How Siyanda Dlamini Achieved His Dream of Owning a Hotel

Siyanda Dlamini knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life from the time he turned 15. Hotel management (and eventually ownership) wasn't the obvious choice for a young black boy from KwaZulu Natal, but he knew he had enough passion and determination to see his dreams come true.

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PLAYER: Siyanda Dlamini

Rich Townsend

PROJECT: The Regency Apartment Hotel Menlyn

LAUNCHED: 2018

 

Siyanda Dlamini is the proud owner of the recently launched hotel management company that owns the Regency Apartment Hotel in Menlyn. Thanks to focus, hard work and commitment, he’s built a career from the ground up that has culminated in his first move into entrepreneurship. 

This is how he did it.

I’ve always taken everything I do seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. I think there’s an important distinction. You need to give everything your all, but if it doesn’t work, laugh at yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

Ever since the catering club in Alexandra High School in Pietermaritzburg, I’ve taken things seriously. I treated it like a real job, and that degree of dedication shaped my life. By the time I was 15 I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.

My mom was a teacher and didn’t love the idea that I was choosing hotel school over maths and science, but I knew if I followed my passion I’d achieve great things, so that’s what I did.

I look at everything as a picture made up of a multitude of dots and colours. For me, that’s how life and business works. I’ve always been inquisitive — I need to understand everything. It’s why I’ve wanted to work in all the different positions within my chosen field, and why I’ll always ask questions.

The more you know, the bigger the picture, and the more you can connect the dots. It’s the same with people and networks. Be open to as many possibilities and networking opportunities as possible, and then connect anyone who you believe will benefit from it. Give of yourself freely.

In this way I’ve helped others, but great opportunities have also come my way. A few years ago, when I was offered the opportunity to buy into a hotel franchise, I secured funding because I was introduced to the right people by a female butcher who I had introduced to my industry contacts.

It wasn’t a quid pro quo, but the result of networking and relationship building, and then connecting each other with great people. The deal didn’t go through, but I’d learnt two valuable things: First, with the right connections and business plan, the funding you need is obtainable, and second, when an opportunity doesn’t go as planned, it’s often because something bigger and better is around the corner.

If you believe in yourself, that’s all that really matters. I was teased a lot at school. I was a black boy who spent all his time building up the catering club, and following one of my teachers, Mrs Meyer around. She headed up the catering club and had taken me under her wing, teaching me about buying in bulk, spotting specials and the basics of accounting.

She believed in me, and really gave me good insights. It made me different, but I didn’t care. I didn’t need anyone else’s validation. I had the most amazing support system in my mother, and the self-belief and confidence to carry me through.

No one can build your dreams for you — only you can do that. You have to back yourself. You can’t expect people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

I look at where I am today — 1 000 builders on site, contractors, staff on board, a new hotel brand — and I know that all this was only possible because of my confidence, my plan, my passion.

Do what feels right; don’t conform to what everyone else is doing. Once I found out about Protea Hotel’s training programme, I wrote a letter to the training director — I wanted her to know who I was and what I wanted to do. 

I needed to get into that programme, and so I thought about what would get me noticed. It worked — but it also landed me in their toughest hotel; the biggest and busiest. That was okay — I’d told her I was tough. Now I had the chance to prove it. Through their programme Protea gets four years of service from its trainees, but we get the experience we need. You’re in control of where that takes you. The more you put in, the more you get out.

Always be aware of the risks involved, but don’t let them determine your way forward. It’s important to recognise risks because that’s how you mitigate them — that’s how you plan your next moves and ensure you’re covering all your bases. I like risks — they make me cautious, which makes me think everything through.

I don’t do anything without a carefully plotted-out plan of action. The great thing about planning everything is that you can then tackle whatever you’re doing head on, full of confidence.

It took me a long time to get here, and I’ve loved every step of the journey. I’ve had to get through the Protea Hotels training programme, various hotels, various management styles — this was a long road of hard work and long hours. It didn’t just happen or come easily. It’s taken real dedication.

I’ve loved every second of it though — even the tougher positions and managers. I believe you need to go through everything and experience every position and step in your chosen industry to really understand it, and appreciate what you have. Everything is a learning opportunity, you just need to grab it with both hands. 

Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards. After four years in a management position in a great hotel, I made the decision to move to a bigger hotel into a slightly more junior position. I knew I needed a new challenge; to keep learning — and I had the confidence in myself that I would be able to rise through the ranks quickly once I’d made the move.

My goal was always to own something of my own, but not this big. I’ve always thought I’d eventually open a small boutique hotel with 100 rooms and themed floors. And while I plan to still do that one day, it’s also clear that if you’re open to opportunities, they come your way. You just need to lay the foundations — build your reputation, work hard and network.

People need to know you and trust you, and great things will happen. This is one of them. The developer, Key Spirit Developments, was looking for a hotel management company owner and someone from my network introduced us. Our values and visions aligned — and the rest is history. 

The road ahead is daunting, so make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing. This is particularly true of my industry, but all entrepreneurs face a tough, uphill battle. If it’s only about the money, you won’t make it. You’ll need passion, grit and determination to get through all the challenges that will come your way, and the mistakes you’ll make and lessons you’ll need to learn.

I started my career with R850 and a willingness to work day and night to make my dreams come true. I want to change lives and mindsets. I grew up in a world of professionals — teachers, lawyers and doctors. Hotel management was almost a taboo for a young black boy.

But I did it anyway, and I can look at everything I’ve achieved — and that’s ahead of me — with pride, because I know I’ve followed my path, and I’m working with a developer who really believes in me. Together, with my hotel management company and his property development business, we’re going to open at least five more luxury apartment hotels, and through each one we can change lives.

When you’re writing your own story, you can look at your purpose. For me, everyone who’s in my employment should have access to basic medical care. I also employ one raw recruit for every talented employee we’ve brought on board to continue paying it forward and to give people the opportunities I received. 

Always live your brand to the fullest. I’ve spent years building my reputation and brand within this industry, and now that I’m branching out on my own it’s really shaping what we do. The most incredible and talented people have left their jobs to join us, even though we’re a start-up.

They’ve worked with me, they know me, and they want to be a part of what we’re doing. They want to share my purpose. No one can build your dreams for you — only you can do that. You have to back yourself. You can’t expect people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.