by Monique Jacobs

INGA VANGA: FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO AN ENTREPRENEURIAL POWERHOUSE

The award-winning Inga Vanqa attributes his successful quantity surveying career to his unwavering passion, determination and fierce entrepreneurial spirit. His strong sense of self-discipline ultimately led to the realisation of a dream: the establishment of Inga Vanqa Quantity Surveyors (IVQS) and Project Managers, one of the fastest-growing built-environment consulting firms in South Africa.

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Vanqa’s modest upbringing did not deter his desire and motivation to achieve the goals he set. With a genuine love for constant self-improvement and learning new things, he completed his quantity surveying studies and embarked on his career journey in 2004 in an industry he was passionate about.

After working for a small quantity surveying firm, Mazwana Maqetuka Peirson, in East London, he joined Turner and Townsend in Johannesburg where he was introduced to the mining industry.

Thereafter, he joined Davis Langdon as a Senior Quantity Surveyor and later, he joined TWP Projects.

Vanqa says, however, that starting his own business after gaining the necessary experience and qualifications was always part of his larger plan.

Upon completing his Master’s degree, he set out to achieve his goal within a ten-year period—he did so in eight.

“I was a professionally registered Quantity Surveyor, a professionally registered Construction Project Manager and I felt I’d gathered the experience and the qualifications, there was nothing that could stand in my way,” he says.

Subsequently, he founded his company, IVQS, in 2013. After quitting his job in Johannesburg, he moved back to his parents’ house where he was generously given their garage to use as a makeshift office.

Humble beginnings

The beginning stages of starting his business were not without their difficulties and he faced a number of challenges, finance being the most burgeoning one.

“The company was formed from my own savings and no other funding. It was very tough, the savings that I thought would carry me through until the business started being sustainable were not enough, so I went through a bit of a financial crisis,” he says.

Due to a lack of finances, Vanqa was unable to employ any staff for two years and took on all the roles himself.

“I couldn’t afford to employ people. I was the tea lady, I was the receptionist, I was the IT guy,” he reminisces.

As challenging as this was, he chooses to see the silver lining, saying the experience enabled him to understand every aspect of the business and function in every role.

He experienced moments of disillusionment and almost gave up, but his ambitious nature would not succumb to defeat.

“A lot of people would say, ‘I think you’re biting off more than you can chew’, or, ‘You’re punching above your weight’. I’d go for contracts or projects that are big, much bigger than what the company was capable of handling but that turned into something positive for me because we landed a very big contract, which is the one that I think turned things around for the company. It was a R200-million office complex,” he says proudly.

After a difficult start, opportunities arose and he describes the experience as a thrilling rollercoaster ride ever since.

Future growth and expansion

Over the years, IVQS has gone from strength to strength, business has picked up substantially and the company has attained a lot of success, so much so, it’s continually expanding its service offerings.

“Initially, we offered only quantity surveying and consulting services but as it grows, we keep on adding to the service offering. We now offer construction and project management, we offer green code in consulting, arbitration and advisory services to the government on infrastructure development,” he explains.

This year, the company turns five years and Vanqa has expressed his plans to rebrand the entire business, because “now, it’s not only quantity surveying. In short, we call it IVQS because, in the beginning, it was just Inga Vanqa Quantity Surveyors. Today, that’s a fraction of what we do,” he says, explaining that there are now opportunities in mining, construction and machinery.

Vanqa is eager to be as broadminded as possible in terms of business and with the rebrand, he is excited to take advantage of the opportunities the African continent has to offer as well as to grow the business within South Africa.

Currently, IVQS operates in a local capacity. Vanqa explains the company is based in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, but due to its growth, they now have another office in East London.

Additionally, they’ve got projects in George and Johannesburg and the plan is to expand even further, beyond the borders.

“There are already opportunities and already people calling, wanting to see me about opportunities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Ethiopia because of all the exposure that I’ve received,” he enthuses.

