Nomfundo Mcoyi, winner of the 2017 Medium-Sized Business Entrepreneur of the Year award sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. In just nine years, she has built up a multinational funeral services group with 67 branches in South Africa and the UK. When the Icebolethu Group started out in 2009, they employed just five staff members. Today the Group has more than 500 employees and specialised divisions for funerals, catering, tombstones, flowers and financial services.
So where did it all start? The Icebolethu Group has its origins in a catering business that Nomfundo (43) owned before she founded Icebolethu. “Every time we catered at funerals, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of service for the people who were mourning their loved ones. Funeral clients would have to go to many different places to put one funeral together. I decided to start Icebolethu Funerals in 2009 with the aim of being a ‘one-stop shop’ for our clients. My purpose was to ensure that our clients get through their difficult times in a smooth and dignified manner,” she says.
One of Nomfundo’s biggest challenges was penetrating what was traditionally a male-dominated industry. “When I first started, it was difficult to get clients to trust and believe that a female is able to host a dignified funeral for the ‘man of the house’,” she says. However, her perseverance paid off and today clients are lining up to make use of the Group’s services, including Icebolethu Funerals, Icebolethu Caterers, Ikhayelihle Tombstones, the Valley of Lilies Floral Boutique and Icebolethu Financial Services.
Icebolethu’s most challenging expansion was opening a branch in the United Kingdom in 2015. “On my travels to the UK, I discovered that there are many South Africans and others from SADC countries that reside in the UK and are buried there because they cannot afford to be buried in their home grounds. As a fellow South African, this was very disturbing to me. I wanted to help Africans in the UK by creating an affordable package to repatriate them to their home countries. Establishing a branch in the UK was close to impossible, but my belief in my product and passion to make a difference in people’s lives kept me going. Now we have both African and British clients making use of our services from our London offices in Canary Wharf,” she says.
Nomfundo has learnt many business lessons along the way, but what stands out most clearly is the importance of having a clear idea of the identity of your business. “Every business is unique. You need to research and build your own culture as a business and also make sure you find that unique thing that will set you apart from the rest of the businesses in your industry. Passion for what you are doing is also very important. My passion lies in helping people. The line of business I’m in allows me to help people by providing an affordable funeral package. I’m also able to help people by providing employment.”
In 2015 Nomfundo founded the Group’s community development division, the Icebolethu Foundation, which focuses chiefly on the upliftment of elderly women and children. “The Foundation is extremely close to my heart. My joy is propelled by seeing the grateful smiles of young boys and girls when we hand them brand-new school uniforms and computers for their schools. I feel complete when I see grannies dancing in joy and gratitude when we hand them a month’s groceries and build a fully furnished house for an elderly woman,” she says.
The Foundation also focuses strongly on education. “As an ex-educator of eight years, I have very strong and positive views on education. As Michelle Obama says, ‘The more educated a country is, the stronger it is’. The Icebolethu Foundation will be hosting the 100 Scarce Skills Career Indaba from 31 July to 2 August 2018, where we will be exposing 15 000 grade 9 learners to 100 scarce skills that they can learn in order to shape their careers. My aim is for the children to come out with a hunger for education and hope for their future, regardless of their disadvantaged backgrounds,” she says.
Nomfundo is no stranger to awards and accolades, having recently been honoured with the International Recognition Award at the Women Appreciating Woman Awards in London (where she also scooped the Best Dressed award). Last year, a friend encouraged Nomfundo to enter the Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) Competition, sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners and she agreed, in the hope that she could win the prize money for the Icebolethu Foundation. “The EOY Competition was different from the rest of the awards and competitions I have entered and won before. It was a very strict process and was carefully and thoroughly done. It was fairly done and decided on facts, which made me appreciate winning the award even more,” she says.
It’s evident that the sky is the limit for this ambitious South African entrepreneur. Well done, Nomfundo – we look forward to tracking Icebolethu’s growth in the future.