mentor. He is the founder and Group Chief executive officer of Zenzele Group and was awarded the 2017 South African entrepreneur of the Year Award.
In 2019, he was ranked amongst the topmost influential, young South Africans in business. A former banker with seven years’ experience in investment and banking, Phake spent a lot of time learning and leveraging off industry experts.
Since the inception of the company, Phake has managed to raise R50 million and created employment for 150 employees inclusive the contracted staff to date. In the future, he plans to expand not only in South Africa but to the rest of the African continent as a publicly listed company, dominating the industry as the first black player.
Phake previously served as a junior board member for FNB Wealth. In 2015, he was recognized by the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s list, an initiative that recognizes South Africans under the age of 35 who are groundbreakers in various industries.
Inspired by his passion for health, fitness and business, Tumi’s vision is to positively impact on the burgeoning Chronic Disease Burden facing South Africa using the power of physical activity as both a prevention and treatment modality.
Zenzele Fitness, improving your wellbeing productivity and performance beyond the idea of a simple gym by offering top-of-the-line fitness technology in the market.
In 2016, Phake was selected as a South African ambassador for the prestigious Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in the United States of America, a leadership programme established by former President Barack Obama for young African Leaders. During the programme, he studied Business and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Commonwealth University and had the great honour of meeting former president of the USA, Barack Obama.
He is now contributing to the entrepreneurial development journey of others as a business mentor at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.
Q Who is Tumi Phake and what has been your impressive highlights of your career as an entrepreneur?
Tumi Phake is a visionary and my mission is to play an important role with impacting a great change in Africa through entrepreneurship.
My highlights are having created over 100 jobs, starting and building 7 companies.
Q Some might know about it but many are still keen to hear more about it: Zenzele Fitness, tell us about its background, detail service offering and what it has achieved over the years as its vision bearer?
Zenzele Fitness is the first company from Zenzele Group which launched in 2014.
It is a gym management business that designs, operates and manages fitness facilities for large corporations, Universities, hotels and private residential estates. We currently operate 22 facilities country wide.Q I believe you’ve formally studied banking and finance, how did you end-up venturing into fitness industry?
I have always had a keen interest in the fitness industry, entrepreneurship and health technology.
Starting a gym/wellness company was always part of the plan as well as launching more businesses:
- Zenzele Hydrate (Water bottle, Tech company)
- Zenzele Technology (Software and app development)
- Zen Health Bar (Health and food restaurant)
- Zenzele Wellness (Pharmacy, health and beauty retail)
- APARA (Sport Apparel company)
- ZEN – Zenzele Enhanced Nutrition (Health and lifestyle supplement business)
These subsidiaries are all controlled and managed by Zenzele Group
Q What do you look for in an employee? I know it is often said that one of the most important things is that they fit into the company culture!Q With quite a number of Fitness companies in the country, how do you handle the competition and what is unique Zenzele Fitness?
Zenzele fitness is unique in that we are able to offer world class fitness and wellness services to large corporates.
We have a unique proposition that focuses on providing a service for large companies and this has made us appealing to our corporate clients.
Our business model mainly focuses on a captive market and this has worked well for us.
Q Does Zenzele Group have any Corporate Social Responsibility projects aiming at uplifting communities?
Yes, we do, currently we donate school shoes to underprivilege children.
Q How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your core values? Are you planning to continue with the support other communities should the pandemic persist?
This is something we are constantly harnessing and refining as a business. A great organization is one that is able to run without its leaders always being present. Our values are focused on innovation, no compromise and excellent customer service.Q I know it hasn’t been an easy journey, but how have you dealt with setbacks and disappointments in your entrepreneurial journey?
I deal with setbacks by embracing the failures as much as I embrace the wins. I have come to a point where I don’t take things personally and understand it’s all part of the journey and the game. I am here to learn, grow and ultimately win. Winners understand that in order to be great, one also needs to understand the challenges and responsibilities it comes with.
Q If you were to advise President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would be the key priorities you would recommend for dealing with poverty, unemployment and under development in South Africa?
