LEADING EDGE // Entrepeurial View
The Serial Entrepreneur
By: Lydia Bundred
“My self-confessed title is that of serial entrepreneur,” says Wouter Snyman, CEO and founder of the Attooh! Group of Companies. Attooh! delivers tailor-made financial planning solutions to individuals and corporate companies. Among Wouter’s many achievements are being named the Number One Health Advisor Group in 2011 and Number One National Advisor Group within Discovery for 2013/2014. Wouter has more than 22 years’ experience as an entrepreneur, he has a BCom Honours in Investment Management and he swam the Midmar Mile six times.
What is your goal as an entrepreneur?
We live in a country that has many challenges and I think one of the solutions is entrepreneurs standing up
and creating opportunities for others who wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise. For us it’s an opportunity to make a difference and to grow our brand in South Africa. We are a community business; we want to impact the lives of those in it, not only by means of jobs but also in a matter of making a difference at all levels.
As a serial entrepreneur with 15 successful companies to your name, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
It comes with perseverance and a huge amount of discipline. More so, to be successful in any business it’s not about the business itself as much as it’s about the people. Where we’ve had successes it’s been where we’ve had good quality people. People with passion and a purpose at heart, and sometimes that purpose was without profit but in the end they impacted others positively.
Who has been your biggest role model and how have they influenced you?
It’s not a straightforward answer because there have been so many that I have learned from. I’m an avid reader so I’ve read many, many books of phenomenal leaders around the world. But a couple of leaders that have influenced me are Steve Jobs from Apple, with his ability to innovate, and then I had the privilege of working for the Discovery Group where I met up with and was mentored by Adriaan Gore. Who is probably one of the most prolific entrepreneurs that Africa has produced. The lessons I learned from him is that you need to innovate. And I think that is something that we desperately need in South Africa. Entrepreneurs are about innovation and being optimistic and making a difference. If you look at his business, it’s not as much about profit as it is about impacting people and enhancing their lives. We set ourselves a very definite core purpose of what we want to achieve so that everyone in our business know what we want to achieve. What I’ve learned from both of these gentlemen is that you need to build your business on values because that is what people look for – value based business.
As a leader how do you ensure that you, and those you oversee, continue to grow and develop?
For me it’s about motivation and mentorship, and I take those roles seriously because that is ultimately how we as individuals develop. I have had many great mentors in my life and I try to play that role in the leaders in our business lives.
My mantra is one of innovation. The vision in our business is very clear; we want to be a world leader and the very best in what we do. And for that we need to push boundaries and I’m that person that needs to guide the company in terms of a very clear vision and from a strategic point of view. As a leader I also need to layout the structures and processes that we need to build because that is ultimately what the individual in the business needs to fulfil that vision.
As a CEO, husband and father, how do you balance your personal and business life?
It’s difficult and I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to think you can balance your life because I’ve found that being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 job. It’s a hard lesson that I’ve had to learn over many, many years. I think balance is achieved through setting boundaries and dedicating time to family. I have of late become better in this area, whereby when I get home my phone is switched off and I don’t spend time at work in my mind. And people at work know that after work hours they will most probably not reach me. It takes structure and one must realise that quality time with family and friends is needed. It releases some of the pressure because you can’t continuously be at work.
What encouragement or advice would you offer other entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs?
Live your life with passion. We have a short stay on Earth and it is up to us to make a difference. We have a country that’s so beautiful and yet we have challenges. I believe each and everyone one of us must take our rightful place in solving these issues. I believe it starts at the core and if we are able to help people find jobs by providing employment and find their roles in society that we will prosper as a nation and it’s all of our responsibility.
My challenge to all the winners would be make sure that you make a difference, make sure that you stand up be counted. We have a responsibility towards our country and our people. We can’t expect to just get, we must give.
More about Wouter
Not only is Wouter a successful and well respected businessman he is a published author. His books include; the number one Best Seller ‘The Ordinary Millionaire’ and ‘Would Driving a Porsche Change Your Life?’. He has read more than 3000 books and he is passionate about helping others realise their potential. When Wouter is not in the office or launching a successful business he can be found enjoying the great outdoors.
