IN the fiercely competitive landscape of consulting engineering, where entry barriers are notably high in terms of skills, experience, and capacity, it is a remarkable feat for a business to surpass the critical ten-year mark. Zimile Consulting Engineers, established in 2013 by a core team of five – two engineers, two technicians, and a receptionist – has emerged as a testament to this achievement.
Recounting Zimile’s road to success, CEO Shawn Gama said that reaching this milestone had been an exciting journey of which he is justifiably proud. “I always had a vision of starting my own business, no doubt fostered and influenced by my mother who ran a small village business in KwaZulu-Natal, which was successful even though she has no formal education. I was exposed from a very young age to her entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm, self-belief and unique management style, especially in managing finances. She had the ambition of ensuring that my brother and I could be achievers and she always encouraged us to succeed despite our background.”
After qualifying as an engineer and gaining an MBA, Gama gained more experience and insight into the engineering profession and because of his roots, realised the role engineering can play in empowering people’s lives, especially in rural communities. “It is perhaps this vision of engineering – being able to change people’s lives for the better – that has stayed with Zimile throughout the past 10 years.”
Recognising the gap in the consulting engineering market for a black-owned firm, Zimile has exploited that gap by providing engineering services in mainly rural environments, which include roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects and civil works. Like most fledgling businesses, the company started off with small contracts and as it became known for quality engineering, which included design and project management services, clients became more comfortable with awarding larger, more complex and high-value contracts.
“Building a successful track record leads to even bigger awards but ensuring that one has the right skill set and experience is a vital commodity, besides prudent management of the business’ finances. I have always held the view, and it has become part of our culture, that while there is no substitute for experience, tapping into the enthusiasm of young talented engineers is a powerful driver of success.
“Creating the opportunities for young black engineers has been the cornerstone of our culture and through careful mentoring, and recognising the talents of these individuals, have stood us in good stead, as a recognised empowerment-focused company within the engineering profession.”
Part of Zimile’s mentoring culture and exposing young engineers to ‘the wider world of engineering’ involves being able to spot opportunities outside traditional disciplines. And that is why the company has decided to explore the mining sector as the next step in its development.
“Breaking into the mining environment in South Africa is extremely challenging, especially as a small business with relatively little experience in the field, so we have investigated other African countries, where these traditional barriers are not so rigid. I’m pleased to say that we have secured our first mining-related project in Lesotho, which will be underway within the next few months, with others to follow,” he explains.
And for the next 10 years?
“In growing beyond, market diversity and differentiation within our engineering services ecosystem are key – embracing future technologies to deliver our service offerings. Don’t forget, ‘from acorns mighty oak trees grow’! Hence, we aim to increase our footprint, continue to secure strong leadership, evaluate opportunities for partnerships and continue to focus on building a trusted brand,” Gama concludes.