21 Key Lessons from South Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs


South Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs by Moky Makura is a collection of profiles on South Africa’s most dynamic and well-known business leaders and entrepreneurs.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it to aspiring South African entrepreneurs looking for motivation and insight into the history of business in our country.

Moky Makura on her inspiration for the book:

Below I have selected 21 key lessons from ten different profiles in the book.

Adrian Gore, Discovery Holdings Limited

1. Keep innovating:

“Innovation is an ethos for Discovery. We’re a big organisation today with legacy systems and processes and yet we’re innovating at a faster pace than ever before. There is a relentless focus on progress.”

2. Do whatever it takes to recruit smart people:

“I hand-picked every employee carefully. I started out by recruiting Barry Swartzberg, a colleague at Liberty – it took me three months.”

3. Focus on areas that make you unique; find partners for the rest:

“Essentially, we put together a selection of best-of-breed partners around us and focused on product development and our own intellectual property in the middle.”

Sol Kerzner, Kerzner International Holdings Ltd

4. Make a difference in your industry:

“I always believed we could redefine the hotel business in South Africa.”

“It’s simply not good enough for us to deliver new water rides. Our goal is to redefine the concept of a water park.”

5. Believe in yourself and follow your passion:

“Part of being an entrepreneur is the need to get somewhere in life; to have the belief that you can get out there and make a difference.”

“It’s important to follow your instincts. It’s important to recognise what you’re likely to enjoy doing. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to excel if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing.”

Koos Bekker, Naspers Ltd

6. We learn more from our mistakes than from our victories:

“From success one learns only how smart you are. From failure you may learn how to improve yourself.”

“I made some real shockers. The problem is that if you reverse any part of your life to remove the mistakes, you’ll also take away the lessons learnt from them. So, without those lessons, how would you know better?”

7. Trust your gut:

“Even up to the last minute, just before pen meets paper, we walk if we smell trouble.”

Herman Mashaba, Black Like Me, Leswikeng, Phatsima, Lephatsi

8. Get rid of that chip on your shoulder; the world doesn’t owe you anything:

“You alone are in charge of your destiny; you must accept responsibility for yourself.”

9. Keep your ear on the ground:

“I’m a good listener, and I file information away in my mind, never knowing when it might be useful.”

10. Be flexible:

“If you define yourself by a job description or a job title you are confining yourself. Step out of your boundaries and show your employer what you are capable of.”

Pam Golding, The Pam Golding Property Group

11. Lead with the latest technology:

“The purchase of the computer was like buying a Rolls Royce as your first car – it was that significant. It created enormous, unlimited capacity to expand.” – Peter Golding

Mark Lamberti, Massmart

12. Be driven by your dreams rather than by specific goals; enjoy the journey:

“Having a goal-driven life is potentially dangerous because you can end up focusing on milestones and fail to enjoy the scenery of the journey. I prefer to be driven by a broader vision of the legacy I would like to leave and start out each day trying to do things I’m passionate about.

13. Reputation is paramount:

“Thankfully we can protect our reputation because we carry it everywhere with us. Our behaviour can enhance it or destroy it and where it is good or bad it is determined solely by us. Our reputation is the most valuable thing we will ever own. The fact that we cannot buy it makes it priceless. Proper behaviour will ensure that our reputation survives long after we are gone. Improper behaviour will result in our losing it long before we die.”

14. Stick to your values, no matter what:

“We cannot be authentic servants or leaders if our behaviour is at odds with our values and principles; critics and followers soon see the flaws. Put simply, who we are is much more important than what we do.”

15. Remember that profit is a lagging indicator of human performance:

“If you as a leader are just working on the bottom line, you are going to miss the point because financial performance is preceded by operating performance and operating performance is preceded by human performance. If you don’t know what the human performance is in the business, you are not in a position to shape future outcomes. If people are doing the right things, financial returns will follow.”

Natie Kirsh, Kirsh Finance, Kirsh Industries, Jetro

16. Motivate others with your transparency:

“When he lets you into his world, he lets you in completely. There are no secrets, everything is open to you. This inspires great motivation and loyalty. “ former Kirsch company CEO Clive Weil

17. Be exceptional:

“I’ve been a corporate lawyer for 40 years and I’ve sat on boards, even in Europe, and I still haven’t come across someone who is as clued up and insightful a businessman as Natie. He’s one of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs.” Mervyn King, former judge

Mark Shuttleworth, Thawte, HBD Venture Capital, The Shuttleworth Foundation, Canonical

18. Ideas are nothing without execution:

“Value is created by the tenacious pursuit of an idea and the ability to build on it.”

19. Be patient:

“It took six to nine month from declaring intent to get real breakthroughs.”

Alan Knott-Craig, Vodacom

20. Embrace competition:

“I love competition because at least you can compete against somebody – it’s terrible running a race against yourself.”

Whitey Basson, Shoprite Group

21. If you want to talk the talk, you’ve [got] to walk to walk:

“I spend 60 per cent of my time at the operational level, in the stores or at the divisions.”

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