Leading from Within
By: Valdi Pereira
Dr Reuel Khoza has become synonymous with the spirit of Ubuntu. Notwithstanding the travails of leading at the top level of South African business for many years, he still believes that humanism is one of the most important aspects in leadership. He shares his thoughts with us on leadership, entrepreneurship and Africa’s economic opportunity.
Leaders today face significant time constraints and demands upon their time. How do you think they can ensure that enough attention is given to developing the people they are responsible for?
There is little doubt that we all find ourselves in a fast moving and complex world. Nurturing and growing your people is probably more important than ever before. In this respect large corporations possibly have it a little easier because they can use their human resource departments to ensure that people development is an integral part of the organisation. They also have the resources to improve and refine their development programmes as required.
Small corporations and entrepreneurs are not in this fortunate position. They either need to get external assistance, or better still, the leaders should take it upon themselves to develop what is potentially their best asset.
At the end of the day I think it also comes down to a business, irrespective of its size, ensuring that people development becomes part of the organisational culture.
Are there any principles you believe all leaders should follow or live by?
I think one of the first things is for leaders to realise there is no such thing as independent development. Through interdependency with others you can tap into a well of synergies, which can benefit you immensely as a leader. All of us have blind spots and interdependency can help one address this.
Integrity or honesty as some people will call it is critical. Absolute integrity in all you do is very important and you should be able to underpin your behaviour with practical actions you have taken. It is important to always deliver on things you say you are going to do. If you get 95% of the way, I am confident people will accept that maybe you could not complete the very last bit of what you committed to, we are after all human.
Respect for individuals is another vital element. Regardless of a person’s stature or social standing, one must have respect for the sanctity of human life and the inviolability of the human personality for all individuals.
Probity and behaving in a manner that is beyond reproach is equally important. I am often accused of being idealistic when I raise this issue. My response is quite simply: ‘If one is not pursuing a set of ideals, one cannot live a principled life’.
One must also avoid being deceptive, as it undermines ethical behaviour and any person who leads or follows intelligently must be alert to this.
My parents also played an important role in providing me with guiding values and they always encouraged me to be industrious and commit myself to my work in a disciplined manner. As a result I have always tried to set an example by being dedicated to the cause and requirements of any organisation I have served.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt as a business and organisational leader?
Only one lesson? [Laughs]. One of my former mentors, Conrad Strauss, former CEO and Chairman of Standard Bank and I, would occasionally debate my values of ubuntu (African humanism). One day he said to me, ‘Khoza, business is not a democracy’. We discussed the issue for some time and agreed it is not an autocracy either. We eventually arrived at what we believed is an acceptable interpretation – it is a meritocracy. In essence it is simple, people should be selected and rewarded on the basis of merit. However, if you accept meritocracy as a core principle, you need to be sure all the leaders and organisational stakeholders are in agreement with respect to how merit is defined.
Thereafter, you need to jealousy guard this interpretation and not be swayed from the values that underpin it. I have seen situations where individuals are nominated to the board of an organisation, because they happen to wear the same school tie as someone. Where is the merit in that?
In the same way I am resistant to government’s notion of deploying individuals. ‘Deployment’ is a corrosive term as far as I am concerned. An individual should be employed on merit and the ability they have to lead an organisation. Any other aspect should not be a factor in this process.
A lot has been made in recent years of the need for South Africa to develop a strong entrepreneurial class. Do you think we are making progress in this regard?
I think we are making limited headway and the reason for this is that entrepreneurship is a function of a number of discussions that we are not engaging in as a country.
We need to do a lot more in terms of developing an entrepreneurial mind set amongst our youth. If we are teaching life skills at schools, I am of the view that there can be no more important life skill than entrepreneurship. This is something we need to get right.
Every year we put people that are 60 years old out to pasture because they are ostensibly ‘past it’. I think this is big mistake. These people should be paired with young people, who can benefit from their experience. There is no need for young people to burn their fingers and for the rest of us to write it off as ‘life experience’, we can save a lot of fingers, by taking a different approach.
