It’s onwards and upwards for winning entrepreneur Debbie Merdjan

Camelot Spa

Winning the “Emerging” category of the 2018 Southern African leg of the EY World Entrepreneur AwardsTM has already spurred businesswoman Debbie Merdjan on to new things.

“I’m on a plane to Nigeria tomorrow,” says Merdjan, who received her award at a dinner in Sandton on 29 November. She is founding CEO of the Camelot Group, which has been in the health and beauty sector for 30 years.

Her trip to Nigeria is to start work on establishing a beauty school in the Central African country, home to 191-million people.

“For 21 years the World Entrepreneur AwardsTM in Southern Africa have been celebrating, supporting and connecting entrepreneurs,” EY says in a statement on its website. “This is more than just a business award; it’s a global programme which helps entrepreneurial businesses in more than 150 cities in over 60 countries.”

Merdjan shared the stage, on 29 November, with the winners in the other three Southern African categories: WIPHOLD founder Gloria Serobe, who was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award; Mobicel Communications founding CEO Ridhwan Kahn, who won in the “Master” category; and Davipel Trading’s MD, Davison Norupiri, who won in the “Exceptional” category. Kahn will go on to compete for the prestigious title of World Entrepreneur of the Year™ in June 2019.

“Winning has been so good for me. It makes you examine your business growth, your purpose and your strategy. It has focused me more. I’m on a plane tomorrow – I thought, ‘Why put it off till next year?’,” she says.

The Camelot Group has a set of health and skincare training centres, is involved in product distribution and has spa consultancy and spa franchise operations throughout Southern Africa. There are over 30 spas across Southern Africa including a branch in Abuja, Nigeria, and 7 Camelot International Health & Skincare Education branches in South Africa. The training centres are accredited by the Council on Higher Education and the South African Qualifications Authority.

Merdjan says participating in the 2018 Southern African leg of the EY World Entrepreneur AwardsTM was a “wonderful” experience. “EY make you feel like a million dollars. It was very special.”

Before the final contest, the contestants took part in a day-long retreat during which they participated in in workshops on strategic thinking and business planning. “Being exposed to people running diverse industries was really interesting,” she says. “I learned that entrepreneurial thinking is the same, irrespective of the industry you are in.”

Merdjan learned about the EY World Entrepreneur AwardsTM through the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), an international non-profit membership organisation for women presidents, CEOs and managing directors of privately held, multimillion-dollar companies.

“It’s been an incredible networking and learning support for me. Also, it can be quite lonely being an entrepreneur. WPO has given me accountability – you tell your peers your plans, and are held accountable. Alone, you are accountable to no one.”

Merdjan says she hopes her award will inspire other women entrepreneurs. Statistics released this year by the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs revealed that just 18.8% of small-business owners in South Africa are women.

Merdjan started the Camelot training group in 1986, with R1 700 in her pocket. Later, she identified a need for spa management services, and her company became the first South African one to offer these services. Still later, she opened spas, secured distribution rights for exclusive body-care brand Thalgo, and developed her own South African aromatherapy and body-care range, CSpa.