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 The power of life-long learning in business

 

 Delia Cupido is living proof of the power of life-long education in business. The 57-year-old owner of four growing private schools in Cape Town is clearly at the top of her game, yet she is once again ready to take her business to the next level through an entrepreneurial development programme that she has just completed.

Delia’s passion for her own continuous education - and that of others - is perhaps not surprising given her background. At the age of 13, she had to leave school before she completed Standard 5 (Grade 7) to help put food on her family’s table.

Her family found work for her in a meat factory. Delia, furious at the unfairness that her brothers could stay on in formal education, found in herself a burning desire to get ahead. Still a child, she found her next job herself - in a clothing factory, which she believed was a step up from the meat factory.

There, an administrator soon saw potential in the young girl, and Delia was employed in the office. It was a very far cry from her dream of becoming a lawyer, but she used the opportunity to claw herself out of what for most people would have become a lifetime of menial, low-paying jobs.

She attended night school, jumped at any training opportunity that came her way, and over many years took on more and more responsibilities as administrator and bookkeeper. All the while, a restless entrepreneurial spirit was evident in Delia, from the polony sandwiches she made and sold when she worked at the meat factory to the snacks she sold at night school to the confectionary shop that she later opened in the Cape Town City Bowl while she was still working as an administrator.

When she found that her lack of formal education was disqualifying her from advancing any further up the management ladder despite her talents, she finally passed her matric at the age of 39 and immediately started studying law on a part-time basis.

Property law captivated her, and the new knowledge that she gained from her studies empowered her to exchange her hustling of snacks and confectionery to dealing in properties. This led to the launch of her own estate agency, and soon she owned dozens of properties.

One day, when she was helping a family member find work as a preschool teacher, she came across an advertisement for the sale of the Chameleon Preschool in Sybrand Park, Cape Town. She bought it and discovered that her passion for education extended beyond her own.

Over the past few years she bought two more preschools and started a junior school linked to her first preschool in Sybrand Park, growing the school by adding a grade per year. Today the Chameleon Junior School has six grades and the Chameleon group as a whole has close to 300 learners and 54 staff members.

Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) financed the purchase of Delia's first school, and has since given her two further loans to buy properties related to her growing group of schools. Delia says she finds that BUSINESS/PARTNERS is more efficient than the banks when it comes to processing finance applications. The company is also willing to look at the character of the entrepreneur and the long-term viability of the business when evaluating loan applications, and not just the availability of collateral. 

Despite her years of experience in management and business, and of part-time study, Delia still jumps at any chance of a good learning opportunity. The most recent one was a “mini MBA” that she completed through the enterprise development programme of a local corporate. The programme also gave her access to a mentor, which she found particularly helpful.

Delia believes that the importance of continued education never diminishes, even though the benefits change as you get older.

In the beginning, every new part-time course or new job that she did taught her actual knowledge and skills that she lacked. Now that she already has all the essential knowledge and skills to run a business, she finds that a good course, even a general one such as a mini MBA, adds a level of strategic insight that she has not had before. The course also helps her to benchmark the practices and performance of her business to the rest of the business world. It opens up her mind and gives her the confidence to take her business a level up.

If nothing else, Delia finds that a good course can also be a great networking opportunity. Her latest course, particularly her interaction with her mentor, has opened her up to the possibilities of undertaking property development projects in joint-venture partnerships, something that she has always strictly avoided as fraught with dangers ranging from fraud to personality clashes.

The course and her mentor has given her the insights necessary to evaluate and manage such deals, and suddenly a whole new world of property development at a much larger scale is within her reach.

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