Entrepreneurship offers excitement, challenge and the high of success that so often leaves a gaping hole in the lives of once-famous, highly driven, top-of-their game people. It’s also an easy fit for the perfectionism, single-minded focus and work ethic so characteristic of people who excel in other spheres of life.
And, importantly, it offers an often-welcome opportunity to escape the limelight and get down to the business of living a ‘normal’ life, while still deriving satisfaction from a job well done.
But it doesn’t always come easy. As one of our interviewees points out in this feature, having a public profile might get you through the door, “but once you’re in the room you’d better make sure you have something valuable to offer.”
Many celebs haven’t had time to invest in education and they lack essential work experience. So by the time they enter the world of business, they are often ten years or more behind their better-educated, more experienced peers. It can make their fall to earth that much more humbling.
The smart ones recognise early on that stardom is fleeting and start making plans for the future while still in the limelight. They’re the successful ones, and we interview six of them in the pages that follow.
So if you’ve ever wondered what there can possibly be to match the high of playing for Manchester United, winning Olympic gold, being crowned as Miss South Africa or enjoying a successful modelling, music and film career, read on – the interviews that follow hold some of the answers.
Beyond face value
Former Miss SA Amy Kleinhans-Curd shows she’s more than a pretty face as she proves her entrepreneurial mettle.
When Amy Kleinhans-Curd was the reigning Miss South Africa, she’d seek out marketing and financial directors at events and arrange to sit next to them.
“Business has always fascinated me. I would find talking to those people absolutely intriguing. I knew all the way back then that I wanted to be in business,” she says.
Kleinhans-Curd is a qualified teacher and she combined her passion for education with her interest in business to launch Dial-A-Teacher in 2000 as part of her husband’s newly-formed group, Private Label Promotions (PLP).
“We had identified a gap in the market for 24/7 personal assistant services and had launched My PA in response to this need. Dial-A-Teacher was a similar call-centre based solution that allowed learners to call a teacher for help with their homework,” she explains.
Anticipating customer needs
Since those early days in 1992, PLP has grown to include one of the widest ranges of call-centre based solutions, loyalty, acquisition and retention programmes, value-added benefits, and direct marketing solutions.
PLP’s Loyalty Solutions provides customer engagement and marketing services aimed at customer acquisition and retention; PLP WorkLife Balance Solutions delivers employee wellness and assistance programmes to large corporates; and PLP Business Growth Solutions targets the SME and enterprise development market, providing a wide range of services to help business owners become more efficient in running their day-to-day operations and tackling challenges such as access to market finance and business support. Kleinhans-Curd explains: “All of these services are white-labeled and we tailor them to meet our clients’ needs.”
One of the business’s key success factors has been its ability to identify and respond to market needs with appropriate solutions. “Right from our first PA and education solutions, we have always tried to not only identify what our clients need now, but anticipate what they might need in future.
This has been the growth driver of the business – as we identify a new need, we implement an in-depth research and development programme to build a solution that will fill that need,” says Kleinhans-Curd.
Serving the SME sector
The latest Business Growth Solutions product is a prime example. “South Africa’s entrepreneurs face an uphill battle especially in the first start-up phase. I know this from first-hand experience of trying to get this business off the ground.
Coupled with that is the fact that large corporates struggle to implement successful enterprise development programmes as part of their B-BBEE requirements. There was a clear need for services in this sector. Our solution provides SMEs with everything they need, from legal, financial and tax advisors, to discounted office equipment and workshop tools.
We go as far as providing them with business leads, tender oppportunities, and assistance with obtaining finance or grants,” she says.
Kleinhans-Curd believes each business unit has enormous growth potential, and the company is currently focused on a strong push into mobile apps and social media space across all its divisions. “Business has proved to be every bit as exciting as I first thought it would be. I’m challenged and stimulated every day.”
David Gresham’s name epitomises rock music in South Africa. He shares some insight into how he’s got it right.
Ask David Gresham a question about business and he’ll reply with an answer about music. “The music IS the business,” he says. The seamless integration of the two is what has kept this legend of the South African music industry so successful for so long.
Gresham started what is now South Africa’s longest running independent record company in 1972. He has evolved the David Gresham Record Company into the David Gresham Entertainment Group with recording studios, full promotional, marketing and sales functions, a separate publishing division, a DVD movie division and a separate import division.
The publishing division is the largest independent publisher in South Africa and represents 700 000 titles for artists such as Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, James Blunt, Gwen Stefani and Quincy Jones. The company also represents record labels from all over the world in the South African territory.
No magic formula
Gresham enjoyed an illustrious radio and television broadcasting career, and was the only South African to interview John Lennon, a moment he describes as the highlight of his career. Talking about starting the company he says, “There are always people waiting in the wings to take over your radio or television show. I wanted to create something of my own, and music, being in my blood and my soul, was the obvious route to go.”