The main key priorities would be to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and reforming the current curriculum in secondary education, which has proven to be outdated and falling behind the current global direction.Q What books on entrepreneurship and growth, which are less theoretical and more practical would you recommend to young people who wish to become entrepreneurs?
Q In the light of the state capture in South Africa and other corporate scandals, how can we promote ethical leadership in Corporate South Africa?
1. Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
2. The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins (an absolute must read)
In business, without a well revised and clear execution plan, most businesses struggle to take off. The same applies with running a country, we have great policies around managing risks as well as good governance structures, however, there seems a struggle in the execution of these policies.
Living your brand is simply being yourself and infusing that into the daily life of our work
Yes, we have been planning to launch our health restaurant business, but due to Covid-19 and the lockdown, our launch was delayed. We are looking at launching in 2021.Q Africa is being talked about as the new frontier. What should be the role of government and society in building capacity for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
The is a lot of mind shifting that need to be done. We need to move away from the ‘survival mind state” and start moving towards innovation and growth.
The government need to investment in new growth opportunities, aligned with the country’s needs. This will foster and encourage more opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore. An ecosystem that will encourage job creation and also incentivise more people to become entrepreneurs.Q Africa is being talked about as the new frontier. What should be the role of government and society in building capacity for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Every day there’s always someone saying this, that and the other about all these myriad opportunities. I’m fortunate in that my personality also comes into play here. Everything I’ve done in the past, I would sit on it and want to do it well first. The number of hours I spent practicing sports or studying reflect that commitment that I’ve always endeavored to cultivate.
So, I read The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I really resonated with the 10 000 hours rule and that we need to put in those hours to develop mastery in a field because very few people actually will. So that’s the level I’m constantly striving to get to. It’s not even about the business, it’s about understanding and completely immersing myself in the entrepreneurial mindset.
Entrepreneurship is a skill that I’m building; the processes, the mitigation of risks, the pros and cons, capital-raising, all of that and more I’m acquiring through commitment to my craft. I value the real-life experience far more than anything else. I am not at all dismissing education or getting an MBA, but nothing will replace getting your hands dirty and learning your way through all the practical real-life scenarios that happen daily in business.
It’s also important to give back so I am involved in mentorship initiatives and have also pursued my own personal and professional development through initiatives such as the Young African Leaders Initiative which is also known as the Mandela-Washington Fellowship.
I went to Harvard as part of Harambee Entrepreneurship Alliance which is a network of young African entrepreneurs hosted by Harvard University. The aim of the Harvard programme was to assist us as African entrepreneurs to understand ways in which we can stimulate our economies and build sustainable and scalable businesses.
So, being part of these networks, meeting amazing people doing inspiring things entrepreneurially is key to my own development. My roommate at Harvard, a Nigerian, was the Global Entrepreneur of the Year through Ernst and Young. He’s someone I can call and exchange views and ideas with or solicit guidance from, so that exposure is invaluable. They say you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with, so I constantly check in with the question of, “who do I spend my leisure time with?”
Before I sleep every night, I switch off the TV and my phone and will read any one of the books on my bedside table for at least an hour During the day it’s too hectic to actually focus on reading. So, it’s about understanding what’s happening in the financial markets and keeping current with global issues.
I import my equipment so what happens in those arenas does affect my business. So, what I choose to put in my head and who I choose to spend my time with are all very critical to who I am and who I’m becoming. I also don’t allow things to consume me because I don’t want to lose sight of who I am and what’s important.Q How has the spread of new technologies like the Internet, smartphones, and social media changed the landscape for your business?
It has significantly changed the landscape and I was able to grow my personal brand as well as the brand my businesses. We have also now invested into a tech company – Zenzele Technology which focuses on software development and applications in order to reach out to a large customer audience.Q What is required to take Africa to a higher growth trajectory, to reduce poverty and underdevelopment?
Everything that happens in the world starts with a state of mind. We need to aggressively change Africa’s public relation and image. We need to foster a sense of pride through an aggressive marketing strategy and make it appealing to its own people. Poverty is firstly a state of mind, which could be changed, if we all collectively decided to do so.