This Women's Month, we share the success stories of a few of the Western Cape's successful businesswomen. To kickstart our series, we chat to local trailblazer and award winning Denise Stubbs.
Tell us about your position and journey so far?
I’m the Managing Director of Thokozani (meaning ‘celebrations’ in Zulu). Growing up the daughter of two labourers in agriculture, I always saw the wine sector as the Hollywood of the agriculture industry however, my initial passion was fashion design. I went though many phases – fashion design, human resources, project management – however it was always my dream to somehow give back to my community.
Growing up in the ‘dop system’, for me, the wine industry was never on the cards. Landing the role of HR Manager at Diemersfontein, this would all soon change. I was given the opportunity to abandon my corporate career path to become the majority shareholder through sweat equity and empowering 65 farm workers to become shareholders in the business that is today Thokozani.
I played a key role in the creation of the Thokozani Group of Companies, which is a Broad Base Black Economic Empowerment initiative that encompasses wine, conferencing, hospitality and property business interests. Passionate about training and development, creating capacity, and empowering workers in the wine industry, today Thokozani exports to 7 different countries including USA, and is still the only BBBEE company to sell National to Woolworths South Africa.
What have been the challenges you've faced, and how did you overcome them?
The wine industry never belonged to people of colour. You’re in the middle of an industry dominated by white males who are wondering if you’re just here for show, or if you really mean business.
Over the years, I have definitely gained respect from my industry peers for the value I’ve brought to the industry however, the sector still has a long way to go, and we continue to strive to diversify the landscape.
After 16 years, I sit back and look how far I’ve come, and I do feel proud of what I’ve achieved. When I present to MBA students, they always ask what degree I have to which I respond, a QBE degree… Qualified by Experience.
My Christian beliefs have always guided me, and my faith has been key into where I am today.
What has been your contribution to empowering other women in the industry as a prominent female business leader?
I am on the board of WOSA (Wines of South Africa), as well as a board member and majority shareholder in Thokozani Wines and Hospitality. Through these positions, I continue to work hard to diversify and make the wine industry a more inclusive sector.
Over the years, I’ve also been nominated, and awarded numerous awards which has given me the opportunity to inspire and motivate fellow women. The one award that inspired me most and proven that tenacity is key, was the 2019 International Enterprising Women Award where I was one of two women in South Africa awarded the world’s top women entrepreneurs in our category in Florida USA.
We are a strong species, and our willingness to uplift and acknowledge one another on these professional platforms is both motivating and inspiring.
Furthermore, I come from the communities which I seek to empower and uplift. I think to have a meaningful impact you need to really understand from a grassroots level the daily challenges that face the people you’re trying to empower.
Why did you choose Cape Town and the Western Cape as your base to pursue your career path?
I was born and raised in the Boland. I still live on the farm, now a village, where I grew up with my parents.
The Western Cape is the heart of agriculture, and what I love is there is a real commitment from the Province to agriculture – we’re on a different level and I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.
Do you have any advice for other young, aspiring females?
My advice to young aspiring females is threefold:
- You may have gone through hell and back but you need to believe in what you’re doing – if you don’t, no one else will.
- You know our passions - pursue your dreams however, your dreams need to reach further than self-promotion. I believe what we put out, we get back in abundance - your dreams should always include making a positive difference in the lives of other people.
- Never be stingy with your knowledge. Surround yourself with positive people and always be willing to learn from their skills. Share what you know, and bring others on the journey to move forward with you.