The success he’s built up over the years hasn’t always come easily though. “Know this – the music industry has never been easy. If 20% of your releases turn out to be hits, you’re really winning,” he says. There is no magic formula for identifying the next big artist or song or musical trend.
“I think that’s the hardest thing about what we do – identifying an artist or song that the consumer will go out and buy. Music is trend and fashion based and there really is no telling what the next thing will be.
Keeping abreast of music trends
There are still instances when he gets it wrong, he says. “Even today, things that I think will really fly turn out to be a flop and vice versa. For this reason, when we speak to new artists I never guarantee them a hit. It would be an empty promise. But what I can guarantee them is hard work, absolute commitment from me and my team, and outstanding production,” he adds.
He attributes much of the company’s success to consistency, hard work and a think tank system for generating new ideas for where to take the business. “We’re also not a genre-based company and I think that has kept us broad and open to all types of artists and music.”
He’s also kept abreast of the ever-changing music scene: “Today’s iTunes generation has a very different connection to music, and you have to take that into consideration. The only thing that’s constant is the existence of the music, in all its different forms, and its enduring power to resonate deeply with people of all ages and walks of life.”
Off the pitch
Former Man United goal keeper Gary Bailey knows what it takes to be successful – in football and in business.
Within four months of signing for Manchester United Football Club as one of the youngest goal keepers ever to play in English League football, Gary Bailey’s team lost the FA Cup Final because he failed to save a goal in the final minute of play. It gave him an early taste of the immense pressure and intense scrutiny under which professional sportsmen operate.
“Professional football is one of the most pressured businesses in the world. Every year, a third of all managers are fired or resign. And being a goal keeper is perhaps one of the most pressured positions on the pitch. If you fail to save a goal people blame you for losing the match,” he says.
Game plan for business
Since retiring from professional football Bailey has run numerous businesses, enjoyed a successful career in the highly pressured world of sports broadcasting and is one of the country’s top motivational speakers. His latest book, Succeed Under Pressure, converts football lessons into business success and takes many of those lessons from his former manager and one of the most successful ever, Sir Alex Ferguson.
The advice he offers is equally relevant to CEOs and small entrepreneurial enterprises who are passionate about football and those who know nothing about it. “There are five things I believe you need to do or have in order to succeed under pressure,” he says. These include:
- Gratitude. Be grateful for the opportunities and blessings you have. It will give you positive energy to deal with the challenges you face. When we lost that FA Cup Final, my dad told me to be grateful I had played in a cup final at all. It was an opportunity countless people would never have.
- Reframe. Take situations that made you feel negative: In my early career I became very scared of making a mistake, until someone pointed out that this would keep me from fulfilling my potential. So the next time I was in the box, I reframed the situation. I thought, “Please shoot for goal. Give me a chance to show you what I can do.” It made a tremendous difference to my entire game.
- Empathy. Emotional intelligence allows you to understand people, see their strengths and know their weaknesses. You need to learn to observe people. This is how Sir Alex chooses his top players for every match, looking for those who show great energy and desire.
- Adaptable. Remain open to new possibilities and always make sure you are learning new things. David Beckham’s first few interviews were a disaster until he got some advice on answering questions. Today he’s the biggest sports marketer of all time. It’s often the small learnings that make a big difference.
- Teamwork. One of the things that makes Manchester United so successful is that everyone works for the other. They never use the words “I” and “Me” – it’s always “We” and “Us”. Reflect glory back to your team, and set them inspiring targets that have emotional resonance, as Sir Alex did when he arrived at Man Utd and set Liverpool as the team to beat.
Musical prodigy Zwai Bala has learnt some tough lessons, but they’ve all made for a better businessman.
Zwai Bala first exploded to musical stardom with the kwaito group, TKZee, but his career in music stretches back to childhood. Schooled at the Drakensberg Boys Choir, alongside his brothers, his prodigious musical talent was evident from an early age.
“My life has been immersed in the business of music,” he says, adding that it seemed a natural step to form Bala Brothers Productions when the TKZee trio parted ways and Zwai joined brothers Loyiso and Phelo to form the Bala Brothers. The multi-award winning trio have made their mark on the music scene by infusing classical opera with popular African music.
The full package
Bala Brothers Productions manages and produces the group and other artists, but it also offers a broad range of entertainment solutions to the corporate market.
“I’ve drawn on everything I’ve learnt and been exposed to in the music industry and poured it into the business. This means we can offer full package solutions for events – from delivering a live performance and managing all the sound and entertainment, to writing and professionally producing a unique track for the event, which is recorded and delivered to the client before the function is over.”
Formalising the business
These are things Bala had always done, but the formation of Bala Brothers Productions marked an important step towards formalisation and the establishment of a business. Bala walked a hard road to get here.
“When I was with TKZee, I never paid any tax. It never occurred to me that it was something you needed to do. So I ended up getting into trouble with SARS and it’s taken years to sort the whole mess out. But it taught me an important lesson about formalising business and getting the admin side of things in order. When you have someone taking care of the admin, you can focus on the creative stuff, but ignore the admin and it will eventually catch up with you and destroy what you are trying to do creatively,” he explains.
