Africa is a continent full of entrepreneurs. At IndustrySA we make it our mission to celebrate this every month with a profile of an individual who’s determination & drive to achieve success stands them apart
- Ernie Blom
- William Kamkwamba
- Wale Tinubu
- Sizwe Nzima
- Basetsana Kumalo
- Gary Player
- Elon Musk
- Ashish Thakkar
- Marc Mainguard
- Pam Golding
- Shona McDonald
- Greg Illingworth
- Patrice Motsepe
- Mark Shuttleworth
Our entrepreneurial story this month comes from the diamond industry and Ernie Blom. Blom has been operating in the industry for over three decades and has held some of the most prestigious positions the South African market has to offer.
Entrepreneurs have many qualities in common and no matter what industry you start out in you will always need to be persistent. That is exactly what Ernie Blom, owner of Ernest Blom Diamonds, realised when he started out in business back in 1978.
The company is one of the country’s premier traders in rough and polished diamonds for domestic and export markets and this success is down to the drive and ambition of Blom. Now with retail outlets and a state-of-the-art diamond factory, Blom tells IndustrySA that in the beginning there were many challenges to overcome.
“In the first two years of operations I couldn’t get a license as that was fairly restricted by the Diamond Board so I started as a polished dealer where you didn’t require a license, just a business license,” he says. “After two years I eventually got the license and I would buy small parcels of rough and polish and sell and always build up until I became one of the bigger players in South Africa.
“The same happened with the factory; I used to polish diamonds myself in the beginning but eventually I employed one person, then two people and built up that side of the business as well.
“I took a leap of faith as I had two young kids, a house with a bond, and a car which I had to pay off. My first deal went a bit sour as a guy in New York took me for a ride and I nearly packed up after that but I hung in there and tried again. In the next deal I sold some diamond earrings and made a profit of R6 and I kept trying and the rest is history.”
One of the main influences on Blom’s career was his father who himself was involved in the industry as a diamond polisher.
“I am the third generation diamantaire; my son who is in the business with me is the fourth, my father started as a diamond polisher in Amsterdam and he immigrated to South Africa in 1927 as one of the founding polishers in the diamond industry,” he says. “On the polishing side, my father was a role model as he was one of the foremost polishers although he never worked for himself. I aspired to be as good as him as he was one of the finest craftsmen. The entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore when I thought ‘I’m working so hard for someone else, let me see if I can work this hard for myself’.”
In the future, Blom has the intention of keeping the business in the family with his son eventually taking full control.
“It is undoubtedly my vision to have him in charge one day. He is taking over more and more of the day-to-day running of the business while I focus on globalising.”
Away from the operations of his business, Blom is heavily involved in a number of other organisations, all of which have an impact on the diamond industry in South Africa.
“Before I started my business I had joined the trade union movement and I was quite the hardened trade unionist; at one stage I was the youngest Vice President of the trade union at the age of 24. From there, I became a capitalist and opened my own business with the princely sum of R10,000, this was after I got my first wage of R47, so everything started from very humble beginnings and I managed to slowly build up the business to what it is today.”
Blom has held prestigious positions across numerous local and international organisations, broadening his knowledge of the industry and building on his personal reputation.
“I’ve always been involved in organisations” he says, “I slowly climbed up the ranks of the local industry organisations and became Chairman of three of them. I then entered the international arena and became President of the World Federation a few years ago, the first South African to ever be elected to that post.”
Today, the business boasts a strong standing not only in South Africa but around the world, selling regularly to international markets.
“I have outlets in all the major diamond centres around the world, the rough that I don’t use I sell to mainly India and Belgium,” explains Blom.
“It is difficult to get to the size of some of the overseas dealers because of the red tape in the country and the exchange rate differentiation.
“On the dealing side we are one of the bigger dealers in the country; we buy at all the tenders, we go to various mines and also buy from other African countries. From the rough that we purchase, we sell to the factory and polish for the retail sector.”
Since its inception, the biggest challenge that has been faced by Ernest Blom Diamonds has been maintaining a consistent supply of rough diamonds. In the future, the inevitable shortage in supply is going to be an issue but Blom has the experience to navigate the market accordingly.
The ultimate goal for this entrepreneur is to continue growing, taking on new markets and eventually, operating a fully vertically integrated diamond company from mining through to retail – quite the vision for the company from humble beginnings whose first profit was just R6.
William Kamkwamba is a Malawian inventor whose ideas have changed the fortunes of his family and his community. Aged just 14 he built his first electricity producing wind turbine and is now studying in the States to take his ingenuity to the next level.
When you were 14 years old, what were you doing? Playing with friends, moaning about school, annoying your parents? The chances are, you were not building an innovative wind turbine which could produce usable electricity for your family home. However, that is exactly what William Kamkwamba was doing at his family’s farm in Masitala Village, Wimbe, two and half hours northeast of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe.
After a successful primary school education, William started at Kanchokolo secondary school but he was forced to drop out after a desperate famine in 2001/02 as his family could not afford the fees.
Instead of accepting a difficult fate, with no education or prospect, William headed to a small community lending library located at his former primary school and checked out books on energy including an American textbook called Using Energy, aimed at fifth grade students. From this book, he was inspired by a wind turbine depicted on the front cover.
William set about building his own wind turbine and after an initial prototype, he constructed a five meter tall windmill made from a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber and blue gum trees. The windmill powered four light bulbs, two radios and a mobile phone charger before William rebuilt the turbine to stand at 12 meters so it could catch more wind and he also added a car battery so power could be stored.
After news of William’s project spread, visitors came from all over Malawi and all over Africa to see the turbine built from scrap by a young boy with no real education. One of the first to see the windmill was Dr Hartford Mchazime, the deputy director of the MTTA, the Malawian NGO responsible for the community library. He encouraged the media and other academics to look into William’s story and eventually the news reached Emeka Okafor, program director for TEDGlobal and Okafor searched for William with the view of having him talk at a TED conference for innovators and thinkers.
