Siyanda Dlamini is a dynamic young entrepreneur who knows how to transform a passionate dream into reality.
He is one of a new breed of businessmen who believes in South Africa’s future and is training a new generation of young people to take the country forward in the hospitality industry.
Dlamini used to earn R850 a month when he first worked in a hotel in 2001. Today, the 35-year-old Pietermaritzburg-born entrepreneur is the co-owner and managing director of the R350-million Regency Apartment Hotel in Pretoria. He is the living epitome of what can be achieved in an ever-changing business world when you apply your mind and talent to the business at hand.
Meeting Dlamini for the first time is an overwhelming experience. He is a whirlwind of information, enthusiastically articulating thoughts and ideas about the hospitality industry and how he wants to make his mark.
Brought up by caring parents, he strove to be the best at everything he tackled. The impressive Regency Apartment Hotel in Ashlea Gardens is testament to his philosophy; it caters for a niche market and the idea of giving guests choices in accommodation is catching on fast.
The Regency serves as both a hotel and self-catering units where some of the rooms have been purchased and some are rented. The property also boasts an up-market restaurant and bar, a gym, a conference room and swimming pool.
Dlamini’s story is fascinating and a lesson in how to succeed in business when youth and perseverance are on your side. “I come from Maritzburg and my family are still there,” he said.
“My mother was a teacher and my dad had a little business. When I was in high school I joined the school’s catering club which set the foundation for what I do today. The club catered for events at school, all small scale at the time but big for us.”
He said he took the job too seriously and his mother told him to tone it down because books and learning were more important. “The club was lovely for me because I got to experiment a lot.”
Before reaching Grade 12 he had already made up his mind that he wanted to go into hotel management and he set his sights on achieving this goal. His first venture into the hotel training programme did not go well and “they said I did not have what it takes to be in the industry”.
This was like a red flag to a bull and only spurred him on. “I’m so glad they actually said no,” he recalls, “because I joined another hotel group. I went to Durban for my first interview after finishing my final matric exam paper. I was still in my school when they picked me up and didn’t have time to tell my parents where I was going.”
His first job after completing matric was at San Lameer on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. When his mother dropped him off at the site she gave him this invaluable advice: “What happens now is that you have to be a sponge and absorb everything. Make the permanent staff your best friends and learn from them.”
Even to this day he believes that if you don’t know something bring in an expert who does. He surrounds himself with people who can, and this has helped his business thrive.
He recalls that when he started his first job he thought he had it all covered, thanks to his five year catering experience at school. San Lameer, however, proved “a phenomenal experience.” Here he learnt from the ground up, spending time working in reception, doing housekeeping, looking after guests in the restaurant, and also taking reservations.
Dlamini worked his way up in the hospitality industry after graduating from the Cape Town Hotel School with a hotel management qualification. He then spent four years in an in-service training post at Protea Hotels learning every aspect of the hotel business.
Over the next two decades Dlamini moved on, applying his talents in various capacities at a number of elite hotels, but always holding onto that dream of creating his own little world one day.
He maintains he’s learnt from everyone he’s come into contact with during his formative years, gaining knowledge and experience that he is now applying to the fullest. “A lot of what I know today was through practice.”
This energetic entrepreneur is under no illusion as to the challenges the industry faces each day and he’s not easily daunted. He keeps abreast of the times, visiting hotels both here and abroad, and absorbs everything he can about the industry.
He admits, however, that his work does become “toxic” at stages and he needs to move away from it. He does this by embracing friends in fashion, banking and other fields and finds time to relax and unwind with them. “I love to draw inspiration from other industries.”
He remains in close contact with his mother, who still gives him sage advice, and enjoys cooking for friends, looking after his two little dogs and reading. His father passed away in his matric year and his two sibling brothers are not in hospitality.
Dlamini emphasised an important element of his journey, saying things do not happen overnight and many young entrepreneurs expected things to happen immediately. It took two years for the Regency to become reality and it has only been operational for seven months.
For Siyanda Dlamini, the future looks rosy and the hospitality industry has another exciting addition.