Lerina McCall and Jessica Nhleko, joint owners of newly launched Durban-based hospitality company African Insignia Hotels. Lerina McCall and Jessica Nhleko - both familiar faces of the local hospitality industry who found themselves out of jobs - have decided to launch their own hospitality company - African Insignia. McCall was one of the first directors at ill-fated Signature Life Hospitality to be retrenched in April. Nhleko, a regional manager at the same company, joined McCall in the new business venture this month as Signature Life faced liquidation. The duo is determined to make a success of their new start-up, even in the midst of a tough business environment. While reluctant to speak about their former employer, they said as a women-owned business, African Insignia had no "male egos". McCall made it clear that their company had no links with Signature Life; she and Nhleko are 50-50 joint shareholders.
The lawyers for the hotel owners who are in a court battle to liquidate Signature |Life recently expressed concern that African Insignia might be a new company backed by their former employers, including Signature Life founding managing director, Alan Vels. "I was retrenched in April and as far back as May I decided to start my own hospitality sales and marketing company rather than being employed. "That is when I started all the paperwork to register African Insignia. Our company has no links with the directors of my former employers," McCall said. She said besides working with Nhleko at Signature Life, she had known her as one of the hospitality industry's rising black stars for years. When McCall was regional sales and marketing manager for Southern Sun, she even tried to head-hunt Nhleko. "With me having been retrenched and deciding to start my own business, and Nhleko also finding herself having to find a new job, we decided to become joint directors of our new company. "It is registered and, while it is early days, we have had a lot of interest from industry players who have asked us to work with them," she said.
"This is an exciting new opportunity for me to have my own business and get into the entrepreneurial world. I believe SA is alive with possibilities, especially in the tourism industry despite the current market conditions," Nhleko said. "The opportunity came up, but surprisingly I did not think twice about going into business with Lerina. "Yes, it is a bit nerve-racking to take the plunge into business in these circumstances, but it is also exciting. "I am confident, especially after some industry people I spoke to said they believed I should have done this a long time ago. "But, I guess, this could not have been a better time. Both Lerina and I have been approached by several hotel companies to work for them. "But, why would we work for another company, when there is an opportunity for us here?" McCall said: "I am also confident. Jessica and I complement each other in terms of management style. No male egos to deal with in our company... "She is a networker and we are both strong in sales and marketing. We have more than 35 years combined experience in the hospitality industry.
"One of the other things that has given us confidence is the fact that we are publicly speaking about our company in the run-up to Women's Day and have signed a few establishments. Two of the hotels we are working with are eMakhosini Boutique Hotel and the new eMakhosini on East Hotel. "Our company is starting off as a sales and marketing company for small hotels and restaurants and will offer other services such as recruitment for the industry. We are not looking at hotel management contracts in the foreseeable future. It is a niche industry offering and will have low overheads." McCall believes there is space in the market for the company, but says they are mindful about growing too quickly and would carefully choose clients that they take on - IOL