After his presentation at the TED conference, William attracted a great deal of attention and many people came forward offering mentoring, financial assistance and funding for education. This lead to him re-entering high school at Madisi secondary school where he spent one term before moving to the African Bible College Christian Academy in Lilongwe. William studied English in the UK in 2008 before being offered an inaugural place at the newly formed African Leadership Academy near Johannesburg, an establishment whose mission is to educate the next generation with rigorous academics, ethical leadership training, entrepreneurship and design.
Obviously gifted with an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative nature, William has spoken at numerous high-profile events including the World Economic Forum Africa, the Aspen Ideas Festival and the International CES. He has been part of museum exhibits, written a book, been on the front page of many newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, been the subject of a documentary film and written and performed a play.
In the future, William is keen to expand on his past work and use his knowledge and fame to help his family and other family’s from his village to farm sustainably.
“The windmill design in the book had three blades,” William told the TED conference in 2007, “mine had four blades to generate more power.
“I want to build another one to pump water and provide irrigation for the crops,” he said.
I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields [in Malawi]. It was the future I couldn’t accept
In 2009 he told a TED conference: “I looked at my father and looked at those dry fields [in Malawi]. It was the future I couldn’t accept.”
Since then, he has developed many ideas and built more windmills which pump water around the village; he has built solar panels which provide lighting for the six homes in his family compound, he constructed a windmill to pump drinking water from a deep water well and he developed an irrigation system in which a windmill pumps grey water over his family’s farm.
William is currently an undergraduate in Environmental Studies and Engineering at the Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA. When he graduates in 2014 he hopes to return to Malawi and start an energy focussed business, installing solar panels in schools so that students can use computers and read at night.
The young visionary has been on quite the journey in his 26 years and accomplished more than most would in a lifetime. He is another fine example of the talent that is waiting to be discovered in Southern Africa.
Wale Tinubu is famous for his spectacular business acumen. He has shown the drive of an entrepreneur throughout his entire life. His story of success in law and the energy industry has seen him work throughout the world and it all started for him in his father’s garage in Nigeria…
Our man in the limelight this month has an abundance of that fearless, entrepreneurial spirit that you need to move to the highest levels of business. On his road to success he has overcome many different challenges and learnt the value of good people. His sector, the energy market, has historically been dominated by a handful of notorious ‘big name players’ so his success is even more special.
The man in question is Jubril Adewale Tinubu or Wale. Wale is the group CEO of Oando, Africa’s leading indigenous energy solutions provider listed on the Nigerian and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges.
Oando is a Nigerian based company supplying services to all sectors of the energy market and it has a market capitalisation of $1 billion. The company is the first to have a dual listing on both the Nigerian and Johannesburg Stock Exchanges and Wale is now a world renowned business leader.
Where did it all start for the oil mogul? In his early life, Wale had the ambition of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer. He left Nigeria at 16 to study at Liverpool University in England and during his time as a student he began to build a talent for deal making. He would use his school fees to travel across Europe, buying luxury cars and selling them for a profit on the way back. This tactic earned Wale good money and following his graduation from Liverpool, he earned a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics before returning to Nigeria to work for his father’s legal firm. After a short time in law, Wale decided that he needed to start his own business and he opened his own firm in his father’s garage, with a borrowed phone and second-hand carpet, and began handling small legal jobs until he earned enough money to move into a bigger office, still in the same area.
His big break came when a friend, Jite Okoloko, a future director of Oando, secured a contract from government-owned oil company Unipetrol for the transport of diesel from a refinery to fishing trawlers in Lagos.
Wale utilised another one of his close relationships to help with this project. His friend, Omamofe Boyo, also a lawyer, represented an oil firm who owned an old tanker ship, The Carolina, and Wale new that if they could charter the ship, they could use it to transport the fuel for Unipetrol.
After inspecting the vessel in terrible weather conditions and using his deal-making skills to settle a disconcerted crew, Wale clawed the money together, chartered the ship and began transporting for Unipetrol.
When the bills started to pile up and debtors began to drag their feet, Wale began to struggle and made the bold decision to attempt to buy the ship. He borrowed $100,000 from a finance company and bartered for the ship. When he eventually gained ownership, business began to pick up although difficulties remained with the transfer of money.
The company, now named Ocean and Oil, was growing and eventually built a portfolio of seven ships becoming the renowned industry leader in the trading of fuel products with Wale aged barely 30.
The biggest milestone in this entrepreneur’s career came in 2000 when the government decided to divest its shareholding in Unipetrol and sought a private investor to take over the shares. Wale and his team saw the potential and quickly went about setting up a bid. The BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises) was impressed by Wale’s flair and enthusiasm and his team won the bid.
There was difficulty in the early stages as many Unipetrol employees and union members thought that Wale was too inexperienced to handle a company of this size. Again, his deal making skills came into play as he settled the unions and made deals to make employees feel comfortable at work.
In 2002, Unipetrol acquired a 60% stake in Agip Nigeria PLC and subsequently, Agip and Unipetrol merged in 2003 being renamed Oando. The company was now Nigeria’s largest downstream company and has since grown to undertake activities across the whole spectrum including energy services, oil drilling, gas pipe laying and energy distribution to name a few.
The company now has offices in Lagos, Johannesburg, London, Abuja, Bermuda, Ghana, Benin and Togo and Wale sits at the helm, using his infectious energy to constantly drive the company forward. Impressive, for a man who started his business in a garage.
Social entrepreneur, Sizwe Nzima, is helping to solve the problem of overcrowded health care facilities in the Western Cape through his innovative business Iyeza Express.
This month’s entrepreneur is widely regarded as a ‘social entrepreneur’, meaning he pursues innovative solutions to social problems. Sizwe Nzima, an inspirational young business man from the Western Cape township of Khayelitsha, has started a business called Iyeza Express and the core function of the small start-up is to collect and deliver chronic medication from clinics and deliver it to residents in the local area.
The inventive business is addressing the long-standing social problem of overcrowding in public health facilities. Instead of standing in long queues for hours, Nzima’s Iyeza Express collects vital medication from local clinics and delivers them by bicycle to Khayelitsha residents, at their homes.
The idea has proven itself to be a time-saver, a real help to less able people, an eco-friendly initiative and profitable for Nzima and his colleagues.
