Lynette Ntuli. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Lynette Ntuli. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

At the age of just 24, Lynette Ntuli was appointed the GM of the Pavilion shopping centre in KwaZulu Natal. It was a step that brightened her already glowing future in the property development industry. It also helped prepare her for starting her own business.

Ntuli, who grew up in Umlazi, south of Durban, is today the 33-year-old founder and CEO of Innate Investment Solutions, a property, asset management and infrastructure advisory firm that helps firms optimise their property portfolios. She is also an international speaker and founding director of Ignite SA, a media platform that aims to advance skills and entrepreneurial development. And she hosts Business Day TV’s weekly SME Funding show — testament to her belief in developing entrepreneurship in SA.

Ntuli’s lightning-fast trajectory in the male-dominated property and built-environment sector has required a generous amount of emotional intelligence. She has had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to prove herself, she says.

"You can only imagine how white males who had been in the industry twice as long as I had been alive felt now that I was the client," she says.

It was up to her, Ntuli says, to reassure them that she was not there to destroy value but to augment it, and to prove that she had skills to offer.

Ntuli says: "I had to learn early in my career not to be afraid but to articulate my value while being mindful that I had to rely on the same [white men] to teach me. I had to be upfront about what I didn’t know."

The situation isn’t unique to SA. Ntuli says the thin presence of women in the sector is not surprising, given that "worldwide, women only own 1% of assets".

Ntuli’s long-term plan for Innate, after it has its "own skin", is a fund and portfolio of properties. "Once we understand the value of the beast, its roots, how things work and what the different classes of property are, at the right time [we will] take all the sweet spots and invest them into a fund," says Ntuli.

Property and entrepreneurship is a combination that Ntuli believes is important for the future of SA, and this drives her work to boost skills and job growth.

She says there has never been a more interesting time to create solutions for the majority of South Africans. "We are the first generation to have what we have, know the things we know and experience democracy," she says. "We have the opportunity to apply the skills we have learnt to the benefit of others."