“I still believe that, in spite of all the turmoil that’s happening in the country, there are still opportunities for companies like mine. I still want to grow the company and I see opportunities in the turmoil that’s happening. That’s what an entrepreneur does—they see opportunities where others run away. I go in there,” he says.

The role of entrepreneurship in SA

In a country like South Africa, Vanqa says entrepreneurship, especially in the small business sector, is the solution to the employment crisis the country is currently facing. He strongly believes the government must create a conducive environment in order for those small businesses to thrive and grow into bigger businesses.

“It is encouraging that our government is considering making entrepreneurship part of the basic education curriculum as that would help to equip young people from a young age with the necessary skills to run successful businesses,” he says.

He adds that it is the responsibility of people who are already in business not to ”kick the ladder” and to ensure that more entrepreneurs are groomed by mentoring them and sharing experiences so that they do not repeat them.

“Our economy will greatly benefit from more people starting businesses and the Department of Small Business Development needs to be capacitated into a fully-fledged department as I feel that there is a lot of work to be done in assisting small businesses and in getting more people to start a business.

“Countries like China and India are economic powerhouses today on the back of a strong entrepreneurial culture and we need to build that culture here in South Africa,” he explains.

According to Vanqa, not only does entrepreneurship promote economic growth but it is a deeply satisfying endeavour.

“For me, what is most satisfying is looking back and seeing how much progress I have made and how much the business has grown. The responsibility of being an employer is also fulfilling, knowing that the livelihoods of a number of families rely on the decisions you make as a business leader,” he says.

The knowledge that you’ve provided employment to people who would most likely have been unemployed and unable to provide for their families is what allows him to sleep well at night.

He cautions that, while there are financial rewards over time, one should not make the mistake of making these their sole drivers, thus overlooking other aspects of running a successful business.

In terms of female entrepreneurs, Vanqa says entrepreneurship is still largely male-dominated and that not enough women are participating in business activities.

“As much as it is tough being a black entrepreneur, I believe it’s even tougher being a female, especially being a black female, as they are negatively stereotyped without being given a chance to prove themselves.

“The numbers are even worse in the sector I am in—the built environment and engineering—as it is still heavily dominated by males and very few women own businesses,” he says.

Vanqa believes that education and mentorship will play a big role if the situation is to be changed, adding that “those women, even males, who have achieved a certain level of success in business have a responsibility to ensure that they groom more young women to also reach their level of success”.

The government also needs to play a role in getting more women to participate in business by introducing or strengthening procurement legislation that is biased towards women, he adds.

A shining role model

A goal-orientated, driven businessman, Vanqa is an inspiration to other entrepreneurs who wish to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.

“I get calls, even now, there’s a guy that’s saying, ‘I see you’re in Cape Town, I want to meet with you’.

“It took time for me to accept that kind of responsibility, that people look up to me and want to emulate me. It comes with a lot of responsibility as well, because everyone is watching what you’re doing.

“I think there’s a lot of publicity around me—I’m in magazines, I’m on TV, I’m on the radio. I would like to believe that I am a positive role model,” he says.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs is both realistic and wise. Vanqa says that while it’s not easy to start a business—it’s probably one of the most difficult things one could do—persistence is crucial.

“I don’t think there will ever be anything more difficult than what I do, so it’s going to be tough in the beginning, it’s like that with everyone. Just persevere through the hard times and things will eventually turn around,” he says.

Research on the particular industry is also encouraged, as background knowledge is paramount.

When it comes to those who have inspired him, Vanqa says he admires people like Sandile Zungu, Khanyi Dhlomo, Sisa Ngebulana and a gentleman by the name of Luvuyo Rani, who also hails from Queenstown.

An award-winning entrepreneur

Vanqa attended the 16th Big Time Strategic Group BBQ Awards as a nominee in October last year. He received the New Entrepreneur Award, an acknowledgement that has meant a lot to him, in both a personal and professional capacity.

He speaks of the experience in a humble, excited manner, saying it was the first time he has ever attended an event of this nature with such esteemed black businessmen and women.

