Executive Insights

This South African went from receptionist to co-owner of a R230 million business

Business Insider SA
Jacqui Van Der Riet (supplied)
Jacqui Van Der Riet (supplied)
  • Jacqui van der Riet started as a receptionist at Universal Database Marketing 25 years ago. 
  • Today she owns 50% of the company and is its managing director. 
  • She believes treating employees well ensures business success. 
  • For more, go to Business Insider South Africa.

Jacqui van der Riet took a job as a receptionist at Universal Database Marketing (UDM) International 25 years ago.

Today she is the managing director of the Johannesburg-based direct-marketing company which has a turnover of R230 million a year. 

Also read: Ina Paarman started out in a garage. Here's how she became a household name. 

In an interview on VIA TV (DStv channel 147)’s personal-finance show Geldhelde, Van der Riet explained how she grabbed the opportunity to help grow a business with only three employees. 

“We started off with one call-centre agent and she worked only three hours a day. [And] I was here to answer the phones,” Van der Riet said. 

“At one point my business partner approached me and said, ‘Jacqui, you think we can make a go at this? Do you think we could grow this?’ And I thought, ‘Well, gosh! What else am I going to do?” 

Van der Riet, then aged 25, was juggling raising two children and completing her business degree at Unisa. 

“As time went along we got more credibility and then I started going on the phones myself and started to learn the trade and bringing in all sorts of admin structures, reporting structures, writing scripts, seeing what worked and what didn’t work.” 

Van der Riet with some of her employees (supplied)
Van der Riet with some of her employees (supplied)

She said as the company grew rapidly and signed bigger clients, she decided to buy a stake in the company. Today she owns 50% of UDM. 

“We now have 350 to 400 people at any given time. We are now an R230-million-a-year company, so we’ve come a long way."

Van der Riet said her experience helps her to be sensitive to the needs of her employees and understand the role they play in the success of the company. 

Also read: This young entrepreneur overcame failures and legal woes to launch one of South Africa’s most popular fast-food chains

The company, for example, pays above market-related salaries, only promotes internally, and helps pay health care and policies, she said. 

“This makes us able to continually grow our business in so-called difficult economic times,” Van der Riet said.  

Geldhelde airs every Tuesday at 20:30 on VIA (DStv channel 147), with repeats on Wednesdays at 08:30 and Sundays at 19:30.

Business Insider South Africa is part of 24.com, which is a Media24 company, as is VIA TV.

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