Beauty and glory, the Sue Peters story…From the catwalk to the boardroom
Ruth Butaumocho Her Story
Beginning this week, we will be featuring stories of phenomenal women who have contributed positively to Zimbabwe, in the process pushing boundaries and excelling in their areas of specialisation. This weekly column, Her Story, will profile women from diverse backgrounds, celebrating their success while also sharing their trials and tribulations.
strong spirituality, ingenuity and humility are some of the attributes that give Harare businesswoman and philanthropist Susan (Sue) Peters an edge in the cut-throat business world.
From humble beginnings watering the family garden to sustain the family while growing up in Sakubva, Mutare, in the 1960s and 70s, Sue has become a symbol of success in business.
While the majority of her peers, whom she started businesses with back in the 1980s have since retired or gone bust, hers is still thriving.
She has reinvented herself over the last three decades to suit the ever changing economic environment.
A former supermodel from the 80s, Sue owns various businesses in Harare and across Zimbabwe, a feat she says she owes to God Almighty.
She runs the Body Active Gym located at the Mashonaland Turf Club Race Course in Borrowdale and Mutare, respectively, a restaurant, clothing shop, Ebony Hair salons in Zimbabwe as well as several factories that she is renting out.
She also has two shopping malls in Harare that she rents out to women mostly.
“Business is a passion that I have nurtured over the years, and empowering women right across gives me a lot of pride,” she said.
Looking back at the road she has walked, Sue admits that it was arduous and was not made easy by the racial and gender issues that regarded women as second class citizens, before and soon after Zimbabwe’s independence.
Despite the gender dynamics which made it impossible for women to excel in business, she broke all barriers and set up a business empire that has stood the test of time and has also sustained her family over the years.
“I did not let those barriers discourage me. I never regarded myself as a woman entering into business but as a human being who was determined to succeed,” she says.
She is one of the first black women to venture into the cosmetics industry with the likes of Kubi Indi in the early 1980s.
Born Susan Mapara in Mutare, she never at one time thought of starting a business, because of her upbringing, which she says was tough.
“I grew up in Mutare with my four siblings. Back then we used to help our mother water the garden to support our livelihoods and I never imagined one day venturing into business,” she recalls.
However, it was in 1980 that she decided to open a hair salon from savings accrued from her salary as a bookkeeper, having realised the agony black women endured when they wanted their hair done.
“I wanted to see black women walk in and out of dignified salons, reading fashion magazines and sharing beauty tips, just like their white counterparts”, she recalls.
Barely two years after her venture, Sue had two hair salons opening their doors to black women and children, who had for a long time longed for a decent place where they could have their hair done, while enjoying a cup of tea.
However, her joy was short-lived after it dawned on her that running a business without formal training and relying on knowledge from magazines would be a Herculean task.
With no formal colleges offering courses in cosmetology, she decided to go for training in London in 1982, leaving behind her two children and husband, so that she could attain the required qualifications.
Her determination and qualifications paid off.
Six years on, she had 20 salons in all the country’s cities and a factory that manufactured hair products.
“When I came back from London, I started making cosmetics from the kitchen using a cake mixer, with the help of my gardener. I graduated from the kitchen to the garage and later moved into my purchased factory in Graniteside.”
Her determination earned her the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year award in 1987.
Since then, she has not looked back.
Sue concedes that she has faced numerous challenges that have on several occasions slowed down her pace, but she is determined to stay on course and continue creating employment, especially for women.
“I believe what I am doing is in line with Zim-Asset, to create employment and empower others through giving them skills and education.
“I am not only a businesswoman, but I also mentor hundreds of marginalised women who look up to me for moral support and guidance in business.
“So I can’t afford to quit. It means the dreams and aspirations of all those women will go down the drain,” she said.
While many people start a business to make a quick buck, Sue believes passion is the greatest tenet that one should consider before venturing into any type of business.
“The question is: Is it the cart or the horse that should come first when one wants to start a business?
“Passion is the main ingredient that should influence the type of business venture that one intends to pursue,” says Sue, a holder of a Masters in Business Administration degree.
It will be folly to ignore that in business there will always be challenges, which hold people down, something she has had to deal with in the past 34 years.
“I have had to deal with a lot of disappointments from buddies and even some employees, in my endeavour to grow the business.
“I have had to remain astute, while assimilating positive changes and attitudes to ensure that the line of business would not be in any way affected.
“Because of the wealth of experience she has acquired in business, Sue says opportunities abound for women, once they come up with a viable business plan and are willing to work hard to realise their dreams.
“Constantly equip yourself for the tasks life brings along because when one sets up a business entity of their own, they should always go into an area that they are familiar with.”
While the prevailing harsh economic environment has seen a number of businesses going bust, Sue says some businesses have collapsed due to complacency and lack of professionalism of business owners.
“Some of our experiences have made us to be who we are, and that alone has played an important part in shaping our lifestyles.”
A renowned philanthropist, who is engaged in various projects to assist the less privileged, Sue has a daughter and son, who are also carving their niche in business.