Entrepreneur • Aquila Projects, South Africa
” I have been blessed with a supportive family, with parents who work hard and believe that you can do anything you put your mind to”
Mandy Jayakody is a co-founder of Aquila Projects, a company she co-owns with her husband. Aquila Projects offers project management consultancy solutions in construction and infrastructure development. For two consecutive years (2017 & 2018) their company has been awarded “Best Performing Company” of the Gauteng Regional awards. This year, The Shanduka Black Umbrellas Incubation Programme awarded Aquila Projects “Best Performing Company”. Find out more about what makes this duo succeed and the social responsibilities they have worked on.
1. You founded your company Aquila Projects (Pty) Ltd in 2015, what inspired you to venture into project management consultancy?
Both my husband, Yasas Jayakody, and I were working for multinational organisations when we were presented with this opportunity to start our own consultancy. I found that I spent most of my time working and this was not conducive to a family life especially having two young kids. Being an entrepreneur means you never really get to “switch-off” but being the master of my own time is a worthwhile trade-off.
2. How do you ensure your company stays relevant in your niche?
We are a relatively young and small organisation, this allows us the flexibility to operate a flat organisational structure; supervising employees less but rather promote employee development through increasing opportunities for employee involvement in the decision-making process. The diversity of our 5-person team, in my opinion, places us at an advantage, limiting group think and providing a number of management styles when it comes to dealing with clients and stakeholders.
Through our engagement with one of our clients over the last three years, we as Aquila Projects have been able to define ourselves as Project Managers with extensive experience operating in the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) space; working in intricate (sometimes live) environments to which the highest health and safety best practices are applied.
As a company we also understand that the rate of change in the way we as humans operate is growing rapidly and in order to remain relevant we must be adaptable and respond accordingly.
3. Your company has been awarded best performing company for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018) tell us more about these awards and strategies you have applied to stay on top in your industry?
The strategy for Aquila project is unconventional growth i.e. to grow in value through collaboration and innovation. We are a service business, our most prized assets being our employees for this reason we prioritize investment in our team and understand that through these investments, irrespective of our employee turnover, we are improving the quality of future practitioners in our industry.
4. Looking at your company profile, you have social responsibilities, please could you tell us more about Project House Dlamini and what inspired you to embark on this project?
House Dlamini is a Corporate Social Investment Project we undertook over 2017-2018. It entailed the construction of a two-bedroom paraplegic friendly house, in rural KwaZulu Natal. The aim of the project was to improve the living standard of the recipient and her son, Jabulani Dlamini, who accesses the current house and surrounds by means of a wheelchair. The house included construction of a hygienic and appropriate sanitary facility, installation of a water harvesting tank and ramps which allow access to the site and surrounds. We also employed local suppliers and contractors.
This project challenged us in many ways both as an organization but also as individuals. Every person at Aquila had some role to play on the project development, site visits became a monthly team event and eventually through our many interactions we became part of the Dlamini’s as they became part of us.
The closing of the project was really bitter sweet. House Dlamini possibly is the best project I have ever worked on and I hope that we have the opportunity and privilege to work on many more of these in future.
5. Operating a business is hard, what challenges have you gone through since inception of Aquila Projects and how have you overcome these challenges?
I could write a book about this, the main challenge in my view is gaining access to market. We were fortunate, we landed our first project albeit small, through personal reputation. Having a couple of projects under our belts does help but gaining access to markets is a constant battle for many young companies and remains a challenge for us.
6. Your husband is a co-founder of your company, how has this experience been for you and what advice would you give to those venturing into business with their spouses?
In some ways working with my husband is easy, we share similar values and this makes decision-making less complex. The hard part is keeping work at work, it requires a concerted effort and we don’t always get it right. Our personalities and approaches to work are poles apart and as you would imagine this is has pros and cons, in most instances we cover the bases but it also leaves a lot of room for disagreement.
I would suggest the following to those couples venturing into business together.
- Set goals for yourself as an individual and encourage your spouse’s personal growth. This helps separate you from both the business and your spouse.
- Schedule time for date nights, for planning sessions and for taking time out as an individual. I believe we become less interesting to our spouses if we do everything together, it removes the mystery and intrigue.
- Get a mentor. It took over two years for us to find a mentor for which there was a mutual fit. Over the last year we have had an incredible mentor, Dr Eugene Watson. We were very fortunate to be appointed to him as part of the Black Umbrellas Incubation Programme. Often, he has been the sound of sanity in the noisy madness.
7. If you were to place anything that interests you on a board, what would it be and why?
- Travel – I would work to be paid in travel.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely” Mark Twain
2. Family – I have been blessed with a supportive family, with parents who work hard and believe that you can do anything you put your mind to (sometimes irrationally so), with siblings who call you out on your nonsense (bs), kids who question your judgement and a husband who was first in line when God was handing out temperament.