Entrepreneur Lesley Marange says his passion for cooking from a young age inspired him to venture into business.
Marange (LM), who is founder and chief executive of Glytime Foods, made the revelations on the platform In Conversation with Trevor, which is hosted by Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN).
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Lesley Marange welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
LM: Thank you Trevor. Thank you for having me on this show.
TN: The way we got to having you here is that we went out on Twitter and said do you know somebody who is doing amazing stuff that deserves to be on In Conversation With Trevor, and your name came out tops.
So congratulations, you have clearly impressed some people out there.
LM: Thank you so much Trevor.
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TN: You are only 33 years old?
LM: Yes. It is interesting, and it is encouraging. I think my policy, the way I always do my things, is let us get the work done and the world will recognise the good work that you do.
So I am happy somebody recognised and today I am speaking with you and it is an honour.
TN: You have obviously done some good work, we are going to get to those products.
I want to find out, I mean a 33-year-old man having achieved all this?
Talk to me about how the idea of Glytime Foods crossed your mind.
Do you remember when you first had the idea and you got excited? Do you want to take us there?
LM: Thank you Trevor for that question. I think Glytime Foods has been a passion, a childhood dream I would say.
I still remember growing up in a family, my father was a prison officer, my mother was a teacher, and growing up my father used to believe farming is the way to go, every man should be a good farmer, but my mother identified a talent in me, the talent to cook very well.
So as early as Grade 6, I managed to, you know, cook yellow rice, just adding a bit of essence to it and you know because we lived in a camp the community got to know that the guy is a good cook.
So when I was now moving to Form 1 my father insisted that I needed to go and take up agriculture as a practical subject and my mother sneaked in an apron because she knew my passion.
Even the name Glytime time is my mother's name Gladys, and my younger sister's name combined to come up with Glytime.
LM: I think my mom recognised the passion that I had with cooking, and when I took it as a practical subject I did it very well and I was then advised by a lady when I was around Form 3 to say there is actually a subject called food science at ‘A’ Level and food science at university level, I was 15 years old then.
My career path was really determined as early as 15 years old.
At that age I really excelled, I still remember being the first guy to get an A in 2005 in food and nutrition at the school that I attended.
Now because of the passion I was now driven to say if Nestle managed to do it, if Kellogg's managed to do it, why not come up with a state-of-the-art plant from here in Africa which can then challenge the status quo.
So this dream I then nurtured it through my education. I went and did food science, biology and chemistry.
I did a BSC in food science and technology. I then worked in a sugar manufacturing plant for about five years, but as soon as I graduated there is a colleague who actually came to invite me to join the corporate world because I was already doing your mhandire (roasted corn), I was already in business and I was employing eight people by then.
So he then said come through, learn the corporate world and when you learn the corporate world you can then move on.
When I went into the corporate world I was so determined, I was so focused and was there to learn and as soon as I learned in five years I will be out of that system.
So in 2018 I then moved out of the system and started Glytime and there was fear now because my last job I was the product development manager, the fear now they thought I was going to take all the formulations from them, but during my tenure with them I realised that table sugar is actually going down so preferences are changing in the world.
I then researched on what is it that people are now...
TN: I want to take you back. What a fascinating story.
TN: I want to take you to where you said you started cooking at Grade 6?
LM: Yes it was in Grade 6.
TN: This is where in Pumula? Am I right?
LM: No at Khami Prison camp.
TN: In Bulawayo?
TN: How do you deal with the stereotype that says a man should not be cooking? Did you face any of that stuff?
LM: I think initially it was an issue you know. All the young ladies, young girls would laugh and I actually earned a name because of that.
TN: What name was that?
TN: Which means honey?
LM: Yes. So I think people were saying this cooking, he is so smooth so it is good to be called luju. So yes the stereotype came.
TN: Does that name still hold?
LM: Yeah, well I never shared it with anybody...
TN: Well after today we can expect it hahaha.