Nzima has two business partners and he told MediaCludSA that the group is committed to building the economy and solving social issues. “We are all about social change and we are coming up with business ideas that can change society, help our community and uplift the economy.
“Business isn’t just about making money, but also about bringing about positive change.”
After completing an intensive business training course at the Raymond Ackerman Academy, Nzima started the company in May 2012 and instantly began addressing the problem of busy clinics, a problem which he witnessed personally.
“I used to collect medication for my grandma for three years and experienced first-hand what happens.
“I thought to myself that I must do something and that surely there must be a need for a service that would streamline the process.”
Nzima discovered that while there are charities that collected medication for elderly or bed-ridden patients, there was nothing in place for the working person who was being forced to waste working hours queuing for medication.
“These were people who would happily pay for affordable delivery of their medicine, allowing them to save their sick leave – if they get any – for days when they are really ill.
What I’m doing is helping to improve people’s quality of life and life expectancy
“The service encourages people to go to work and stay healthy as they aren’t tempted to stop taking their life-saving medication because they have run out,” he said. “What I’m doing is helping to improve people’s quality of life and life expectancy.”
Clients of Iyeza pay a fee of R10 per collection and medicines are currently collected from Michael Mapongwane Hospital and the Site B District Hospital.
The business had around 50 customers at the end of 2012 but since its establishment Iyeza has grown significantly and today has over 250 customers, gaining Nzima global recognition and respect.
At the end of May it was announced that Nzima had gained a place on Forbes Magazine’s 30 under-30 Africa’s best young entrepreneurs list, a compilation of Africa’s best and brightest across real estate, financial services, manufacturing, media, tech, green tech, healthcare, agriculture and fashion. Forbes says of the names on the list: “Together, they represent the entrepreneurial, innovative and intellectual best of their generation.”
The young entrepreneur already has plans in place for further expansion and he is looking to bring his services to other parts of Cape Town and, eventually, roll out on a national basis.
“For me, this is a national problem and it needs a national solution. The sky is the limit,” Nzima told MediaClubSA.
Nzima has also announced that he and his partners are looking into initiatives surrounding recycling and youth education on gang membership.
“I believe young people have the power to change the world, if the youth can understand this, they will stop focusing on things like drugs and crime. We can change the world, make it safer and improve our economy in this way,” he said.
This entrepreneur and his ideas are truly having a positive effect on people in need and this is refreshing in a time where most entrepreneurs are driven solely by profits and margins, no matter what the cost.
Basetsana Kumalo is a beauty queen, a charity pioneer, a brand ambassador and an entrepreneur among many other things. Her story started in Soweto and has since developed into one of success and inspiration.
Our entrepreneur this month has had a business mind from an early age however it may not be her business acumen for which she is most well-known.
Basetsana Kumalo, or Bassie, was named First Princess at the 1994 Miss World competition and won Miss South Africa, a title which helped elevate her celebrity status. This was after being named Miss Soweto and Miss Black South Africa in 1990, aged just 16.
A keen eye for business opportunities was recognised at a young age as Bassie and her siblings made and sold sandwiches at local football matches.
Obviously, her beauty was helping to build her reputation, something which was further bolstered by her community and upliftment work, but her entrepreneurial side was also beginning to shine through.
While holding the title of Miss South Africa, Bassie began to present the popular TV show, Top Billing, a move which turned her into a household name. She then became the face of an ambitious sub-Saharan and international marketing campaign for Revlon’s Realistic Hair Care range, making her instantly recognisable.
One of her early moves in business came in 1995 when she became a 50% partner in Tswelopele Productions, the production company behind Top Billing. In 1999, Tswelopele merged with Union Alliance Media and was listed on the JSE, making Bassie one of the youngest black women directors to be part of the mainstream of the South African economy.
Since then, Bassie has made great strides in the business world. In 2000 she started her own clothing range ‘Stature Ladies wear by Bassie’ which was distributed through 240 Ackerman’s stores in the sub-Saharan region but eventually discontinued. In 2002, under the Bassie brand, she launched an eyewear range, distributed through 60 Torga Optical outlets. She followed this by launching the ‘Bassie Red cosmetics’ range into 100 Foschini stores nationwide, followed with the ‘Bassie Gold range’ in 2006.
Travel With Flair, one of Africa’s leading travel management companies, welcomed Bassie as a Director in 2001. The company has since been named the Top Travel agency in 2007, and in 2009 at the World Travel Awards, the agency won three awards, namely Africa’s Leading Business Travel Agency, Africa’s Leading Travel Management Company and South Africa’s Leading Travel Management Company.
Bassie is the President of the Business Women’s Association of South Africa. In 2008, Bassie became a new Tawana shareholder through a transaction with her investment company Pro Direct 189. She also sits on the boards of Unipalm Investment Holdings Vhangana Energy Resources, Tactic Group Limited, SME Financial Holdings Limited, Morongwa Investment Holdings, Seven Falls, Q2 Petroleum and PHAB Holdings.
Charitable work is a priority for Bassie and she is involved with numerous ‘good-cause’ organisations. Alongside her husband, Romeo, Bassie established the Romeo and Basetsana Kumalo Family Foundation, an organisation with the goal of helping to develop children, specifically those who have lost parents to Aids or other diseases.
A high point with her charity work was being awarded the Inyathelo Philanthropy Award in 2009, an award given to acknowledge, celebrate and profile those who have committed their personal resources towards broader social development in South Africa.
Bassie has received numerous awards and accolades for her charitable work and business success and even after all this, she still continues to be recognised for her glamour. In 1994, she received an honorary scholarship for Overseas Studies from Nelson Mandela. In 2002 and 2003, she was voted by the Sunday Times and Elle Magazine in the TV Style Awards as the most stylish female magazine/entertainment show host. In 2004, Bassie was voted 74th on the list of ‘Top 100 Great South Africans’. In 2006, Cape Town Fashion Festival gave her the ‘Fashion Icon Award’. Femina Magazine nominated her as one of the top ten most glamorous women in South Africa.
Being able to combine her business interests with her personal life has drawn further praise. Being a devoted mother and wife while sitting in multiple positions of power has helped to set her apart from the crowd.
