- Player: Dr Mehran Zarrebini
- Position: CEO
- Company: PFE International Inc.
- Turnover: R560 million
- About: PFE International Inc. is a manufacturing-orientated organisation with an emphasis on floor coverings (carpet tiles, broadloom carpet, DIY carpet tiles), polypropylene fibre and yarn, master-batches, recycled rubber flooring, artificial hair and recycled rubber crumb. Companies include Sapy, Easigrass, Van Dyck Carpets, PFE Extrusion and Mathe Group.
PFE International is a vertically-integrated group of companies that include well-known brands such as Easigrass, PFE Extrusions and Van Dyck Carpets. The business focuses on manufacturing, an industry where margins are often tight and competition is fierce and global. Yet, despite this, PFE International has shown impressive growth and currently boasts a turnover of more than R500 million. It also employs more than 500 people in the economically-challenged areas of Hammarsdale and Imlazi.
Entrepreneur spoke to company CEO Mehran Zarrebini (who holds a degree in chemical engineering, a PHD and an MBA) about the approach and mindset needed to compete effectively and grow a business in the modern environment.
Every business in its growth journey will hit certain ceilings. Can you think of any, and how you overcame them?
In business, you will always face barriers. For instance, during the life cycle of a product, sales will eventually diminish as competitors release products to market that have similar, or better, characteristics and features than yours. In the manufacturing environment that we operate in, this has the tendency to suppress growth.
Overcoming these types of strategic challenges requires a different kind of thinking. To launch products that are successful, sustainable and can out-compete other incumbents in the industry, one has to do four things.
Firstly, you need to challenge conventional wisdom. Look at alternative industries where complementary products are being utilised, and look at other industries where product innovation plays a pivotal role.
Secondly, research your customers. Understand their pain points and the buyer experience cycle fully. Most companies have an inside-out mentality instead of an outside-in mentality. Customer research is critical in reaffirming that the value drivers in the organisation are actually correct.
Thirdly, when developing a product or service, what are the factors that need to be created and improved, and what are the factors that need to be removed or eliminated. There is no point developing products that do not create value for your clients, or provide them with attributes that they do not need. These just add to cost and creates waste.
Lastly, identify a non-customer opportunity. It is not only existing customers that we must focus on but also non-customers. What can you learn from non-customers about your product? Why aren’t they buying from you? How can you turn them into customers? If you want to grow your business, you can’t just focus on existing customers. The truth is, you can often learn more from the people who aren’t buying from you.
What, do you believe, are some of the biggest barriers to growth that businesses face?
Many of the barriers to growth we often face are internal and not external. As you scale up a business, many businesses are forced to add complexity and bureaucracy. Growth, no doubt, creates complexity, but complexity can easily become something that inhibits companies reaching for or sustaining profitable growth.
It is very difficult to achieve your external goals if your issues internally stifle that growth. You need to take a critical look at the systems and processes of your company. Are they still making sense? They might have made sense at some stage, but are they still helping you to drive growth, or have they become inhibitors? How can you simplify things and make it as easy as possible for everyone to do their jobs?
Insufficient investment in people is another common problem.
It is necessary to continuously invest in human capital. Growth brings new challenges and needs for any business, so ensuring the right human capital is in place is paramount to success.
Organisations also often fail to see the merit of creating partnerships and leveraging from the successes of other organisations. The world is incredibly dynamic and organisations cannot cultivate all they need internally. Companies cannot be innovative and efficient if they do not have alliances and partnerships with other organisations. In other words, you need to deploy knowledge efficiently from one network to another.
Finally, an inability to adapt to changing market conditions is a massive barrier. As companies grow, market dynamics change and organisations are required to adapt their business models accordingly. Many companies fail in this regard as they do not continuously scan the strategic landscape. Failing to adapt and doing things as you’ve always done them is a sure way to fail.
What growth advice have you received or used in your own business?