“I didn’t have an idea of what that was like. To go there and be in the same room as the captains of industry and guys that I have always looked up to, even if I didn’t win, this was a big enough achievement, just being there,” he enthuses.

He describes winning the award as the best thing that could ever have happened to him and he is grateful for the recognition for all his hard work and for the potential that was seen in him.

“For the company as well, for people to recognise that this is a company for the future, this is a guy that’s got his mind in the right place—it gives the company some credibility.

When you start a company, people don’t believe in you easily, they ask, ‘Who is this guy, what if he closes tomorrow?’ To receive a national award—I’ve won a number of other awards before but this one is the best,” he says.

Corporate Social Investment

Vanqa is a firm believer in Corporate Social Investment (CSI) and the importance of its role, pointing out the country’s glaring divide between the people who have and the people who don’t have.

“It’s not only the responsibility of the big corporates and the government to play a part in CSI, even smaller companies such as mine must get involved,” he says.

And IVQS walks the talk. The company is involved in a number of CSI projects, including school building and renovation projects in the Eastern Cape and in the rural areas, a church building project and the sponsoring of a sports tournament on Youth Day, to name a few.

While Vanqa feels that not enough is being done in the country to bridge the widening gap, he believes that as long as we keep trying and giving of our time and skills if a financial contribution is not an option, we can still make a difference.

The state of black businesses

South Africa’s corporate landscape has undergone a welcomed transformation over the years, but Vanqa says black business owners still aren’t receiving the support they should be in order to promote business prosperity and growth.

“It’s still very tough to be a black business person in this country. The first problem is the access to finance and the second is access to the market.

The private sector is still very much closed off to black-owned businesses. I have been fortunate in that I have had opportunities in the private sector but it’s very difficult to get into the private sector,” he explains.

Vanqa says that, currently, black businessmen and women are often limited to government work, which can come with its own set of challenges due to the politics involved and the issue of late payments.

Leading from the front

Inga Vanqa demonstrates exemplary leadership and it’s his desire for people to see in him what he tries to instil in them.

“I can’t tell people, ‘You can’t be late to work’, and I’m the one who is late all the time. I believe in leading by example and showing them how it’s done. As previously mentioned, for a long time after I started the business, I was doing everything, so I know the ins and outs of the business. I can show people how things are done,” he says.

In addition, inspiring the team is very important to Vanqa and it is commonplace for him to hold motivational meetings as often as possible.

Vanqa says that a leader must be an embodiment of the culture they want to create and the outcomes they would like to achieve. Tackling problems head-on instead of running away from them is also very important and that requires a level of responsibility and maturity. These are pertinent lessons he learnt during the course of his career.

“Being able to effectively and unambiguously communicate is another important leadership lesson I have learnt, communication needs to be frank and straight to the point. The message needs to relayed, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the person on the other side feel.

“I am constantly appraising myself and finding areas for improvement and that requires honesty with oneself. It is important you know when and where you have gone wrong as it helps in shaping one into a better leader,” Vanqa says.

Striving to achieve balance

Vanqa has been married for over two years and is the father of two beautiful children.

He says finding and maintaining a balance between his personal and work life can be difficult, especially when you own a start-up business, which demands a substantial amount of your time. Add to that the fact that he’s currently working on his PhD research proposal and will be tackling his PhD studies this year.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to manage my time better this year than last year, but that’s also something that I’m passionate about—education. I have my Master’s degree and I would love to take it further and complete my PhD,” he says.

“I miss the school functions, I don’t get opportunities to take the kids to school and things like that, but it’s part of the sacrifice that one has to make.

“I believe success comes with a lot of sacrifice but hopefully, I will retire early one day. I’ll be the house husband and stay-at-home dad,” he muses.

The lesson he would like to one day impart to his kids is simply to work hard and to believe in themselves. This combination, he says, will take them anywhere they would like to be.

“They might not want to follow in my footsteps in terms of a career choice, I will support them in whatever they choose to do. As long as they believe in themselves, they work hard and they have good values,” he concludes. 

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