With her interests being so widely spread, who knows which direction she will take next? Bassie is yet another example of how hard work and ambition can combine to result in a story of brilliance and success that South Africa can be proud of.
In 2000, Gary Player was named South Africa’s ‘Sportsman of the Century’. His career on the golf course is unrivalled but we take a look at how that success helped him to start a prosperous business portfolio – Black Knight International.
Our entrepreneurial focus this month falls on a man that you will be more familiar with through his sporting exploits. However, this man has started a business empire off the back of his sporting success. He is of course, Gary Player, one of South Africa’s favourite sons.
Mr Player was born in Johannesburg in 1935. He made his name playing golf, a sport which caught his imagination from a young age. His father bought him a set of clubs and, at the age of 14, Mr Player played his first round of golf at the Virginia Park course in Jo’burg.
At the age of 17, Mr Player became a professional golfer, one year after announcing that he would become the number one player in the world.
He went on to become the most successful player of all time earning the nickname ‘the International Ambassador of Golf’ after winning 165 tournaments across all continents over the last 60 years. Throughout his career he won nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship victories, as well as three Senior British Open Championships on the European Senior Tour. Aged 29, Mr Player won the 1965 U.S. Open and became the only non-American to win all four majors, known as the career Grand Slam. Mr Player is part of an elite group including following Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – the only players to ever win the Grand Slam. In 1974 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
His sporting career speaks for itself but it is his business ventures that have also made his name recognisable, all over the world.
A significant part of his business empire understandably involves golfing. Player Design is the division of the business that has been involved with design of 325 golf course projects across 35 countries. Some of the most famous Gary Player designed courses are located in SA including the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City and the Fancourt Links in George.
Player Real Estate works with community developers from around the world to create luxurious golfing resorts and residential properties. The company offers support services, consulting, planning and a host of other property development services.
The Player family established the Player Foundation in 1983 with the mission of contributing to quality education, nutrition, medical care and extra-curricular activities for children living in rural areas of South Africa. After several annual events staged across the globe, the foundation has raised over US$50 million for disadvantaged children globally. The Foundation is headquartered in Palm Beach, Florida, and operates as a 501 C (3) non-profit organization.
The Gary Player Golf Experience or Player Academy is an initiative started to offer more than just standard golf coaching. The company looks to offer ‘a holistic game improvement solution of international class, committed to uplifting teaching norms in South Africa’.
Mr Player is also the figurehead of Black Knight Enterprises, a division of the company handling commercial partnerships, event organisation, advertising and a retail organisation selling clothing, books, jewellery, wine, African gifts, tea and golf accessories.
His business portfolio also includes a quarterly magazine, discussing everything from golf, technology and fashion to wine and wellness – all things Mr Player holds close.
In 1974, Mr Player acquired a farm near Colesberg. Since then, the farm has been used to raise thoroughbred racehorses. The farm, named Gary Player Stud, is consistently among the top breeders in the country and followed on from where previous owners, the Ellis family, left off.
The region provides perfect conditions for breeding winners with natural Karoo veld renowned for its rich trace elements and high calcium content and the climate offering impeccable settings for growth and good health.
Mr Player’s winning philosophy has set the mentality for all the staff at the farm. This has led to the farms horses entering some of the world’s most challenging races including Epsom Derby.
Mr Player’s tireless work has seen him named as the world’s most travelled athlete, reportedly clocking up over 15 million miles in travel. Now aged 77 and still maintaining a zest for his businesses, Mr Player attributes much of his success to ‘a healthy diet and staunch physical fitness regime’.
He is a shining example of what can be achieved through dedication, hard work and commitment, on and off the golf course.
Elon Musk is from Pretoria, he is one of America’s richest men, his business success is mind-boggling and we take a look at his story so far…
Our featured entrepreneur for this month is another shining example of South African business talent. His story shows that anything is possible and no matter what your interests, no matter what your talents and no matter what your background, you can succeed if you have passion, drive and innovative ideas.
Elon Musk, now officially a citizen of the USA, was born and raised in Pretoria in 1971 to a Canadian mother and South African father, an engineer who inspired his love of technology.
He attended Bryanston High School and eventually Pretoria Boys High School and it was during this time that he became interested in IT and computer programing. At the age of ten, Mr Musk bought his first computer and taught himself about programing. Within two years he had built and sold his first commercial software for a space game.
At the age of 17, Mr Musk left home and headed to North America, specifically Kingston Ontario, where he enrolled at Queen’s University, sometimes surviving on a dollar a day, earned through part-time and summer jobs.
“Serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time”
He left South Africa because of his reluctance to join up for compulsory military service. Often quoted, one of his more famous sayings goes: “I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time.”
Mr Musk made no secret of his desire to move to the US and in 1992 he moved to Philadelphia to study at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where he earned an undergraduate degree in Business and a secondary degree in Physics. Upon finishing his undergraduate studies, Mr Musk moved to Silicon Valley, California where he began studying for a PhD in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford. It is reported that he dropped out after just two days and started his own online content publishing company, Zip2, with his brother Kimbal.
The formation of Zip2 is where Mr Musk began his business empire. Since then his entrepreneurial reach has gone as far as the International Space Station, creating him a huge personal fortune and making him famous all over the world.
In 1999, Mr Musk sold Zip2 to Compaq’s AltaVista for over $300 million cash and over $30 million in shares. Later that year, he put his earnings to work and started X.com, a secure online financial services company. In 2000, X.com merged with Confinity, a similar company dealing with online finance transfers and the new entity focussed on email payments under the domain PayPal.
In 2001, X.com changed its name to PayPal and in 2002 the company was acquired by eBay for a reported $1.5 billion of stock. At the time of the sale Mr Musk was the majority shareholder.
The South African was now experienced in the day-to-day activities involved with running a business and in 2002 started his third venture, a company called Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) which focusses on developing and manufacturing space launch vehicles, the first of which were the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, and the Dragon Spacecraft. To fund this start-up he invested $100 million of his early fortune.
In 2008, SpaceX was given a $1.6 billion contract by NASA to fly to the ISS, carrying out similar missions to the now retired Space Shuttle. The company has gone from strength to strength and in 2009, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into orbit. In early 2012, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle docked with the ISS, making history as the first commercial company to launch and dock a vehicle to the ISS.
