BACKSTORY: Mikayla Benkenstein, CEO of Hodari Africa
This week we profile the CEO of construction group Hodari Africa
What’s your top tip for doing a deal?
My top tip for deal making is to be prepared to walk away if necessary.
What was your first job?
I was a kitchen assistant at a wine farm while I was in school. Throughout university, I worked as a bike shop assistant. After university, I became a document controller for Mace Management Services on the Silo Precinct at the V&A Waterfront.
How much was your first pay cheque, and how did you spend it?
During university, my pay cheque as a bike shop assistant was R2,000 a month. I spent it on petrol and textbooks.
What is the one thing you wish somebody had told you when you were starting out?
That I deserve a seat at the table as much as anybody else. I also wish they’d advised me that in certain industries, such as construction, being the only woman at the table might be a reality, but I should get comfortable with it.
If you could fix only one thing in SA, what would it be?
Corruption. It has become so pervasive that it affects our daily lives, leading to a “corruption tax” that we pay privately to access basic services we already pay the government to provide.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that people don’t know?
A couple of years into my career in construction, I briefly left the industry to become a pro cyclist. Though it didn’t work out as planned, it was a memorable time in my life, and I also met my husband.
What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?
Buying a house in the wrong suburb. That age-old adage of “location, location, location” turned out to be true.
What’s the best investment you’ve made? And how much of it was due to luck?
I have high hopes for Hodari Africa. As for luck, it’s hard to determine its exact influence, but I am confident in the potential of this investment.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently, and why did you like it?
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I enjoyed it because it beautifully highlights our flawed perception of others and our sense of entitlement as humans. Another book I loved was The Girl with the Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, an amazing true story of a young mom and librarian who becomes a sniper in World War 2.
What is the hardest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Learning that perfection doesn’t exist. When our daughters were born, they didn’t look like other babies. This challenged our perceptions of what is considered perfect. In our eyes, they are, but it reminds us that others might see them differently.
What phrase or bit of jargon irks you most?
“It’s a vanilla deal” — as if all deals are generic and lacking flavour.
If you were President Cyril Ramaphosa, what would you change, or do, tomorrow?
I would fire everyone [in the cabinet] and start afresh, and implement a new culture of accountability and transparency. I would also take some time for personal wellbeing, like going for a run; I find it leads to better decisionmaking.
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