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TT Mbha: the real deal

You can tell a lot about someone from their Instagram account. The Rock clearly likes working out, meeting fans, and raising his eyebrow. ‘Expresso’ presenter Katlego Maboe is a snappy dresser who meets many socialites and enjoys coffee and rugby. And Founding Director of Black Real Estate, Thato “TT” Mbha, is a dynamic, gregarious, well-travelled family man with no time for negativity. Always smiling (often with equally happy celebrities by his side), he’s mad about his two daughters, golf, fashion, and sharing inspirational quotes like “Pay attention to your dreams”.

“I live by that mantra of you can never stop dreaming,” he tells me with all the warmth and sincerity his online profile suggests, “because you never know how far your dream will take you – if you push yourself.”

For Mbha, those dreams – and the man he is today – were forged in Pimville, Soweto.

“The way we were raised was to think of everybody as family,” explains the Group Executive Director of Black Brain Group who freely shares his personal phone number and email address with everybody. “So it’s nothing foreign for someone to stop me on the street and say: ‘Hey man, can I please have 2 minutes of your time?’”.

The businessman with over 15 000 Instagram followers and 5000 Facebook friends always obliges. “I was taught at a young age that you respect every man irrespective of their race, creed, background, financial status, or their place in society.”

He was also taught not to question his elders – but that didn’t stick.

“My curiosity always got me into trouble when I was growing up,” the natural-born raconteur laughs. “Now that curiosity is something I carry with me on a daily basis: I wake up every day and I want to learn at least 3 things in that day, no matter how big or small.”

That’s a holdover from Parktown High where he discovered – and embraced – everything from waterpolo to public speaking, in the process finding his niche: “an ability to make friends easily”.

It’s a characteristic that would, in part, help an ambitious young graduate in clothing management rise from trainee trends manager at a major fashion retailer to Customer Experience Manager at Sasol, in the process “spreading my wings from marketing to project management into general management”.

Mbha took those ever-expanding skills to Black Brain, the multimedia communications agency that celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.

“The base of our success is we stick to the vision of the company. Our tagline is ‘absence of colour, presence of mind’ which talks to our ethos: we represent young black minds that want to change and tell stories,” explains the Group Sales & Marketing Director.

“As a production company, we are the market. No-one understands South African or African stories better than us, and no-one is in a better position to tell these stories better than us,” he says of the company that’s won 22 South African Film and Television Awards for SABC1 shows like ‘Ses’top La’.

“It’s been a really blessed journey.”

Now, with the company well established, it’s embarking on a new journey as Mbha heads up the new property division, Black Real Estate.

“Real estate was actually my first love,” he reveals. “We used to walk around the township a lot and I used to be fascinated by the houses, their structure and designs. Later, when I bought my first car, I used to drive around to view houses and take pictures. And I realise now, I’d been running away from this passion of mine.

“But if I’d gone into it 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge and the experience I do now. If you’ve made your mistakes and you’ve paid your dues, it becomes a little easier to face the challenges of an industry – and I’m excited about the challenges that real estate offers.”

The biggest challenge? A country with 45 million black people, explains Mbha, has only 4000 black estate agents.

“That is an unbelievable imbalance,” he exclaims.  “Now, what’s going to make in Black Real Estate different is we’re going to try to attract a lot of black talent into the property and real estate market and I’m using my influence and my access to a lot of celebrities and influential people to do that. No other real estate company that I know of has formed strategic partnerships with like-minded brands.”

He elaborates: “For example, if I have a client who’s looking to buy a house of a certain value, let’s say R5-million and upwards, what I do is I create an extended experience for them.”

That aspirational, high-roller experience includes driving to and from the viewing in a Bentley, while their own car is washed and valeted. Or visiting farms and plots in a Chevrolet 4X4.

But Black Real Estate isn’t just targeting the big spenders. Over the next 5 to 10 years the company is establishing a black real estate academy “targeting the average Joe” – like the tradesmen who stand outside home improvement centres, informally offering their services.

“What we want to do is partner with the Department of Trade and Industry and look at a programme where we can incubate these guys,” he explains. “They’re very talented, they’ve got the skills, but they don’t have the formal qualifications. So why not bring them in and train them and actually double up their training.

“And what this does is create a workforce agency where if someone wants a plumber, a painter, or an electrician they can call Black Real Estate academy and we can always guarantee their workmanship and the quality,” says Mbha, until recently a board member at the Leonard Cheshire Home for disabilities.

“It’s not about your highbrow people, it’s about your average Joe being given the opportunity to feed their family.”

Mbha is big on family, despite his exhausting schedule. “In life, when things are a priority, it becomes easy for them to fit in,” he reasons. “So for me it’s not a case of balancing my work and family life. I make time for my family, the same as I make time for business.”

Recently, he’s also been making time for golf. “I’ve found a new love,” grins the man who enjoys hosting social events at home and catching up with old friends in Soweto. “A mentor instructed me to take it up because it makes sense for my lifestyle, my business, and my mind. And guess what? Golf is played on a course which happens to be part of real estate. So for me it just makes so much sense.”

It even makes for inspirational – and aspirational – Instagram pictures.

  • This article originally appeared in Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group.

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