The pursuit of business in the markets of space travel and internet services flow directly from Mr Musk’s personal ambitions. He started his businesses with the goal of addressing three important concerns, “one was the internet, one was clean energy and one was space.”
Further bolstering Mr Musk’s business portfolio are controlling interests in Tesla Motors and SolarCity, the first being an electrical automotive manufacturer of which he is CEO and head of product design and the second being the largest provider of solar power systems in the US of which he is Chairman of the board and his cousin, Lyndon Rive, is CEO.
His net worth is estimated to be around $3 billion, one of the richest 200 people in the US. He has received numerous awards for business success and charity work and he is aged just 41. A heavy contributor to charitable causes, twice married and a father to five sons, Mr Musk describes himself as a workaholic. Not surprising, considering his ambitious plans to put people on Mars in 10-20 years, to fight global warming and to build a solar powered jet tunnel allowing for travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 30 minutes.
This young man from Pretoria has had quite a journey and has proved, and is proving, that with hard work and ambition, anything is possible.
Ashish Thakkar is one of Africa’s most successful business men. The 29 year old has booked his place on Virgin Galactic’s space flight proving that, for this business man at least, the sky is not the limit.
A lot of attention is placed on African entrepreneurs, especially by the international media, because of the perception that Africa is a difficult place to do business and the perception that there are fewer opportunities for successful businesses to thrive.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is in fact, not the case. Consider the fact that Africa is the second most populated continent, consider the fact that Africa is a developing continent, with as yet untapped markets, and consider the fact that Africa is a treasure chest of natural resources (including renewable resources); this continent should be any entrepreneurs dream.
One business man who has made more than a success through trading in Africa is Ashish J. Thakkar, founder of the Mara Group, a 16 year old pan-African multi-sector business conglomerate with extensive operating experience in domestic and international markets.
With current operations covering IT, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), real estate, asset management, renewable energy, tourism, infrastructure, hospitality, packaging, and media, the group has operations across 26 countries, 19 of which are African.
Mr Thakkar considers himself a native son of Africa despite being born in the UK and having strong Indian roots. His ties to Africa are strong as he moved to Uganda and grew up there with his family after they survived the historic Rwandan genocide and generational exile of African families. He is now a resident of Dubai but his passion in business is to help build emerging African entrepreneurs.
The story of Mr Thakkar’s growth as a business man is a novel one. Originally, Mr Thakkar got the entrepreneurial bug after selling a computer to a friend of his fathers, earning a profit of $100. He then attempted to sell computers to anyone and everyone. After not long, he was a 15 year old selling computers to his friends at high school in Uganda, he convinced his parents to let him start his own business on the premise that if anything went wrong he would return to school. He even sold a computer to the school and offered to maintain it as few others had the skills.
The family opened a shop and began sourcing hardware from Dubai and eventually Singapore. In the beginning the agreement was that Mr Thakkar would go back to school after the holidays but with his business running so well he never returned.
After a short period of time, the company diversified from IT to packaging and then to property, and then to infrastructure and even agriculture. Over the years the Mara Group has grown at an incredible rate and now has reported revenues of over $100 million with 7000 employees worldwide.
In his 29 years in this world, Mr Thakkar has received numerous accolades and titles. In 2010, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recognised the Mara Group as a dynamic high-growth company because of its potential to evolve into a future industry leader and a driving force for economic and social change. WEF has also named Mr Thakkar as a Young Global Leader as proof of his leadership, vision and business prowess.
In the future a further sought after title will be placed on him – that of Astronaut. Mr Thakkar has booked his place on Virgin Galactic’s space flight as a representative of East Africa. This will make him Africa’s second man in space after South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth.
Mr Thakkar has a unique management style. He regularly visits his spiritual leader Morari Bapu in India, whose philosophy of truth, love and compassion form the basis of Thakkar’s own life as a social entrepreneur and business leader. He recently told GQ magazine: “I think rudeness, arrogance and pride are not necessary, but other people like that… Arrogance is something you should never have.”
One of the key messages that Mr Thakkar likes to get across is business is easier with a mentor. To back this up he launched the Mara Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise which focuses on emerging African entrepreneurs. The Foundation works to create sustainable economic and business development opportunities for young business owners via its Mara Launchpad incubation centres and Mara Launch Fund. The mission is to provide comprehensive support services including mentorship, funding, incubation centre workspace and business training to African entrepreneurs.
Mr Thakkar believes that these support services will transform entrepreneurs’ business ideas into profitable and thriving business entities that will employ other Africans and contribute to the local and national economies. The Foundation currently operates in four African countries and recently launched an online web portal intended to reach millions of entrepreneurs globally.
Marc Maingard is one of the world’s greatest guitar makers. He studied yoga and ayurvedic medicine in India as a young man. His vast experiences of life and music have given him all the tools to run a superbly successful business straight out of Scarborough, Cape Town.
Every month we feature entrepreneurs with astonishing stories and this month is no different.
Marc Maingard is not a typical business man. He does not work in a high-rise and get chauffeured about in a dull silver or black saloon. His story is rather more noteworthy. In fact, for the last 40 years Marc has devoted himself to the construction and restoration of guitars.
Now, one of South Africa’s finest wood craftsmen, Marc’s story is one of passion, wisdom and unrivalled expertise.
As a youngster Marc was trained as a pianist and a violinist. After playing in the Natal Youth Philharmonic, he eventually took up the guitar and performed as a professional musician in South Africa and across Europe. In the 70s, Marc was looking for someone to repair his guitar and after an unsuccessful search he undertook the work himself, unwittingly starting out on a journey that would see him become a renowned repairman.
Marc developed his skills further through an apprenticeship with a cabinet maker, learning marquetry and French polishing, among other things. He combined this experience with a year of making violins and cellos before eventually moving to the USA and working with Santa Cruz guitar company on acoustics, Jimmy d’Aquisto on jazz and Martin, Gibson and Ovation on electrics. He is now the only their only authorised repair person in SA.
