“You have the power to heal your life, and you need to know that. We think so often that we are helpless, but we’re not. We always have the power of our minds… Claim and consciously use your power.” – Owning Your Power: Unfolding the Self Within by Sharlotte Naidu
The Moyo restaurant franchise may be one many South Africans are aware of. Some may even be familiar with the branch found in the bustling high-end hub of Melrose Arch. But what many may not be familiar with, is the name Sharlotte Naidu who is the restaurant’s co-owner.
If you’re reading this, that’s about to change. Allow us to introduce the dynamic go-getter, who when we meet to chat, has just returned from an international trip that included meetings in London and Dublin, partying up a storm in Ibiza and salsa dancing in Barcelona before heading to Harvard in Boston for a short leadership programme. The stint at Harvard was unplanned. Sharlotte was told that she had been awarded a scholarship for the programme by the Women Presidents Organisation (WPO) while in Dublin. It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
And as serendipity would have it, one of the case studies in the programme she was studying focused on Nedbank during the time that she was working for them.
This woman who was able to give the other participants more insight than they would have otherwise had, is a businesswoman who holds a BTech degree from Unisa, an Executive MBA from UCT and is currently completing a Doctorate in Business Administration with the International School of Management (ISM) in Paris. She is also a mother of two sons and an author.
“When I finished school, my parents weren’t financially stable so I had to start working immediately. On the day of my last matric paper, I went for an interview at Standard Bank and I got a position as a teller.”
This was in 1988 and soon she moved from being a teller to a central teller and then to teaching within the bank. Sharlotte attributes her speedy progression within Standard Bank to a zest for life that she can’t explain. Never to rest on her haunches, this tenacious individual has always set her sights high.
Not long after, she was poached by the Nedbank sales department, and soon after began studying towards her first degree. Her manager at the time, who she is still very close to, saw the potential in her and suggested that they both study something together. After that first degree she tells us, she just never stopped.
“I was married a few times.”
While she was unstoppable in her career, Sharlotte’s personal life has presented various challenges along the way. At 19, Sharlotte was forced into an arranged marriage by her strict and traditional parents. At 21 she gave birth to her first son. Her husband told her that he didn’t want her to work or learn to drive. Not wanting to be in a loveless and restrictive marriage, she was advised that she could tell her husband that it would be better for tax purposes if they were legally divorced but remain traditionally married. He fell for it and the day she got her divorce papers, she took her 1 month old baby, and only their clothing and went home to her unsuspecting parents. Her ex-husband her to her home and threatened her with a gun. Fortunately he didn’t pull the trigger but her parents wanted her to go back to her husband until she threatened them with finding her own place to stay. They relented.
Sharlotte has never concerned herself with the opinions of others. Her positive outlook on life has always carried her through.
She started dating again around the age of 25 and went on to marry someone who became physically abusive and almost killed her on at least two separate occasions. Once again, she was bold enough to get divorced.
At 30, Sharlotte met her third husband and had her second son. After five years of marriage in which Sharlotte had to deal with infidelity and other issues, she again divorced. They reconciled two years later but the union ended when Sharlotte turned 40.
“I woke up that morning and realised that half my life had been completed and I needed to reflect on the past and decide where I would like to be in the future. In doing so, I put together a vision board and clearly identified all the things that I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, people I want to associate with and studies that I needed to complete. That helped me put perspective to my life. I then built a detailed project plan of how I was going to get there and followed it closely.”
Sharlotte had known since she completed her Honors degree that she liked consulting more than banking and decided to start her own consulting company.
“I decided I’m going to spend a year or two in each of the big consulting houses. I’m going to see what they do, understand the environment and start my own business. Even though I was still working, in 2000 I decided to register a company so that it will have a bit of history by the time I start.”
Over the years, Sharlotte made great strides in the top tier consulting firms like Ernst & Young, PWC, Delloitte, KPMG and the now majority black owned SAB&T. In 2010 at the age of 40, Sharlotte decided to do an Executive MBA. The choice to do an Executive MBA over a traditional MBA was a strategic one.
