Shirley Figlan is founder and the managing director of Ebony Travel. She entered business in 1994, when many opportunities started opening for black people.
Figlan was born to South African parents, but completed her schooling in Zambia.
After matric she returned to South Africa to start her tertiary education. She joined the then Ciskei travel and tourism department, but left to study at the Institute for Marketing Management (IMM).
After her studies, Figlan joined the finance department at African Bank and then worked for Avis Rent-A-Car, where she was exposed to the travel industry. The experience did not come cheaply because she had to prove herself by working harder than most. Her stint at Avis made her realise she did not want to work for someone for the rest of her life.
Seeing the opportunities that were opening for black people in the new South Africa, Figlan decided to start her own travel agency. With no experience and insufficient funds, she looked for a partner and identified Prestige Travel. They accepted her proposal and Ebony Travel was born.
The partnership was a blessing because Prestige Travel provided much-needed infrastructure, experience and financial backing. She helped the all-white company meet statutory requirements of BEE, which it needed to continue operating in South Africa.
Prestige Travel was then bought by the Bidvest Group, giving it 49percent of the shares in Ebony Travel.
Figlan says it was a great achievement to establish a profitable business in a white-dominated industry.
"You can imagine how it feels to have Bidvest as a board member in your company," she says.
Ebony Travel employs 18 staff. Turnover has risen to more than R24million, compared to R25000 in 2002.
Having Bidvest as a partner helped Figlan with branding, financial backing and extra buying power.
With such a prominent company backing her, she says she can open any door in business. Bidvest also brings a global and competitive edge to Ebony.
But the biggest bonus, she says, is size.
"You have to be big to attract businesses and clients in this industry.
"As much as we go out as BEE companies to look out for business, we still need big partners to help us along the way."
The travel industry is predominantly white, so Ebony Travel's association with Bidvest helps to attract travellers and tourists who are mostly white.
Bidvest is one of the largest businesses in the world and employs 80000 staff who she has access to, guaranteeing success for her business.
She says Bidvest expects high levels of productivity and profitability.
Whether in a partnership or a franchise, investors and partners want the best return they can get on their money.