Marc is an expert in concert guitars after spending three years in Spain and the attention to detail is immense with each guitar being made with a specific user in mind.
Looking back at an impressive set of testimonials, Marc tells IndustrySA that his guitars are something a little bit different.
“There is no doubt about it; I make quite a special guitar. Whether it’s a superstar or not, whoever picks up one of my guitars will feel that they are holding something a little bit different. There is nothing factory about what I do.
“A lot of popular guitar makers live in the UK or the USA and they feed off each other. Living right down here I didn’t have that. I grew a sound and a guitar out of what I was feeling as a good wood worker and as a player.
“I’m a musician, I have two CDs out. My children are musicians so I know what a good guitar should sound like and feel like.”
In a recent industry magazine Marc was called ‘one of the top five on the planet’ when it comes to custom guitar building and, of course, that is good for business he says.
“I always realised, in the early days, there was no one who had my skills and there was no one who had worked in the USA with the top companies like I had. I came back to SA highly skilled.
“I was getting expensive guitars to repair coming from across Africa but I had to put that to the side to focus on making guitars. The making has always been my passion. I have one in the making right now, set to leave for the UK soon, which will be sold for R150,000.”
The reputation of Marc’s guitars is now widespread among serious players and celebrities and he has worked with some notable names including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Earl Klugh and Steven Seagal.
“Top SA musicians use my instruments but my reputation is bigger in other countries. Steven Seagal is really an electric guitar player. He wanted a guitar that had a very light action but with a lot of punch and volume so that was a challenge.
“I went through a lot of sound boards before I found the right one for him and he eventually came back and bought another so it must have been good!”
So why are Marc’s guitars so good? He explains it helps to use the best wood available.
“Someone said to me ‘if I don’t have one of your guitars in my collection then I don’t have a full collection’, and that meant a lot.
“I mainly go to Europe for my wood. The people I deal with have had wood cutting in their families for 200 years. The best wood comes out of the alps, the Austrian, Swiss and Italian alps. I use wood from close to where Stradivari cut his wood. The pines in the high slopes tends to be incredibly accurate.
“I use spruce for tops and for backs and sides I tend to use Brazilian rosewood which is CITES certified and is all legitimately harvested and eco-friendly.”
Marc’s business is exemplary in the way it is run and the passion which surrounds it. The expert craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into every project is remarkable. If you are a guitar maker, music enthusiast or budding entrepreneur then look no further than Scaborough, Cape Town for your inspiration.
Our entrepreneur this month has had a glittering career in the property industry and really sets the bar high for lifetime achievements in South Africa.
Mrs Pam Golding is the founder and now Life President of the internationally recognised and locally celebrated Pam Golding Property Group. Not only is Mrs Golding an inspiration and role model for women, she is also widely regarded as one of the world’s leading businesswomen and entrepreneurs.
Founded in 1976, the business had a challenging beginning. During tough economic times, with virtually no capital, no leads, no infrastructure and just one sales assistant, the business flourished thanks to the drive and talents of Mrs Golding including; an unerring talent for successfully matching buyers and sellers, a graceful style, networking skills and a passion for property.
Headquartered from Bishopscourt, Cape Town, the company now has a network of more than 300 offices in Africa as well as international offices in the UK, Germany, Mauritius, Seychelles and France. The Pam Golding group forms part of a strategic alliance with one of the world’s largest property groups, Savills PLC, gaining access to its prestigious network of over 500 offices worldwide.
In the beginning Mrs Golding was against using her own name as the title of the business but the personal branding has turned out to be a great success. Thanks to the hardwork, vision and entrepreneurial spirit of Mrs Golding and her team, the business is today a multi-million Rand organisation with around 300 branches, 186 franchises and a staff of around 3000.
Pam Golding Properties was the first South African real estate business to achieve sales turnover figures for a single year of around Rand 18 billion. The company is now so vast; people all over South Africa have bought their homes from a Pam Golding representative.
The company was born out of an idea which sprung to mind after Mrs Golding, her husband (Cecil) and their two young children bought their first home. Mrs Golding enjoyed being involved in the industry and had a conversation with someone discussing networking and pointing people with property requirements in his direction. In the end she looked after their needs herself and the idea for the business came to life.
The initial concern was the difficulty of raising capital but after overcoming this, the company saw steady growth before Mrs Golding identified the top end of the market was the area where maximum growth could be found. She has based her business strategy on a remarkable ability to find exclusive properties for people who sometimes didn’t even know what they wanted themselves.
One of the high points for Mrs Golding and the company was finding a property for the inspirational Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel, this was a home that the former President never thought he would buy, but with help from Mrs Golding he did just that. Mrs Golding has said that she feels a sense of achievement after giving people good advice, and a responsibility to do so.
Today, Mrs Golding’s son, Andrew, is the chief executive of the company and she plays a role of ambassadorial nature as a global networker and facilitator, encompassing both the promotion of South Africa and its diversity of investment opportunities to the world at large – an inspiration to any budding entrepreneur or any business person, in any part of the world.
Our entrepreneur for this month provides a real ‘feel good’ story. Shona McDonald started Shonaquip in 1992 designing, manufacturing and selling wheelchairs and advice for disabled people across Southern Africa.
Shona McDonald is an entrepreneur whose work has had an impact on the lives of a huge amount of people. A lot of people will get into business with the original goal of making profit, a fair motivation, but Shona McDonald moved into business after being inspired by her daughter.
Shelley, Shona’s daughter, was born with cerebral palsy and Shona had designed and manufactured wheelchairs to cater for Shelley’s needs because of the difficulty of finding locally made equipment of the correct specification. After working with non-profit organisations and research divisions, including the Bio-medical engineering Unit at the University of Cape Town, Shona produced her first chair. This buggy was the first South African wheelchair that could be used not only on flat, paved roads and in urban areas, but also on uneven terrain, in sand, and over hills and rocks and instantly demand for similar products began to come in from other parents.
Shona founded Shonaquip in 1992 as a close corporation and the business was originally run out of her garage. The business sells wheelchair buggies and support devices for disabled children.
