Setlalekgosi blazes trail through male sector

Setlalekgosi at her office.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse.
Setlalekgosi at her office.Pic.Kagiso Onkatswitse.

Sprint Couriers owner and operations director, Pinkie Setlalekgosi, is a firebrand business trailblazer. This week, Mmegi Correspondent, KELETSO THOBEGA speaks to her as she retraces her steps in the business world, uncovers what makes her tick and how her company and personal brand have succeeded in the male-dominated courier services industry

After a marathon telephonic session of trying to pin down Pinkie Setlalekgosi for an interview, we finally appoint to meet at her office. On the day, I arrive at the agreed time: 10am. When I enter the Sprint Couriers headquarters I’m informed that she has just left the building. Assuming that she might have forgotten our meeting, I call her on her mobile phone. “You should have arrived at least 15 minutes before the agreed time!” she charges at me.

I’m taken aback and start shaking in my boots because I think she might cancel the interview. Instead, she tells me that she will return shortly. This sets the precedent for the character Setlalekgosi is: no-nonsense, punctual, meticulous and disciplined.

Less than five minutes later, Setlalekgosi breezes into the building, greets me casually like we are old acquaintances, and ushers me upstairs to her office. She’s dressed to the nines in a stylish graffiti splash black and white casual pantsuit completed by fashionable Alexandra Wang-inspired high heels that I have always loved but could never afford on my derisory pay. Her look is complemented by a popular fashionable cut; a neat hip-hop inspired cut with a parting on the side. She oozes youthfulness and energy, and her complete presence epitomises the Setswana adage that, ‘Go tsofala yo ratang.’

She gesticulates when she speaks, and boy, speak, she does.

“So what do you want to know?” she asks with a good-natured chuckle.

Setlalekgosi speaks candidly and her sharp mind has all the information rolling effortlessly from the tip of her tongue.

This woman is the powerhouse behind Sprint Couriers, one of the leading courier and transport companies in Botswana. With a staff complement of about 168 employees and a reputation of exceptional service, Sprint Couriers has grown in leaps and bounds in the nine years it has been in operation.  Setlalekgosi is the operations director in the company, while her partner, Michelle Gabriel is focused on finances.

Sprint Couriers’ client base, which features more than 40 clients, includes government departments, parastatals, private companies as well as individuals.  “We are committed to quality and continuous improvement of management to maintain leadership in our sector. I believe that it’s this strong work ethic and commitment to excellence that has allowed us to remain relevant in the business industry after this long,” she explains.

Sprint Couriers was founded with only 16 employees and six vehicles, but now boasts a fleet of trucks, bakkies and motorbikes in excess of 100, and 16 offices nationwide.

The company offers secure, timeous deliveries to all destinations with competitive rates to destinations in Botswana and internationally. The personalised and customised service also gives a clear understanding of the clients’ requirements. The two owners forked out start-up capital from their pockets, and were boosted by a Wesbank loan, which afforded them less than 10 vehicles. Today, their footprint is known almost everywhere…

Born in the Central District village of Mookane, many moons ago, Setlalekgosi, the oldest of six siblings was raised in a close-knit community and family. After completing her secondary school at St. Patricks and Mater Spei schools, she headed to Gaborone and her first job was as a receptionist at the Holiday Inn. After four years, she moved to DHL. During her stint at DHL, she decided to go around learning as much as she could about the courier industry.

“I started the DHL operations and sales office. I wanted to gain knowledge and be hands-on. To succeed, I had to know what was going on the ground,” she says.

This worked to her advantage because four years later she was promoted to operations manager. She continued to shine in her job and was awarded a SADC certificate as the best operations and sales officer in the region.

“It was a great feat because I was the only female in a male dominated field. I’m not an ‘ee rra’ woman. I ask questions and I’m not afraid of work,” she says.

Setlalekgosi later moved to Botswana Couriers (a subsidiary of Botswana Post) where she worked as a general manager. “At the time, I had to convince the human resources department that I could do the job. I learnt to speak up and communicate what I wanted. When you fumble, you give people the opportunity to get to you,” she says.

