Whilst in a sense all construction work can be called groundbreaking, the exploits of Uvuko Civils have taken that term to a new level.
The success and drive of the Johannesburg-based business has very come through the determination of Rachel Tladi – who started the business in 2002, having come from an accounting background and with no formal construction qualifications.
The inspirational Tladi is the first to acknowledge the tremendous support and mentorship she received to help grow a dream into a reality – not to mention the help and dedication of the team at Uvuko.
“We have celebrated our 10th anniversary but for the first 5 years it was very tough. I had a friend who ran a small construction company that I helped with bookkeeping outside of my normal hours.
“In time I felt that I wanted to work in construction full-time, so he showed me the tricks and I learned about the industry day by day, by working on-site.
“It was hard to breakthrough in those early days, people knew I didn’t initially have the knowledge but I received terrific help from people who mentored me and I never stopped learning. Those first few years I was on-site working as project manager.”
Today Uvuko Civils is a medium size company with annual turnover in the region of R250 million and a workforce of roughly 90 people, the majority of whom are women.
“Today we have learnt about the construction industry, put appropriate systems in place and we run a sustainable organisation which is fully compliant and registered with all of the relevant bodies,” Tladi confirms. “This was a key requisite as integrity means a lot in this business.
“Everybody was behind me as Rachel and I want to put on record that my employees and mentors made Uvuko happen – we created Uvuko Civils for everyone in the company. We work as a team and Uvuko would never have existed without that spirit.”
The business operates as a full-service general contractor covering a variety of services including: pre-construction, project administration and supervision, general contracting, new residential and commercial developments, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical, demolition contracting, facilities maintenance and remodeling, in-house design, underground utility installations, and the repair, maintenance and installation of new lifts.
“When you first start out you set yourself projections for performance over the first 5 years and when that doesn’t work out you question how you will manage to succeed in the following 5 years. But now as I am sitting here, Uvuko has become a successful brand all on its own – largely because of the integrity, growth, management systems and bank recommendations,” Tladi reflects.
Among the projects Uvuko has successfully completed in the Chief Mogale integrated human settlement, located in Mogale City. The total development yields 9,315 residential units with the company responsible for the construction of properties.
Other projects scattered around the country, include the extensive refurbishment of Tshwane District Hospital’s TB wards and the construction of the Philemon Junior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape, with both projects scheduled for completion in December.
Tladi, has won a raft of awards including Govan Mbeki Best Women Builder of the Year 2008 Award, at both the provincial and national level, Provincial Govan Mbeki Women Contractor of the Year 2009, Regional Business Woman Achievers Award 2010—Entreprenuer Category, Top Women Awards 2010—Top Gender Empowered Company—Basic Industries, Top Women Awards-The Most Innovative Gender Empowered Company Award 2012 and Finalist in the same category in 2013. Tladi, has also been a finalist at the World Entrepreneur Awards 2010 hosted by Ernst and Young.
Such accolades are an acknowledgement of Uvuko’s growing standing in what was once a male-dominated industry. But Tladi has her sights set on a new development that greatly excites her:
“We have purchased land in West Rand and we are looking to construct an office park, residential properties and a mini shopping centre. This will be the first time in South Africa that a woman has taken on such a project, without tender and purely on own initiative.
“I am truly excited by this project as it underlines how far we have progressed from our humble beginnings and it demonstrates to people how they can take another route in life.”
She says that the project will incorporate the latest green technologies and will also be built in a nature area – with the express hope that the new complex will attract further tourists to the Mogale area, already rich in heritage buildings.
“We are now looking for investors keen to come on board with up to R2 billion to spend – and we are keen to get the project started, as we already have a number of tenants who are prepared to move in.”
Tladi’s decision to change careers might have seemed a bold choice to take in 2002. However with hard work, determination and a willingness to learn, she has, with the help of the Uvuko Civils team, turned her vision into a reality.
“Being a woman in this industry is a challenge but I want to tell the world that the workshops in place and the sharing of knowledge and ideas among women, has given every woman in South Africa an opportunity to learn.
“It is important to all women in construction to do everything by the book and not cut corners and it took us 10 years to get to where we are. We now want the new generation to see our success as a role model and we try to teach and mentor when we can.
“The new generation must understand that there are many challenges in construction and everything in life comes at a cost; it takes dedication and optimism to make it work.
“As for Uvuko, I see our long-term future looking at opportunities beyond South Africa’s borders and we will look to bring on board partners who have bought into the brand,” she concludes.