Shona started the business as a way to accomplish several goals. She wanted to prove that people in wheelchairs could earn respectable incomes and become primary bread winners. She wanted to use the business to pursue poverty alleviation goals and to demonstrate to the public that she could develop practical and workable solutions via policy transformation. She also wanted parents to hope and to safely dream that their children could grow up with some pride and respect. She wanted to know that one day she could pass on a successful and sustainable business that would continue to grow and develop as a tool for transformation.
Today the business is headquartered in Plumstead, a suburb of Cape Town and there are also two further branches in the Western Cape and Gauteng and a factory near Cape Town. It is reported that the company builds more than 6000 wheelchairs each year and generates in excess of US$4 million in revenue. Shonaquip employs around 70 people many of whom are themselves disabled. Half of Shonaquip’s income is generated from government business, with 30% coming from private clients and medical insurers, and 20% from humanitarian agencies and NGOs. It is a fantastic achievement for a company which employs a relatively small amount of people but positively impacts on the lives of so many.
Shona McDonald has received widespread praise and recognition for her and recently Shonaquip was named the South African Social Enterprise of the Year for 2011. She was also recognised by the World Economic Forum as the outstanding social entrepreneur in South Africa in 2010, she was winner of the Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur award in 2009 and also in 2010 the Shonaquip business was featured on French national television.
The Shonaquip business core activity is the sale of the innovative wheelchairs and other unique products but a big part is also support services and training for wheelchair users and the people around them. Shonaquip provides community-based clinical services and training workshops on proper wheelchair fitting and the importance of postural support, to therapists and associated professionals across South Africa’s nine provinces, Zimbabwe and Namibia. This side of the business is complemented by the Uhambo Shonaquip Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that looks to influence policy design relating to disability.
Shona McDonald’s drive an ambition has helped improve the lives of people across Southern Africa and her work has inspired research and development, increased knowledge and skills relating to disabled care and she does it all through a self-less, caring approach.
The company is looking to continue its fantastic growth responsibly and has been recognised as an industry leader and expert in manufacture and design of disability equipment by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Department of Health in South Africa.
Her commitment is admirable and her self-taught entrepreneurial drive is an example to follow.
Greg Illingworth is a different kind of entrepreneur. Young, athletic and living his life to the maximum – a good example for young business people.
Greg Illingworth tweeted recently: “What a day riding bikes.” This is because he is one of South Africa’s (and probably the worlds) best BMX riders. His hometown of Johannesburg is one of his favourite areas to ride on the street and although he now lives in the UK his South African heritage has drawn our attention to him as a business man.
Away from the ramps, jumps, bumps and wheels Mr Illingworth runs a shop and mail order business in the Kempton Park area. The business is all about BMX riding with the shop selling bikes, accessories, fashion pieces and giving out tips and advice all year round. Because he is such a prominent figure within the sport he was selected by Mongoose (a leading brand in the sport) to promote BMX riding in areas that have been slow to take up the activity.
In the last two issues of IndustrySA we have looked at Mark Shuttleworth and Patrice Motsepe as great entrepreneurs and although their financial clout maybe heavier than that of Mr Illingworth being a good business man and entrepreneur is not only about how much profit you make.
Similarly to Shuttleworth and Motsepe, Mr Illingworth started his business from nothing and has built it up over the years, with the help of a dedicated team, to become a healthy entity of its own, thriving while he is away in the UK and competing in competitions around the world. The reason why he is slightly different is simple. You will not see him in a suit, you will rarely see him in an office, you will not see him number crunching and taking margins, you will not see him in board meetings. His passion is BMX riding and starting his business has not forced him to detract from that passion. It is refreshing to see in the business world, although the shop is doing well Mr Illingworth still pursues his BMX riding and has not become dogged down with an endless pursuit of profits. His commitment to his sport make him the ideal person to head up the business as his knowledge is unrivaled when it comes to products and ideas relating to BMX.
The shop, named The Riot, is at Festival mall skatepark in Kempton Park and customers can go into the store or go online and have products mailed to all parts of South Africa and neighbouring countries. The business began in 2002 with Mr Illingworth and his team selling BMX parts from the boot of a car. Now the business is a centre of support for the whole riding scene in South Africa, aiming to bring positivity to the BMX community through a team of experienced professional riders who offer help with parts or apparel wherever needed.
Mr Illingworth is the owner of The Riot but very much part of the team that makes it successful and it is this team-spirit and focus on community that makes him an astute business man. If he had tried to run the business by himself with all of his other commitments it would have never taken off. The trust in the team and the eagerness to bring people with the same interests together are perhaps reasons why the shop is thriving and continuing to grow.
The Riot sponsor local events and use marketing which is highly tailored and directed to relevant consumers. Although the main focus is on BMX riding there is a lot of sound theory surrounding the way the business is run and innovative, new methods which make it stand out. Coincidence? We very much doubt it.
As mentioned before, Mr Illingworth is perhaps not your traditional entrepreneur and perhaps does not have the image that you would associate with a business man but his story is that of commitment, innovation, team-work and success therefore making him no less worthy than any of the previously featured entrepreneurs in this section of the magazine. It is proof that no matter what your interests are, whether it is BMX riding, mining, technology or anything you can make a business success of it.
Planning to give his full attention to the shop when he retires from riding, the 25 year old has stated that he also has expansion plans, hoping to open another store in the UK in due course.
Mr Illingworth has been recognised around the world for his BMX riding skills and now he has been recognised by IndustrySA for his business success. He must be doing a lot of things right!
As we recognised in issue one of IndustrySA, mining is a driving force behind economic growth in South Africa. One of the people who is most qualified to talk about the mining industry is Patrice Motsepe. We profile his life and career so far…
In 2002 Patrice Motsepe won South Africa’s Best Entrepreneur Award. In 2004 he was placed in the top 40 of a list compiled of the top 100 great South Africans. His entrepreneurial story began when he was eight years old. He helped his father, a business owner himself, to sell liquor to miners in a small shop in the Hammanskraal area.
After realising that he enjoyed the money made from assisting his father but not so much working in the shop he had thoughts about studying law. After excelling in school he went on to gain a BA degree from Swaziland University and a LLB from Wits University.
