Anatomy of… Derek Thomas

Anatomy of… Derek Thomas


Growing up I lived in a world where I was looking across the fence.

I came from a poor background, my dad was a teacher and my mom was a garment worker who died when I was seven.

My immediate neighbours were alcoholics. Encouraged by my father, my escape would be through a passion for learning. Where there were no role models or inspiration I searched for solutions, and education became the currency that I traded in.

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The responsibility of each human being is to understand the world they are born into.

How can you make sense of that world without constructing proper lenses to look at it and understand what you see?

I’m concerned about the number of South Africans who are not being properly educated, don’t finish their degrees, or who rely on the Internet for their answers. You have to arm yourself with quality knowledge. I don’t consider myself to be smart so my trick is to be a borrower of metaphors.

I borrow from the great works of philosophy, politics and modern science because these books are filled with people who have already fought challenges or injustice and have found the solutions.

Something people don’t know about me is that I am a bit of a nerd.

I like to collect figurines of DC and Marvel comic characters. Some weekends I join a bunch of fellow enthusiasts to shop for my favourite DC and Marvel heroes.

The last item I bought was a Green Lantern model, but before I could buy it, the shop assistant asked me to repeat the superhero’s oath: A commitment to defeat evil. That got me thinking about what South Africa’s oath should be.

If South Africa had an oath it should be:

If you are privileged you can’t just complain about the country, your duty is to seek out the solutions. You’ve enjoyed the privileges of a good education which means that you’re bound by its obligations.

Instead of only building up personal wealth, privileged citizens should commit to the service of their fellow man. My son is going to a good boarding school which brings with it a duty to give back to society, and it is my duty to teach him that social responsibility.

We filmed the opening sequence of the Think Big TV series on a rooftop in Johannesburg and below me stood the remains of a once infamous nightclub where South Africa’s A-listers would hang out. That decaying building represented to me everything that is decadent in our country.

We value quick wealth and quick solutions; here today, gone tomorrow. I watched the Comedy Roast of Kenny Kunene and it disturbed me. It made me wonder how we as a society can hold celebrities in such high regard simply because they drive a Ferrari.

We celebrate the quick buck instead of the ordinary man who does something to make the community a better place.

My mission for our business is to grow jobs for graduates in science and engineering; it’s the graduates who will be the ones who create jobs. This is where the next grass roots evolution lies.

I hope that my tombstone will read ‘he tried to be an industrialist’, and that people will say: ‘Actually, he succeeded.’

The way to build wealth for the country is through businesses, and through supporting the entrepreneur.

I want to continuously illuminate the art of the possible, not through my words but through my constant actions so that others can see that, even if you come from poverty, by constantly seeking to better yourself and the world around you, it is possible to achieve.

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Catherine Bristow
Catherine Bristow is the online editor and content marketing manager for Entrepreneur Magazine. She brings to the mix a BJourn from Rhodes University, Honours in Psychology as well as a certificate in Accounting and Commercial Law.