“The Executive MBA is a class of 40 executives, MD’s and CEO’s of companies. Immediately I thought, if I link up with these 40 people, I’ll have my first database of CEO’s and MD’s to go sell my business to.”
It was terrifying, Sharlotte tells us. She questioned if as a woman, she would be good enough or know as much as the men who looked powerful and more knowledgeable did. Soon she found that she knew as much as they did and that they too had strengths and weaknesses.
Throughout the two years it took to complete the MBA, there were tearful moments in the bathroom and then coming back out to do what was needed. The classmates became a group of friends that still connect and support each other professionally and personally to this day.
“I always say to women, never say you can’t. There’s a way, find it. Take risks and chances.”
Once the MBA was completed, Sharlotte made the move to her own company. Based on her experience in the big consulting firms, she opted to have a small head count and contract consultants that she had built relationships with, when she needed to.
Her focus was business turnaround and the Human Resources. She began consulting to various departments and ministers in government, banks and private companies.
“What I kept consistently doing, was building networks. From 1988, I just kept being at the right place at the right time and continuously building networks.”
While at Deloitte, young women had approached Sharlotte to coach them and she did. She continues to be a life and business coach to young men and women.
“I have made sure that throughout my journey, I have mentors. Even though I’m mentoring and coaching, I have mentors that are there to guide me from a business and a personal perspective.”
In 2016 Sharlotte decided to enrol for a Doctorate degree. After a year of diligent coursework at Gibs Business School, the proposal for her thesis was rejected as it wasn’t 100% academic. Sharlotte struggled to understand why her equally academic and practical thesis couldn’t be applied in the real world.
The outcome from Gibbs didn’t stop her and she began her Doctorate at ISM in Paris, after receiving a scholarship from the institution. Early in her coursework, she realised that the focus internationally is technology, mainly robotics and AI. At the time, her clients were also starting to request automation of various systems.
With what she was learning and experiencing, Sharlotte realised that she needed to be digitally aligned. For her thesis, she began to look at robotics and AI and has submitted her proposal on cognitive intelligence and understanding organisations.
“I think I’m ADHD, I always have to do 20 things at once.”
2016 was busy year for Sharlotte. Along with a silent partner, she bought the Moyo restaurant in Melrose Arch. It had gone through business rescue. She believed she could turn it around and make it profitable. The first year was “hectic”, Sharlotte says. With some renovations, Sharlotte expanded the restaurant to seat five hundred people. The first year was a learning experience that set them back over a million rand. Having just finished the second year, the turnaround has been successful and the restaurant is profitable.
Sharlotte attributes the success of the eatery to the following:
- Resist the urge to dive right in. Take a step back and assess the situation
- Spend two months observing without changing much
- From your observations, create defined processes and implement them
- Network and get involved in every part of your business (Sharlotte would serve her customers herself to get to know them and get first hand feedback. She would sweep and wash dishes when needed)
- Hire the right people
Even with the success of the restaurant and the great ideas Sharlotte still has for it, she says that her passion is consulting and making a difference in people’s lives.
“Once I get my PhD, I want to focus on consulting full time. I want to develop women in ICT. I want to take a team of strong women and say, we’re going to come in and digitally transform your organisation. “
Sharlotte shares that as she got older and with the work she’s done with a spiritual coach, what matters to her has changed.
“Because I was a victim of abuse, I now realise through this journey, that I had to go through all of that to be able to see what I had to do, to help others.”
Sharlotte was in part motivated to stay true to herself and overcome, by seeing her mother stay in an abusive marriage for thirty years. Sharlotte’s mother was forced to stop working once she got married and her sole focus was her children. Even after leaving her father, Sharlotte’s mother remained traumatised by what she went through.
The future for Sharlotte now includes opening an academy for children where she will put them through a twelve month holistic program. She would like the teach them things that would grow them and lead them to owning their power. She plans to mentor them spiritually, emotional as well as equip them with financial intelligence, and teach them a skill like coding. Utilising her networks, she can position these children to be able to better their lives.
It’s never too late, Sharlotte believes.
“Life began at 40 for me and I’m gonna party like a rock star until I drop dead.“
May we all know more women like Sharlotte, may we share their stories with as many people as possible and may we be inspired by them.