LM: The people who I grew up with always refer to it and say do you remember you are Luju and we laugh about it sometimes.
I think the stereotype was there, but I think I did it so well, not just cooking, even you know I was so thorough with my household chores, and at some point a lady came and she saw, because we used to have those verandas and it was shining, and she asked my mum where she got a very competent housemaid like that.
My mum said I do not have a housemaid, my son is the one who did this!
TN: Talk to me about you, you then leave university and you went and worked for which company?
TN: What were you doing at Starafrica? Just talk to us about your coming in and your rise and stuff?
LM: I think in Starafrica I assumed four responsibilities in about five to six years.
I went in as a laboratory supervisor, and then I was given a task by my general manager, very tough guy, but I like him because he really trained me.
TN: Who is that? Do you remember?
LM: Yes Marvellous Sibanda. He is now the supply chain director for PPC.
There was a problem in the laboratory, and the problem was effluent discharge.
If effluent goes above 80 PPM you are then charged the extra PPM that comes after the 80.
I knew because I did my attachment there, that this is a historical problem.
I think it then helped me to understand the importance of people in industry or in business.
All the other guys did not crack the problem, but they had very nice diagrams, they used to understand how the system works and everything.
So I changed my approach, I said there are people who have been working in this factory since 1976, let me go and check with them where the problem is.
I was told, because previously we used to have like toilets in the white house for the convenience of the pan boilers, so the piping now used to then go through the recovery house.
An old man told me I like your people skills, there is a drain that was not closed when those toilets were removed in cognisance of food safety.
I then went and did my experiment, put caustic soda and checked the results of caustic soda, I went to the GM and said I have got the solution.
He said to me if you do not make sure that the solution comes you are out of this system.
I dragged him, we came, he said where is the issue.
I told him the sugar that is coming from that end is connecting through this drain and then he just looked at me and said look for cement and close the drain.
One week later he promoted me to be a process manager.
So when I was a process manager now this is when I learned how to be a man, because we used to spend 72 hours to resolve a problem, and the rule was you have to resolve the problem, you cannot leave a problem.
I was taught in that system to say you do not report a problem, you report how you have resolved a problem.
So at any given time as a process manager you are the general manager of the plant, you are responsible for production, quality, engineering, stores and the welfare of people and I was 25 years old by then.
This then cemented my position in the industry.
At one point my CEO, I still remember, Regis Mutsyire, he actually came from the head office to say I need to come and see who this young Lesley is, and then the GM introduced me to Regis, and he said I have heard the good work that you are doing and well done for that.
So I really created a spine, I became a guy with a spine at a very tender age, to say no matter and regardless of the circumstances, we need to get a solution.
This has really helped me to where I am now, regardless of inflation, regardless of whatever the volatility, my spine is strong, I am a fighter, I will manage.
TN: Where do you think that comes from? That resilience, that strong spine? Where does that come from? Is it from your upbringing?
Is it whilst you were working for Starafrica?
LM: I can relate this from a very tender age. When we grew up in a camp we used to then get involved in these fights?
TN: Khami Prison?
LM: Yes Khami Prison. We used to play soccer which we called chikweshe. So I was that kind of a guy who then would rise up in terms of the fact I did not want to see people fighting, and I did not want bullies to take advantage of the young guys.
So every-time I got involved in a fight it was not because I had started a fight, but it was because I always wanted to rise up to the occasion to say no bullying...
TN: To stop the fight?
LM: And no bullying of the young guys. I think that aspect of fighting for justice has been part of me, that aspect for fighting for underdogs, that aspect of fighting for equality has been part of my DNA and it has been something.
I still remember one of the fights, a guy who was two grades ahead, he took our soccer ball and he tore it up.
Then the young guys were now crying, and somebody had to rise to the occasion, and then I confronted him.
We did not get into a fist fight but we pushed each other.
I ended up pushing him further! So I won the fight. I think my background really played a very significant role.