I have received some great feedback in the past. I think the management of family-owned businesses, like mine, has different dynamics to deal with compared to non-family owned businesses.
A piece of advice that will always resonate with me is that it is imperative to focus on building organisations around resilience, and not only performance. Forgo the excess returns during the good times in order to manage the turbulent times.
One may not grow to the extent that a performance-orientated company may grow, but over the long term, I believe that a resilient organisation is far more sustainable. As a family-based organisation, we often invest with a ten-to-twenty year horizon and not necessarily for the short term. Resilience, therefore, becomes incredibly important.
Another great piece of advice that I have received regarding growth is that diversification is often crucial to long-term sustainability.
As the economy becomes more volatile and industries experience more unpredictability, it is important to diversify either organically or through acquisition.
We have to find new ways of protecting our interests so that in the event of one industry suffering a downturn, business in another sector can generate funds that allow us to invest for the future.
How does a business owner embrace a growth mind-set?
I think, in order to achieve a growth mind- set, business owners must believe that their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, being humble and by having the ability to listen. While these requirements seem trivial, they are often a challenge for many business leaders. Power and influence will often inhibit a business leader in developing a growth mind-set.
Continuous learning should form part of our daily business lives and we must never operate with the assumption that we are qualified for the job. There is so much to learn from working with others, especially in a diverse environment like South Africa.
If we can create and provide a collaborative and participative approach to business within the organisations that we work in, then our employees feel empowered and committed, which ultimately drives growth.
How do you stay motivated and focused on growth, even when you’ve been operating for quite a while?
I think it is important for any business to continuously challenge conventional wisdom. Having spent some time at INSEAD at the Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in Fontainebleau, I realised the importance of being able to tap into latent demand and creating organic growth by learning from non-customers.
There is a lot of insight that one can gain from non-customers, especially when trying to understand why they shun a particular product or service. A better solution to an existing problem is simply not good enough and being able to capture new demand requires focus on the demand side (non-customers). What are their key commonalities, and where can we create a leap in value?
How do you stay at the forefront of innovation in an industry where there are constant technological advancements? How do you keep your offering relevant?
Doing this successfully is dependent on the strategic choices one makes. The traditional view of strategy — to stay at the forefront of innovation — requires organisations to focus on differentiation. In a world of increasing competitiveness, with diminishing barriers to entry and increased complexity, this is no longer good enough.
The difficulty in pursuing a differentiation strategy is that over a period of time it can be easily replicated, forcing individuals and organisations to differentiate yet again.
The result is that the value/cost trade-off both move in the same direction.
End-users will only use innovative products that add some perceived value to their lives. Over and above financial benefits to the user, perceived value can be achieved either by user-centred design (where the design qualities of the technology are matched with the needs of the end-user; i.e. perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, social pressure, etc.) or through persuasive design (where the design qualities of the technology actively encourage adoption). Understanding the market and how human behaviour influences uptake of technologies is critical to success.
- Challenge conventional wisdom. How can you do things differently?
- Research customers, competitors and non-customers.
- Create great partnerships. Don’t try to do everything on your own.
- Diversification can help you survive tough times.
- Focus on differentiation.
- It’s imperative to build organisations around resilience and not only performance.
- Resilient organisations will not always be the biggest in their industries, but they will be the most sustainable.
- Diversification is crucial to long-term sustainability. Markets and industries are volatile, so spread your risk.
- On a leadership level, talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, having the ability to listen and by staying humble.
- Collaborative businesses that encourage participation create environments where employees feel empowered and committed. This leads to long-term employee loyalty and growth.
Pay as much attention to non-customers as customers. Why aren’t they buying from you? How can you turn them into customers?
Six Fundamental Business Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Walt Disney
His success is all the more amazing when you learn how many times Walt Disney failed.
Everyone knows Walt Disney. Almost everyone has been to a Disney park somewhere, seen a Disney movie (live action or a cartoon) or knows some Disney character. Some people even go on Disney cruises.
