Born in Stanger, a small town in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Buhle Ndlovu is a dynamic woman who dared to take the road less traveled. Coupled with opportunity and hard work, she has crafted an investment banking and private equity career that is to be revered.
“From a young age, education has always made up a fundamental part of who I am, having been a recipient of scholarship opportunities since the age of 15. I have always seen the power that education has to push people forward and with everything that I do, education is a basic tenet of who I am and the kind of things I invest into,” Ndlovu says.
Buhle is constantly learning and growing, she is indeed a scholar of global experience.
“In my industry, I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve been surrounded by so many different people and experiences, I have worked in so many different countries – I really do try take what I see and internalise it to see how I would do it better. Even from a personality perspective – as people in the investment and private equity space, we’re not going to do things the same, we’re not going to lead the same, we won’t take criticism the same or help the team in the same way. I always ask myself what I can learn from this experience, what can I take from that and run with.”
Growing up, Ndlovu always knew that she wanted to have a positive impact on society and thought that meant working for charitable organisations. Little did she know that a conversation with her former boss would shift her mindset towards a completely different field, without neglecting the principle that anchored her.
“She said to me, if you really want to make a difference, you need to build businesses and invest in businesses, because charitable organisations and the work they do cannot be quantified. Whereas, if you work for a bank or a company, there are very clear KPIs detailing what is expected of you, and what the actual return should be. That really changed how I thought with regards to making a difference.”
Ndlovu cites being influenced to re-look her perspective of what it means to positively impact and contribute to a better society.
“I’m a numbers person. If I’m committed to making a difference, I want to be able to put it up on excel, and list actual people that I’ve helped and at the end of the day, see the changes. A lot of charities, private networks that claim to help people don’t quantify the help that they give so they really aren’t accountable, and I found that building businesses is one of the ways in which you really can be accountable and help fuel the growth.”
The 31 year-old has had an impeccable track record in her industry, but it has not been a smooth sailing.
“Banking as a sector requires hard skill, because of the numbers, accounting and valuations involved. One of the hardest challenges is that it is a man’s game and boys club – representation is an honest issue. There are barriers to entry and people tend to want to work with people who look like them and share interests with. The strenuous working hours do require you to work with people you can relate to.”
Like in any other white-male dominated industry, her experience as a black woman has been characterised by working towards securing a seat at the table.
“There are micro-aggressions that seep through the interactions and you’re constantly at a disadvantage but how you handle it is the defining factor. You can’t be the person who’s constantly complaining, you kind of need to take a few things on the chin and carry on.
Speaking on the small but impressionable tips that aid growth in the corporate space, Ndlovu emphasises how relatability affects how people view you and the opportunities you receive.
“It is important to constantly push yourself to get involved and not be a flower on the wall. It’s not enough to be a colleague, for you to thrive in any industry, you need people to be comfortable with you and share things in common with you. As a black woman in a white male-dominated industry, it is still quite difficult to navigate but my travels and experience abroad help make a difference in relatability and positively influence my interactions with people.”
Ndlovu left home at the age of 15 on a scholarship to Canada, and never looked back. By the time she turned 25, this globetrotter had lived in six countries, including the likes of Kenya, China and the United States.
“Travel is an important part of the work I do, I’ve done a few deals in South Africa but I’m more of an investor in the greater continent. I find it easy to live and experience languages and cultures. I think travel is a big eye-opener and helps in realising how ‘larger than you’ the world is and how big the problems are. Once you realise that you make up such a small bulk, you sort of look at how other people have solved problems in other places and take that to your particular context. Global experience, local expertise and local applications is something that’s really important for me.”
Ndlovu shares that she has crafted a career that she is very proud of and is excited for her other ventures outside of corporate. She says that the podcast, the mentoring she does, and the panel discussions are what works together in tandem with the private equity work, in order to ensure that she is a better contributor to society and growing the continent.