Born Emma McNally, she was raised in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. Emma was an exchange student in Luxembourg where she attended a language school, focusing on French and German. She completed an Advanced Principles of Public Relations certificate on her return, and then did a Bachelor of Arts degree and a postgraduate diploma at the University of Cape Town. She then moved into a corporate career of HR, and training & development.
Emma met her husband, Nic Jacobs, and they were married in 1999 at Cathedral Peak. The couple has two teenage children, and Emma has three grown stepsons. In 2001 they decided to exit the corporate world and own their own businesses.
Describe your journey to founding your businesses?
In 2003 we opened Westville B&B from our home in Westville, Durban, with four rooms. By the next year, we had expanded on the property and bought the property across the road with another five B&B rooms at the end of 2005. In 2008, we bought a third property 800 m away with a further six B&B rooms and a 30-seater conference room. Each of these properties had to be renovated and municipal permissions obtained. This was often a time-consuming and frustrating process, but we felt that if we were going to do it, we would do it properly!
From the beginning, each room was named after an artist with prints of that artist’s works in the room. In 2016, I started an oil painting class with a local artist named Kim Pereira. It turned out that I was quite good at it, and I painted and painted and painted. One of the side effects of being in hospitality is that you are always waiting for guests to check in, come for breakfast, check out etc, so you are fairly housebound. Painting became a wonderful way of using this waiting time.
Guests started noticing the art and I had my first sale in August 2016. I eventually put my “big-girl panties” on 😊 and created my Emma Jacobs Art Gallery in our B&B guest lounge and dining room. At the beginning of 2018, I was accepted to paint with Dee Donaldson at Studio 3 and I joined her weekly group of practicing artists. I started exhibiting at The Hilton Arts Festival, Art in the Park and Art in the Shade.
In 2019 my website went live and my online gallery shop was born. I have artworks in the USA, UK, Australia, Scandinavia, throughout South Africa and even a commission in Ghana. In March 2020, just before lockdown, I had my solo exhibition at The Foyer at Studio 3, which was a wonderful event.
My art “side hustle” is so complementary to our art-themed B&B that The Saunter invited both Westville B&B and Emma Jacobs Art to participate in their route. My Emma Jacobs Art Gallery has also been included in the Visual Art Network of South Africa’s National Art Map Late last year, I was invited by The South African Artist Magazine’s editor, Linda Hodnett, to participate in their Winsor & Newton one image, three artists challenge and I was featured in Issue 48 beside two other prominent artists.
Elaborate on your creative processes – who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by beautiful images, happy memories, interesting faces, and scenic places. I really believe art should make you feel happy, and my bold brush strokes and up-beat colours are geared to brighten up a room and lift the spirits.
As a woman in business, what, if any, are some of your biggest challenges?
Being a successful businesswoman and being a successful mom are not always as aligned as we would like. The hours of hospitality are long and raising two children from babies in a B&B comes with challenges. But on the plus side, I could fetch them from school, they didn’t need to go to aftercare, and I had the flexibility during the day while guests were out to do things with them.
What have been some of your most notable successes?
- Job creation has always been an especially important component of running our business.
- Owning an award-winning five-star bed & breakfast has been an amazing journey. We have consistently been rated number 1 on TripAdvisor in Westville and are proud to have won the prestigious Lilizela Tourism award for five years in a row.
- Training in excess of 57 international Hotel School students and getting them started on their careers has been very rewarding.
- I am a committee member of the Durban West Community Tourism Organisation, a member of the KZN Tourism Recovery Task Team and a Board Member of the National Accommodation Association. I believe in giving back to the industry, especially now as we try and navigate through the COVID-19.
- I served on the KZN Women in Business Committee for four years until the beginning of this year and have been a member for seven years. I have enjoyed this role of helping other women entrepreneurs in small businesses succeed.
- On a personal note, I am very proud of being awarded my black belt in Karate at age 45 after six long, gruelling years and as a novice to the sport. We started Karate as a family, and it was eight years of special times with my kids and our extended Karate family.
- I have loved my art journey. I call myself a “creative entrepreneur”, combining my art skill with my business and people knowledge and packaging that into my Emma Jacobs Art business, which has worked very well in conjunction with our art-themed B&B.
- I am also the founder of Durban Art Workshops, which has allowed me to help other artists grow.
What brings you joy, as a person, as a woman?
- The love of my family is a daily inspiration.
- The look on someone’s face when I hand over their commissioned painting is priceless.
- The joy of looking after guests in my B&B and connecting with people daily feeds my soul.
Name three women you admire and why.
Shirley Howells is an octogenarian artist based in Durban who has been a huge personal inspiration to me. She started her art journey in her mid-50s and has a kind heart and is an excellent and generous teacher. She has shown me that age is a number and keeping active is the secret to a long and purpose-driven life.
Brené Brown teaches us through her “Call to Courage” Netflix documentary and TED Talks that vulnerability and putting oneself in the arena of life requires bravery and courage, without which success in life, love and career is not possible.
I was raised Catholic and my Dad was born in India, so I have always been inspired by Mother Theresa who taught us that compassion and love for one’s fellow man and living a life of purpose is the best way to serve God.
Any advice for other women?
Be brave, if you can’t be brave, pretend to be. Nobody can tell the difference.