Disney the man
I think in some ways people know more about Disney, fewer people about Disney the man. Walt Disney, the man, has somewhat faded into the background for many people. It is understandable since he died fifty-one years ago, in 1966. Walt was a visionary, an entrepreneur and a creative genius. There are some invaluable lessons every entrepreneur can learn from what he was able to accomplish in his life.
1Never give up
Many people don’t know that Walt Disney was not an overnight success. He started several companies that went bankrupt. He started a commercial art studio, and it tanked. He tried to create advertisements, and they also failed due to lack of revenue. Instead of giving in or giving up, Walt always just tried the next thing.
As Walt said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
2Be a problem solver
Walt Disney was the consummate problem solver. He was very observant and was always looking for ways to solve a problem and how it could be an opportunity in the marketplace.
He took his daughter to a park to ride some rides, and he noticed the rides were dirty and in bad shape, and the people operating the rides were rude.
Walt thought about this problem – and it became Disneyland. He wanted a place that was safe and clean, where parents could take their kids.
As Jason Kilar once said, “When I was 10, we drove to Disney World. When we arrived, what impressed me most was the meticulous attention to detail; there wasn’t a gum wrapper anyplace.”
3Be willing to reinvent yourself
Many people don’t know that Disney’s first major cartoon star was not Mickey Mouse – it was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He had signed a contract with a distributor for the short cartoons and was thrilled with their success.
When he went to renew the contract, they fired Walt. The distributor said (unknown to Walt) that they legally owned Oswald, and that Walt Disney didn’t, as outlined in the contract.
Even worse, all of Walt’s animators left Walt and went to work for the other company.
Walt went home having lost his biggest success. He had to start over. As Walt said, “Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when the business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner.”
4Surround yourself with talent
Walt Disney admitted he was not the most talented at drawing or animation. As he once said, “I started, actually, to make my first animated cartoon in 1920. Of course, they were very crude things then and I used sort of little puppet things.” He was brilliant at knowing what he did best and was able to hire the best artists and animators in the world.
The person who animated Mickey in the early was not Walt but an animator named Ub Iwerks. Walt didn’t have to have the talent for drawing, but he had the vision. It’s like being an architect – you don’t have to be the general contractor. You just have to know what you want the project to look like when it is done.
Walt was an inquisitive soul and always wanted to learn new things. In animation, this led to some stunning developments in the early years.
He is famous for making the first sound cartoon, the first live action and animation mix film, the first full-length cartoon movie. Until then, Walt’s cartoons were fluffy, short, mindless entertainment people watched that came on before the main feature.
Here is the point and don’t miss it – he didn’t know how to do any of those things. His curiosity led him to investigate how to do these things and figure out how to get it all done. Walt said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Walt was smart enough after building a successful animation studio to get into live action movies, documentaries, television, amusement parks and tons of products. He could have just been an animation studio, but that would not have created the kind of success his company had.
I think Walt said it best: “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”
Every business needs to keep looking at ways to grow and diversify.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
20 Crazy Things We’ve Learned About Alibaba Billionaire Jack Ma
From getting kidnapped to dressing up as Michael Jackson, the Alibaba founder has a lot of wacky stories to tell.
As someone who rose from being rejected from Harvard 10 times to becoming the second-richest man in China, Jack Ma’s rags to riches story is inspiringJack Ma
Through persistence and experimentation, Ma built one of the most successful, record-breaking companies to date, the ecommerce giant Alibaba.
Of course, his success didn’t happen overnight, and his story is full of lessons in failure. Growing up, Ma struggled in school, constantly failing tests. When he finally got accepted to college, after he failed the college entrance exam twice and was rejected from Harvard 10 times, Ma eventually became an English teacher. However, once he was introduced to the internet during a work assignment in 1995, the rest was history.
Motivated to help the internet catch on in China, Ma launched Alibaba, an ecommerce site for small- to medium-sized businesses, in 1999. From there, it took years to build the site into the massive online wholesaler it is today, powered by Ma’s motivation and passion. Today, Ma is worth a whopping $39 billion, and since he stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO in 2013, he’s devoted much of his time and money to social causes.
