South African entrepreneur Bongumusa Kunene says they started multinational startup Kevali Chemicals to be an inspiration to the younger generation.
He is co-founder and chief executive of the 100 percent black owned company, established in 2014.
In an interview with Business Report, Kunene, who has over three decades’ worth of experience in the industry, says he and a few of his entrepreneurial friends with vast experience in the chemical sector, started the company to be an inspiration to the young black kids to see opportunities in science.
All the partners are involved in the day-to-day running of the company, which has offices and customers across the country and in neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Tanzania and in Eastern Europe in Croatia.
“We are very passionate about what we do. All of us (co-founders) have been in the industry for a very long time. We noticed that there is a void of black professionals joining or rising within this industry,” says Kunene.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we create a platform for them to develop their skills set and prepare them to take over from us?’.”
The Sandton-headquartered company is carving its niche and suppling chemical solutions to a wide range of industries such as food and beverage, dairy and poultry, automotive, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, mining, steel and metal, and public water, among others.
Kunene is clear about their intentions: “We want to be a diversified chemical company. But we don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none. We are very focussed on how we roll out our portfolio and capabilities.”
When asked how they’ve managed to make inroads in some of the sectors they are supplying so far, he says that they started in those sectors where they had a position of strength in technical knowledge and application technologies, that way slowly building up their confidence as well as their reputation. “Once we have earned our confidence, and that particular portfolio stabilizes, we move on to the next one.”
Despite their successes, however, Kunene feels they are still very much at the beginning of their journey and are still trying to navigate the terrain. "We want them to see a company that is owned by black proffessionals succeeding and performing at the top of the industry in South Africa and beyond,” he says.
He maintains that the main reason they embarked on this journey was to be an inspiration to the younger generation. “We want them to see a company that is owned by black people succeeding and performing at the top of the industry in South Africa and beyond.”
Among other qualifications, Kunene holds a BSc. honours degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and diplomas in brewing from the Institute and Guild of Brewing in London, and business management from UKZN.
“The qualifications I have are more about the knowledge that I get, the key is how does one apply what is learned into a business opportunity and treat every new day, every new event as a learning occasion for something. If everyone does that we will be a country of serial entrepreneurs.”
He admits that the successes they have achieved over the years wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for their customers who listened to their story and gave them a chance, their staff and family, and lastly the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in association with the Department of Trade and Industry's (dti) Black Industrialists Incentive Programme. Kunene says the dti helped them to unlock and implement their vision.
“Without them we would have still done it but it would have taken us a lot longer.”
He also thanks his staff for their loyalty, saying: “Our employees could have chosen to work for a company that’s bigger but they stayed with us. We really appreciative their commitment and loyalty.” Kunene stresses that while they are competing for market share, they rather stay in their own lane with regards to their strategy and vision.
Kevali Chemicals is only four years old and Kunene readily admits that they still have a lot to learn despite their successes.
“We are a learning organisation because through learning comes innovation which opens doors to new markets.”
- BUSINESS REPORT