Bala’s kept the business as lean as possible. “One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that when you see an opportunity to make money, you have to think of it as a business from the word go. The money you make is the business’s money and much of it needs to go back into the business so you can build for the future.”
That future holds great promise. Bala recently completed his Masters Certificate in Orchestration for Film and Television at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and went to Hollywood to work on the score for the animated feature film, Zambezia, to be released towards the end of 2012. “Film score is definitely an area I want to move into,” he concludes.
Against the stream
In the time since he won Olympic gold, Ryk Neethling’s been busy. Here’s how he evolved into a businessman and entrepreneur.
Ryk Neethling knew early on that he didn’t want to join the ranks of sports stars whose post-professional life trajectory follows a depressingly downward curve. “I always knew there’d be life after swimming, and I was determined to be successful at it.
I also knew that I wanted to own my own business. Even when I was swimming professionally, the business side of sport interested me. I wanted to have a say in my contracts, I understood that sponsorships were a business transaction and I learnt an enormous amount about marketing,” says the Olympian-turned-entrepreneur.
Among the things that have kept him busy since he retired from professional swimming are the establishment of six Ryk Neethling Swimming Schools and two Players Swimming Academy facilities. The first of these offers swimming lessons to people of all ages, while the second provides professional training for more serious swimmers.
With one swimming school already successfully franchised, Neethling plans to expand the businesses along these lines.
Maximising the platform
He also manages professional swimmers, including Cameron van den Burgh and Chad Le Clos, through Ryk Neethling Marketing, and is the African representative for Italian pool company Myrtha. Van den Burgh has also participated in Players for the past four years.
There’s an obvious alignment between these businesses and Neethling’s previous life in swimming, but his real passion lies in property. He’s a shareholder and marketing director for Val de Vie Wine and Polo Estate, Guardian Development Projects and Brick Art Construction. “Val de Vie keeps me really busy, and it’s been exciting to be part of the creation of such a unique development,” he says.
Neethling’s obvious talent for marketing has its roots in the world of sport. “I recognised the importance of maximising the platform I’d been given to market myself and build a profile.
As a professional sportsperson, you only have that platform for a short period of time, but if you work hard at it, you can create the foundations for a life and a business after sport,” he explains. In addition to his other pursuits, Neethling is highly sought-after on the speakers’ circuit.
Tangible business value
There’s no doubt that his public profile opens doors, but as Neethling points out, “Getting through the door is just the first step. Once you’re in the room, you’d better make sure you have something of value to offer. Whether I’m selling wine, property development, delivering a talk or representing a professional sportsperson, I focus on delivering real, tangible business value.”
He’s bemused by the perception that he’s ‘made it and can lie by the pool all day living it up.’ “Make no mistake, I have to work,” he says. The fact that hard work comes naturally makes entrepreneurship an easy fit: “I always knew that I could outwork anyone in the pool, and I’ve just carried that over to business. I work seven days a week and I love it. It’s stimulating, exciting, challenging and exhausting. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Kimberleigh Stark’s extensive experience as an actress and casting director gives her invaluable insight into what artists need from the industry, and what the industry needs from artists. She brings the two together in Stark Raving Management.
When actress and former model Kimberleigh Stark opened the doors to Stark Raving Management in 2003 her vision was to create an agency for artists that protected their interests while promoting absolute professionalism.
“I run my business very much with my heart. I care about the people on my books. I want them to be working. It’s like a family here,” she says.
The entertainment industry is notoriously tough and Stark knows first-hand that it can be extremely exploitative of artists who are desperate to get work and make a name for themselves. “You get a lot of fly-by-night companies and unscrupulous practices such as charging artists to keep them on the books or charging them for every audition secured.
I realised from my own experience in the industry that there was a need for above-board, professional management,” she says. The company is accredited with the Personal Management Association (PMA).
But while protecting the rights of artists is undoubtedly important, so too is getting them work, and in this Stark is well positioned to deliver. In addition to many years’ experience in acting, Stark draws on her role as casting director for shows such as Egoli, Generations and Muvhango, and international films.
“I believe that having been a casting director makes me a better agent. I’ve been on the other side. When I get a casting brief I have a good sense of what the casting director is looking for. I am therefore able to brief my artists properly so that they are thoroughly prepared, and I only send those who I think have a good chance of landing the part,” she says.
Attracting high profile artists
She also has her own reputation to protect. “At the end of the day, I’m sending artists to my colleagues in the industry, so my name is very much on the line,” she explains.
The combination of integrity, professionalism and transparency has landed her a string of high profile artists, including Patrick Shai, Darlington Michaels, Rose Motene and Palesa Mocuminyane. “This business is based on trust and relationships.
My artists know I will fight for them. But I only take those who are absolutely committed to working and in whom I can detect an abiding passion for acting and the work. I don’t head-hunt. I don’t go looking to sign artists,” she says.