Tenacity, determination and excellence are some of the attributes that one can use to describe the powerhouse that is Xoliswa Daku.
She is the Founder and CEO of Daku Group of Companies, which focuses on project development, investments, acquisitions, project management, facilities and property management. Her vision has always been to turn small towns into cities one skyscraper at a time. She has worked on some leading projects such as the One and Only Hotel in Cape Town, Khayelitsha Hospital and Mall and Koegerberg Interchange to name a few. Some of the projects she is currently working on include the John Mason Park, Mayfair Student Accommodation and the Breidback projects, to name a few.
Xoliswa Daku sits with Leading Ladies Africa to discuss her motivations and views on female empowerment.
Tell us, who is Xoliswa Daku in your own words and how did you set out into what you do right now?
I am a lawyer turned property developer who has established her own footprint in business. As Founder and CEO of Daku Group of Companies, I am inspired by developing mixed use property precinct, that creates spaces for people to live, work and play. Daku Group is a 100% black women owned company, that specializes on identifying property development opportunities, refurbishing them and ensures funding for their successful implementation.
As developers, we specialize on the full project development cycle, Investments assessment and consolidation, Acquisitions structures and agreements and after care services in terms of , managing the facility or property. We are currently working on sizable portfolio of developments just over a billion, some of them backed internationally.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and how it prepared you for what you do now?
Being born, raised and educated in a small industrial town in the Eastern Cape, whilst working in an international renowned city, motivated me to engage in development that deals with turning small towns into mega cities to create jobs and boost the economy of those towns.
My exposure as a child in boarding, made me see and appreciate different places. It also impacted my work ethics and my desire to be the best at what I do.
You currently sit as CEO of Daku Group of Companies, you have also contributed greatly to the Property industry in Cape-Town. Did you know from the get-go entrepreneurship was what you wanted to do? If so, how? And how have you been able to do all you do and still remain relevant?
No I did not. For me, entrepreneurship came as a result of hard work and being an over achiever at what I do. My work ethics inspired partners to approach me to join them in business. Once inside, the quest for growth coupled with adrenaline kicked in. My dreams were bigger than my partners and the sector we were in did not encourage growth for me, so I found a niche in working on property development and realized that I did not need partners to succeed.
I just needed land, people and funds! Having worked in the trade and investment space in addition to my legal sensibilities and the several opportunities I have have been presented with equipped me with enough experiences and knowledge to set out into entrepreneurship.
As the CEO of a thriving company, can you share some of the factors that have helped you in recruiting, building and maintaining a functional team?
Your team must follow your work ethic, value system. They must also understand that hard work, creativity, and professionalism are key. Every team member must feel a sense of ownership towards the business and equally value the mission and vision of the organization.
Let’s talk about mentorship. Do you think mentorship is important? What are the things you look out for before mentoring people?
I am a product of street mentorship. I am inspired by those that have made it through despite the odds. I glean from their wisdom by listening to them speak either at conferences or through their podcasts. I also found passion in working and supporting women empowerment programmes. Hence, I felt a strong need to establish my own initiative to support and encourage young women. I founded Daku Group Academy and invited MANCOSA to partner with me to provide entrepreneurship resources to fill the knowledge gaps budding female entrepreneurs require to sustain their businesses.
In March 2019, we will be recruiting new mentees for our Daku Group Academy and this year we are focusing on entrepreneurs who are in the property and the oil and gas industries. We need their companies to at least have been into existence for three years and of course they need to be females. The core things I will be looking out for will be passionate business women who are hungry for success and knowledge. There is more to a successful business than just profits, a lot goes into that and if you are willing to put in 110%, you will reap the rewards.
Putting the spotlight on your professional exploits; you have worked on some core projects; your involvement in the development of the One and Only Hotel Cape Town, Khayelitsha CBD, Koegerberg Interchange to name a few. Can you share some sacrifices that went into the actualization of these projects? More so, what keeps you going on the grey days?
Well the critical element in any business is cash flow. Aside that, you have to persevere even during difficult times and finish the product. Nothing great comes easily. There is a lot that one has to sacrifice including personal time with family, a social life and having a “balanced life” at times. I have since learned that if you’re planning for long-term success, approach every pitch, deal and even research strategically. You need to become the expert in your field; your future partners should benefit from working with you, and you need to be able to prove this.
Digressing a bit, what is your take on feminism? Are you a feminist?
I honestly believe in equality of all. I always say I see myself with what others would term ‘male characteristics’. If feminism simply means believing in equal rights for all genders, not bashing males but simply recognizing female excellence then I would definitely consider myself a feminist.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as the woman who focused on developing Africa with international standards in mind; a woman who made sure that people love their homes and developed the towns they are in rather than migrating to bigger cities.
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to be you ?
The most important elements of running your business is dedication, continuous learning, commitment and absolute belief/ passion of building your dream. Convert that dream to reality through resilience and lift others while you grow.
How do you relax and unwind?
I love audio. I tend to listen a lot to autobiographies of business moguls and people who have excelled in their field. I also watch news channel updates and spend quality time with my kids.
3 things Xoliswa Daku would say to your 25-year-old self?
Xoliswa DakuDaku would say – Life is not a straight line, it does evolve and requires new ways of thinking and approaching your goal.
Be receptive to change and embrace it with both hands rather than doubting the whole world. You will die asking yourself unanswered questions.
Believe in yourself and always refine yourself. I just saw myself as a big short lawyer at 25 but my hard work and rising above showed the world my strength and I responded to the call.
What is your greatest pet-peeve?
Lead from the front! People who want to be successful without working hard. I get a lot of people writing in and asking me how I have managed to be so successful in business and honestly you need to work hard, there is not time for rest. To this day I work extremely hard so as to also motivate my employees.
2 books you recommend?
The South African Entrepreneur is a great read for everyone to learn some great business principles and Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss which delves deeper into life and business by Timothy.
2 African movie recommendations?
Hidden Figures helps one to understand that it is always possible to succeed in male dominated environments and it recognises female excellence. Taraji P. Henson played her character very well in this movie.
Every time I need to feel encouraged I always go back to the Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith always reminds me in that movie that if I believe wholeheartedly in my business then what is stopping potential investors not to do the same when it comes to acquiring funding.
2 women that inspire you?
On a personal level, my grandmother is my inspiration, she had two jobs and could not do anything less than that in a day. She was a hard-working individual and I watched and learned from her. I tend to have the same adrenaline. At leadership level, previous Deputy President Phumizile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s hard work, leadership style, empowerment and lifting of others whilst you climb resonates well with me as I tend to apply the same.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.