She later had a stint at African Express where she was for a few months. Setlalekgosi insists that some people don’t succeed because they do not want to work.

“There are no short cuts to success, you have to work hard to realise your dream. Many people depend on me to feed their families so I cannot afford to slack,” she says.  Sprint Couriers was born in a Gaborone coffee shop almost a decade ago. Gabriel and Setlalekgosi once worked together at DHL and reunited with a shared goal to start their own business.

“We respect each other. We don’t allow anything to affect the business and that’s why we are still going strong, after nine years. When we started, we went for almost 10 months without a salary. There were times I felt like throwing in the towel but Gabriel reminded me of the bigger picture.”  Setlalekgosi also recalls how naysayers insisted that their business would be a ‘fly-by night’ but they have made them choke on humble pie.

“Business is easy. It’s how you manage it that matters. Financial management is important. Money should not excite a businessperson. It’s important to separate personal and business finances. Some people start a business and want to instantly drive a big car but…

“Success comes from consistency; to always committing to quality service. You can’t do well today, and slack the next. It’s important to always be on top of your game. I still work, although I’m a director. If need be, I can jump into a van and drive to Francistown to make deliveries,” she says.

Setlalekgosi admits that quality comes first.

“Mo Sprint Couriers, ga se mo ga mmapereko. If you don’t want to work, the door is open – it’s as simple,” she says.

In May 2015, Sprint Couriers was awarded the International Quality Summit Award under the Platinum category, for commitment to Quality and Excellence. The awards, which are spearheaded by Business Initiatives Directions (BID), are aimed at providing endorsement through its corporate programmes to companies and organisations in 179 countries.

Imar Press, sponsors of the BID International Quality Summit Convention, which was held in New York, USA, covered news regarding the participation of Sprint Couriers for publication in several of its 26 magazines published in English, French, Portuguese and Russians. Sprint Couriers were also awarded the ISAQ award in 2014 in Switzerland. The award honours organisations merits in innovation, quality excellence and good practices. In 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the company walked away as PMR award winners, which are geared at celebrating excellence in business, and acknowledge and set benchmarks for other business people to aspire to. In 2012, they were awarded the Diamond Service award, which is given by Debswana to their outstanding service providers, applauding them for excellent service. Sprint Couriers is among this year’s contenders for the Women in Business Association (WIBA) awards to be held next month.

Regarding government support, Setlalekgosi doesn’t mince her words.  “Why doesn’t government recognise us? We are recognised internationally but never locally, why? Don’t they realise that being mentioned internationally markets the country?’

Setlalekgosi emphasises that it’s critical for aspirant business owners to know that passion is important.

“Identify what you are good at and turn it into a thriving enterprise. Anything I touch turns to gold because I am passionate about customer service,” she adds.

One of her employees, commercial manager, Barbara Roberts, describes Setlalekgosi as a matriarch and excellent businessperson.

“She is the type of person who when she notices someone wearing torn pants, would offer new pants. Her employees’ welfare is important to her. She also doesn’t shy away from getting her hands dirty. Although she’s strict when it comes to work, she also has charisma and an awe-inspiring understanding of human nature; she can deal with people from all walks of life,” she says.

To date, Sprint Couriers has grown in leaps and bounds, and is now visible in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The company recently formed an international partnership with Aramax to launch the local office of this company.

Its evident that for her, charity begins at home because Setlalekgosi has ensured that she gives back to her community of Mookane and surrounding villages by donating items such as computers, chairs and stationary to schools and the kgotla, as well as needy individuals.

Away from work, Setlalekgosi is a homebody who enjoys watching television and listening to music.

“I don’t like mingling. I’m a private person. I don’t attend parties. I prefer to unwind at home. I don’t drink alcohol nor do I smoke, and have never experimented with those substances,” she shares. This could be attributed to her strong Christian background as she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.

The mother of three, and grandmother of two, speaks fondly of her family. Of all her six siblings, only three are surviving and she always makes time for her family.

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