We also need to limit the amount of bureaucracy and red tape entrepreneurs have to deal with. There are just too many hoops to jump through at present and I think this is discouraging to potential entrepreneurs.
I can share a personal example in this regard. It took me seven years to work through all the bureaucracy required to build a school in my home village. When I finally got what I believed was all the necessary permissions to start building, I discovered there were more government requirements I would need to meet. At some point you stop and look at what is unfolding and you say to yourself it is really nothing more, than unnecessary interference on the part of government, by putting stumbling blocks in your way.
The concept of public private partnerships also needs to be revisited. It is a potentially powerful approach that is simply paid lip service at present. Entrepreneurship stems largely from the private sector and government’s responsibility is to create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurial activity.
While our government has established a Ministry of Small Business Development, I think we have missed an opportunity by not placing an experienced business leader at its helm. It is how the Japanese help their business people and is certainly something our government should do if they wish to signal serious intent in helping small business thrive.
Africa seems to be on the brink of a period of great economic development. It also appears as if companies from across the globe are looking to entrench themselves on the continent to benefit from this development. Do you think, the continent’s ‘home grown’ companies are in danger of being muscled out of opportunities?
I think the continent has a lot to be proud of in terms of business achievements. If one considers the Nigerian, Aliko Dangote and the diversified industrial group he has built, you get a sense of the type of thing that can be achieved.
South Africans also have a lot to be proud of. MTN operates across the continent and the Middle-East. Shoprite has really set the standard across Africa in terms of their retail expansion. In fact, I think they could probably teach a retailer like Marks and Spencer a lesson or two.
Even AngloGold Ashanti, which has had its fair share of challenges, can still hold its own in terms of its deep level mining expertise.
Companies like South African Breweries, Sasol, Discovery and Old Mutual to name a few, have made real strides on the global stage and I expect they will continue to do so.
State-owned enterprises have also made their contributions. Despite the fact that Eskom is now a beleaguered entity, during the time I was Chairman we grew the company’s presence from seven African countries to thirty-three.
We helped turn the Uganda Electricity Board turn around and competed against French utilities companies to build a power plant in Mali that supplied electricity to Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.
There are many more stories of this nature that can be told about African companies growing the continent, while expanding globally. If we want to add to this, Africa needs to develop a continental business action programme to attract Foreign Direct Investment.
Let’s take China as an example. It is an economic behemoth, for a single African state to think they can enter into contracts with a continent of this size and remain in control of the outcomes is a mistake. Lawyers don’t talk about leonine contracts for nothing. If an individual country makes an contractual mistake with a huge economic powerhouse, they can be pulverised.
As a continent we must therefore guard against a fragmented approach. We must first think regionally, then continentally and be very careful of the civil and legal aspects we bind our countries to. Right now, everyone is eager to trade with Africa, we must use the opportunity wisely.
Looking back on your career in business are you happy thus far? Is there anything you would do differently?
If I had to do it all again, I would probably start off by studying a B. Com with subjects like accounting and law. I didn’t intend to go into business and when I started at Unilever I realised my fellow graduates who had studied in these fields had a head start on me. I like to think after a year on the job I was able to deal confidently with the concepts they worked with on a daily basis.
I believe a degree helps you develop your brain and that you are responsible for taking the body of knowledge you have been exposed to and further developing yourself with it.
Later on I completed a master’s degree in marketing management, which helped me in the corporate environment. Although, I must admit that as far back as March 1981, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Being fired from my position as a lecturer at Turfloop University, because I was an agitator, was an important turning point. God has a purpose with all our lives and he works in mysterious ways too. Later I was invited back to the university to present a graduation speech and later joined the university council; today I am Chancellor. I would have never thought that the day I left the university.
I have had a good forty years in the business environment and I am satisfied with what I have achieved. Presently I am really enjoying working with young people. I am mentoring a number of them, who are working in the field of accountancy and engineering, which is a bit of a focal area for me, helping them think and behave strategically.
At the end of the day I am delighted by the fact that these young people see me as a role model and that they would like to learn from me.