One of the first major business achievements is his life came when Mr Motsepe was named as the first black partner in law firm Bowman Gilfillan in 1994. His specialisms in mining and business law were extremely helpful as in that year Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first black President. The new government had begun promoting black empowerment and entrepreneurship, an endorsement that Mr Motsepe benefited from.
A changing direction for his career saw Mr Motsepe start a company, Future Mining, which provided a range of services, including gold dust gleaning, to local mines. In the early days Mr Motsepe ran this business out of a briefcase. In 1997 he made business arrangements which would catapult him to a new level of entrepreneur. He made the most of his connections in the mining industry and the black empowerment policy to set up a finance agreement which would fund the formation of African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) and help him purchase of some of the low producing gold mines that Future Mining had worked with. This would build the foundation for his fortune although at the time, these mine shafts we considered to be at the lower end of the scale in terms of gold output. Through lean production and management styles he turned the mines into profitable centres and went on to purchase similar mine shafts with the view of expanding. In 1999 he partnered with two of his associates and Greene and Partners Investments, a venture capital organisation, was founded.
He is widely recognised now as the first and only black South African billionaire. One of the richest men on the planet and an advocate of South African entrepreneurialism, Mr Motsepe’s current business portfolio span a range of different companies and he holds a number of different positions and responsibilities.
Today his most famous business milestone was the establishment of ARM, now a leading South African diversified mining and minerals company. After a series of acquisitions of gold interests from Anglo American Corporation South Africa Ltd, ARM became ARMgold. In 2003, to further push ARMgold forward, the company merged with Harmony, another leading South African mining company. Anglovaal Mining was also involved in the deal and swapped assets with ARMgold and Harmony. ARMgold is now the controlling shareholder in Anglovaal Mining and hold around a 20% stake in the Harmony business. This was a momentous part of ARMgold’s history with Harmony rated as the fifth largest gold producer in the world.
ARMgold now has mining interests in gold, platinum, iron, copper and coal. They own (as a joint venture with Xstrata) a coal mine near Witbank which produces an estimated 6.7 million tons of coal per year. In 2010 they entered into a joint venture with Vale to mine copper in Zambia and there are also operations underway in Zimbabwe and Papa New Guinea.
Mr Motsepe is currently the chairman of ARMgold and he is a non-executive director for banking giant Absa Group and insurance company Sanlam. He is chairman of Teal Exploration and Mining Incorporated, he is chairman of Ubuntu-Botho Investments and he is president of South Africa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Do not be fooled into thinking Mr Motsepe is all business and no play, in 2003 he bought the South African football club Mamelodi Sundowns. He pumped finance into the club and helped them become champions and cup winner in numerous different seasons.
Mr Motsepe is a father of three and is married to Dr Precious Makgosi Moloi, who has herself been described as one of South Africa’s most glamorous women. His sister is Bridgette Radebe, South Africa’s first black, female mining entrepreneur. He sends his sons to prestigious private schools but by billionaire standards is considered rather humble owning no playboy toys such as boats or planes and owning only one house in the Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston.
With an estimated wealth of around R23 billion he is clearly a business man who knows what it takes to be a success. He said recently: “We have a country of exceptional business and entrepreneurial talent in both the black and the white communities and we should build on that going forward, not as black and white, but as South African business. The strength of this country is its people.”
In September world business website Forbes.com created a list of the top ten youngest power men in Africa. All are aged 40 and under and all are heavily involved in Africa’s business and political circles.
The man at number two in this list is Mark Richard Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth was born in Welkom, Free State, South Africa in 1973. He studied for a Business Science degree in Finance and Information Systems at the University of Cape Town and has since become a technological guru, a self-made millionaire and one of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Shuttleworth’s first project was a computing company, Thawte, which dealt with internet security among other things. The company was founded in 1995 and in the early days of business Thawte was run from Shuttleworth’s parents’ house. As Thawte grew it became one of the industry leaders in helping businesses make and accept secure transactions over the web.
In 1999 the American software company VeriSign purchased Thawte from Shuttleworth for a deal reported to be around $575million. From this sale Shuttleworth went on to form the Shuttleworth Foundation and his venture capital company, Here Be Dragons (HBD).
The Shuttleworth Foundation is a non-profit organisation which encourages innovative thinkers to help bring about change in society with a special focus on South Africa. The foundation has worked in all nine provinces of South Africa and has funded teachers, small businesses and private individual ideas among many other projects.
HBD is an investment company that looks to invest in innovative technology companies across South Africa and it now boasts a large portfolio of business partners. The name is reference to the phrase ‘Here Be Dragons’ which was used to describe uncharted territory on ancient maps.
In 2004 Shuttleworth founded Canonical Ltd which dealt with promotion and support of free computer software projects. In the same year he helped in the design and development of the Ubuntu operating system, a free computer system suitable for home desktops and also for heavy industry, mainframe computers. Ubuntu is funded by Canonical who create revenue by offering technical support for a range of Ubuntu platforms. The free Ubuntu operating system is regarded by many critics as a future contender to Microsoft’s market dominance with high-profile customers such as Google and Dell running Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’ and Shuttleworth reflects this meaning by offering the system free of charge. Shuttleworth is heavily involved in designing free operating systems and stepped down as CEO of Canonical in 2010 to be fully involved with designing products and enhancing the free software market. He is now in charge of design and product strategy. Shuttleworth believes that developing countries need to find their voice in the digital era and his drive to produce systems that are ‘beautiful and easy to use’ at no charge proves his commitment to this belief.
If you are not familiar with Mark Shuttleworth through his software developing, free software ecosystems, website certificates and other complicated technologies then you may recognise his name after he became only the second self funded space tourist and the first African in space in 2002. He lived and trained for a year in Star City, Russia before paying around $20million to launch aboard the Soyuz TM-34 mission.
Shuttleworth now lives on the Isle of Man and holds dual citizenship of the UK and South Africa. Canonical’s main offices are in London however they also enjoy bases across the world. He owns a private jet, has an estimated fortune of $269million but donates generously to other charitable besides his own foundation. His commitment to his beliefs, his attention to detail and his strong education make him a brilliant entrepreneur and his wealth and experience make him well worth his spot on the list of top ten youngest powerful men in Africa.