CEO: Phakathi Holdings

Gurus call entrepreneurship the extreme sport of the business world. Tshepo Phakathi, a serial entrepreneur who has done everything from skydiving to abseiling down Table Mountain and diving with sharks, is living proof of the comparison.

Phakathi grew up in Emdeni, Soweto, and had started his first little business, a recycling operation, at age six. By 16 he was studying banking at what is now the University of Johannesburg and later completed his BCom in economics through Unisa.

While studying, the business-minded teenager founded Phakathi Capital Empowerment, a corporate finance advisory company. Struggling through the initial years with no financing, Phakathi says his only regret is not seeking out the right mentor to guide him through the tough times.

But making his own enterprise succeed prepared Phakathi well for the challenge he took on in 2006. Bringing a number of his family’s interests together, a new parent company, Phakathi Holdings, was established as an incubator for various smaller businesses.

As CEO of the family conglomerate, Phakathi has overseen the impressive expansion of their portfolio, now with a presence in industries ranging from transport to education, finance and IT.

The Phakathi empire’s boldest move to date was the 2008 deal that added removals giant Elliott to the stable. This major player with some 700 employees sits in the Phakathi showroom alongside smaller investments including black economic empowerment verification firm Empoweryst and ICT outsourcing experts Uber Digital.

Phakathi has also become a business columnist, waiting for City Press and Financial Mail. He even wrote his own book ahead of the Fifa 2010 World Cup, advising South Africans on how to benefit from the revenue windfall the football extravaganza was expected to draw.

Now in a position to give back, Phakathi has set up Kaello, a business mentorship hub offering advice and mentorship in everything from writing business plans to tendering for government business.

— Ian Macleod