JOHANNESBURG – Her name is is Janine Hills. She is driven, ambitious, and direct in her speech, a keen-eyed go-getter.
Which is why it was easy for her to shoot straight to the top of the ladder in the corporate reputation management business.
Hills is the founder and chief executive officer of Vuma Reputation Management, a Johannesburg-based outfit that makes money out of making people look good.
The 54-year old Melrose, Sandton, resident who came to Joburg from Port Elizabeth, says she decided to create Vuma Reputation while taking a break from the death of her mother.
“I needed to shift the dimension of what communications meant in the minds of people,” Hills says. “Where people don’t always respect the role of communications. I wanted to run my own company.”
She says she was tired of telling other people how to run their companies.
Vuma clients include some of the country’s blue-chip companies such as Sibanye-Stillwater, Bombadier and restaurant franchiser Spur Corporation.
Vuma employs 23 full time staff and about 12 other professionals in the media training, writing and videography divisions. Hills says she has a good understanding of the world as she came from a poor background.
At 13 , she helped her father sell fish and run his hardware shop, which left her with no weekends. However, the experience horned her entrepreneurial skills and the dos and don’ts of doing business.
“It gave me an understanding of how to deal with people at all levels of society,” she says. “It gave me the ground of understanding that as an entrepreneur you have got to be available to your client 24/7.”
Hills says she knew as a teen that all was not well in South Africa
“That’s when I started carving out my idea of what I wanted to be as a person. White privilege is not generally understood. White people don’t understand white privilege.”
She says she left to live with her grandmother because they share a common view of what was going on in the country. And her biggest shock came when she was blocked from entering some European countries that detested white South Africans.
In Spain, she was given 24-hours to leave the country. “I learned humility, flexibility, and how to be nimble enough.”
She says because her family was too poor to finance any dreams of university studies, she started her career at then only multiracial hotel in Port Elizabeth, Holiday.
She was then headhunted by Southern Sun International.
“They flew me in for an interview, WOW. I was specifically brought in to help relaunch the Wild Coast Sun. What we had to do was go into the rural areas, and we employed people, all Xhosa-speaking, my knowledge of Xhosa helped me a lot here.”
She then went to work for Vodacom during the mobile operators founding in the early 1990s before getting a call from then FirstRand chief executive Paul Harris and she found herself working closely with erstwhile First National Bank chief Michael Jordaan on the eBucks – the full e-commerce brand for the First Rand Group.
“We created a product called, eBucks.com, a full ecommerce initiative for entire group.”
The most important lesson she learned was discipline and how to achieve stability in a growing business.
Now with 14 years of leading her company, she will step down next month to make way for two joint-chief executives. Hills says she will coach them for the next three months until one of them becomes takes over by October.
She says she is personally going through a transformation, is learning how to let go of her past, which includes the worst mistake of trusting a business partner that ended up scamming her, forcing her to sell her house to keep Vuma Reputation afloat.
The scam cost her nearly R2-million. She believes a life well-lived means, “Inner joy, inner peace of knowing what you’ve fulfilled what you really came here to do.”
About women empowerment, she says, “The woman’s voice is starting to be taken seriously. I sit on five boards. The woman voice is important. When you see people as equal, you create opportunities that are equal together. This is about equal opportunity.”
Hills says she will hold on to ber 51 percent shareholding at Vuma.
“We’ve been very blessed to deal with many corporates.”