Executive director of operations at Vuma Reputation Management Tshepo Sefotlhelo is an articulate fellow with a passion for communicating strategies, a niche he has earned for himself.
Speaking to City Press from the company’s head office in Illovo, Sefotlhelo said one of the biggest mistakes practitioners make is attempting to manage facts rather than perceptions and it’s a pothole that has swallowed a lot of careers.
“Unfortunately in this day and era we manage perceptions and not facts,” he said.
Born and bred in Soweto, Sefotlhelo was raised in a family of three sisters in a middle class family, matriculated at De La Salle Holy Cross College in Victory Park before heading to the now-defunct Witwatersrand Technikon (now University of Johannesburg, Kingsway Campus) to study for a bachelor of commerce in marketing.
“My parents were pretty educated and did the best they could do to get us educated but they never really influenced us much on career direction,” he said.
As a student, he managed to get his first job as a packer in a Woolworths store in 1996 in East Gate, working his way up until he was a supervisor three years later. But the move signalled the beginning of his working career and he did not complete his studies.
“I didn’t complete, I got hijacked by the dream,” he said.
“I left there [Woolworths] because I got another offer to work at another clothing chain store in Sandton and later moved to be a call centre agent,” he said, adding that the experience gained as an agent interacting with people from all walks of life proved to be invaluable.
It was at MultiChoice that he said he fell in love with sales, adding to his experience before.
In 2000 he left the company and tried his hand at his own transport business with his savings.
“I had the money and my friend had the ideas, so we bought a mini bus and business was doing okay for about a year and half. Although we wanted to save up more money and buy more mini buses, there was no discipline and the business eventually failed,” he said.
He headed back to the job market again in 2002 and this time he ended up at Cell C and switched sectors when he joined Outsurance in 2005.
Speaking about his time at the insurance company, Sefotlhelo’s face brightens up as he reminisces about his time there – which happens to be where he met his wife.
“That’s where I learnt the most. That is also where I learnt that my true passion is in communication,” he said, adding that he also learnt to think out of the box, be analytical and take responsibility.
Sefotlhelo said he believed everyone was a leader. “We are all leaders in our own space, you can even be a leader to your own boss because there’s a specific task that you know better than the whole team. Whether you get recognition or not is not important,” he said
In 2008 he took another leap of faith and jumped ship without any secured job.
“When you go to work just to collect a cheque, it’s a huge problem. I joined BrandSmart as a freelancer and did event management and worked on some major campaigns because I realised the only way I thrive is when my mind is stimulated every day, when I communicate with people, being creative and the insurance firm environment didn’t suit me any more,” he said.
Facing social media
It was while he was a freelancer that Vuma Reputation Management recruited him and a decade later he is one of its executive directors.
Sefotlhelo said throughout his journey, the biggest challenge was the new era of social media because it required thinking on one’s feet all the time.
“I was tuned to understand that every day you learn, it’s the least you can do. And I know all those jobs had taught me a great deal and prepared me for where I am,” he said.
Another principle he believes in and said had served him well is the rule against rejecting opportunities.
“If somebody gives you an opportunity, don’t say you don’t know how to do it because opportunities come in different ways. As a human being you must be positive and have that can-do attitude that does not mean you have to be irrational,” he said.
As an executive, Sefotlhelo said the biggest lesson had to be the importance of cash flow.
Sefotlhelo pointed out that the playing fields are not levelled yet across racial lines. But, he said, what is needed is not new rules but an appetite to transform.