Three outstanding South African business women will represent the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry at this year’s international gathering of female entrepreneurs from around the world in Turkey in November.
The three are Shona McDonald of Plumstead who manufactures wheel chairs for children with special needs, Wendy Kemp who runs a credit control company and Margaret Hirsch who runs a chain of retail appliance stores.
In all three cases the women started their businesses from scratch and have made them grow into the leaders in their chosen fields.
Since its inception seven years ago, the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge has become the focal point for a global network of women in business. They meet once a year and nominated business women receive awards in recognition of their pioneering work.
The organisation was started by the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce and annual gatherings have taken place in India, Cape Town, New York, Lima in Peru and Stockholm.
Margaret Hirsch, a former South African Business woman of the year, started her first appliance store with her husband, Alan, in Durban in 1979 with just R900 in savings. Hirsch’s has grown into a national chain of appliance and home furnishing stores that will have a turn-over of R2 billion this year.
In building the business she has done everything from sales and invoices to delivering and installing appliances.
Shona McDonald was forced into business when her second daughter was born severely disabled. When she became too heavy to carry she asked the bio-medical engineering department at UCT to help her build a suitable wheel chair. She soon found other parents in a similar position and they, too, needed specialised chairs. This was the start of a business that now employs 47 people with a rapidly developing export market.
Wendy Kemp and her late husband had run several manufacturing businesses but her direction changed after failing to recover a debt of R380 000 at the end of 2001.
Business owners were becoming hesitant to take on new clients because of payment risks. Her answer was to start Accountability which helps businesses pre-credit check prospective clients and assist with collections. It has developed a large data bank and range of services. She now plans to expand into UK in partnership with other businesses in the field.
All three awardees will attend the IWEC conference in Istanbul in November where they will be able to meet other women entrepreneurs and develop ideas to co-operate and expand their businesses.
The judges in the completion have all been previous IWEC award winners. They are Ms Margrit Wolff, MD of Mercury Freight, Ms Nelia Annandale, Founder, Keedo International, Mrs Renee Keeble, MD of SA Commercial and Mrs Ferose Oaten, MD of AVTS Roadworthy Stations.