There’s much to learn about the Chinese billionaire. Here are 20 interesting facts about Ma you probably didn’t know.
He wasn’t a great student
While one might assume Ma was a straight-A student, quite the opposite was true. Ma admits that he actually failed multiple times in school: “I failed a key primary school test two times, I failed the middle school test three times, I failed the college entrance exam two times.”
He began learning English when he was 12
At 12 years old, Ma was committed to learning English. Every morning for eight years, he would ride his bike 40 minutes to a hotel in Hangzhou, where he would volunteer as a tourist guide for visitors just to practice the language.
He was rejected from Harvard University 10 times
It usually takes only one rejection for someone to give up on getting into an Ivy League, but this wasn’t the case for Ma. During an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in 2015, Ma admitted to being rejected from Harvard 10 times.
He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life after college
After graduating from Hangzhou Normal University, Ma applied for 30 different jobs, and he got rejected from each one. During the process of applying for these jobs, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he submitted his resume for a variety of unique positions, one even being a police officer.
He was rejected from KFC
One of the 30 jobs Ma applied for after he graduated from college was a position at the fast food chain KFC. Out of a pool of 24 applicants, KFC hired 23 – and the one person who didn’t get a job was Ma.
He loves “Forrest Gump”
Jack Ma’s fictional idol is Forrest Gump. Like Gump, Ma also struggled in school, then went on to achieve success. “I’ve been watching that movie about 10 times. Every time when I’m frustrated I watch the movie,” he shared with CNBC in an interview. “I watched the movie before I came to New York.”
He became a teacher and made $12 to $15 a month
After graduating from Hangzhou Teachers University, Ma’s luck – and career – turned around. Ma was the only student of 500 to be chosen to teach at a university. Teaching English, Ma said he made what was then the equivalent of $12 to $15.
He was first introduced to the internet in 1995
In 1995, while on assignment as an interpreter in Seattle, a friend showed Ma the internet for the first time. His first search was on Yahoo for “beer.” However, it was through this search that Ma discovered there was no data about China, so he decided to launch a website called China Pages.
He was kidnapped and threatened with a handgun
During that same trip, which was his first time in the U.S., Ma also was assigned to go to Malibu, Calif., to collect debt from an American businessman on behalf of a friend. The businessman ended up locking Ma in his home and threatening him with a handgun. After a few days, the man brought Ma to Las Vegas with him when he was due to meet with a group of Chinese businessmen. Still without the money at this point, Ma won $600 on the slot machines in Vegas, bought a plane ticket to Seattle and left the scene.
His first entrepreneurial venture ended in failure
After borrowing $2,000 from friends to launch China Pages in an attempt to popularise the internet in China, Ma’s venture didn’t quite go as planned. It ran on a server with a dial-up connection in his small apartment, which made pages take more than three hours to load. At the time, his direct competitor was China Telecom, from whom Ma accepted an investment of $185,000 for a joint venture. In the end, however, Ma found he did not have much say in the business. Eventually, he left and took a job with China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.
He announced Alibaba in a videotaped meeting from his small apartment
By 1999, Ma was on to his next business idea for bringing the internet to China, and he had raised $60,000 from 18 friends to launch his ecommerce platform for small- and medium-sized businesses. Through a videotaped meeting that took place in his small apartment in Hangzhou, Ma introduced Alibaba.
The name “Alibaba” came from a children’s story
Ma got the name Alibaba from the folktale series One Thousand and One Nights. He was inspired by the story of the poor carpenter Ali Baba, who came across an abundant treasure.
While growing Alibaba, Ma and his team made mistakes along the way
Ma’s journey wouldn’t make for a true entrepreneurial story if mistakes and hardship weren’t involved. He attributes three somewhat counterintuitive factors to the success of Alibaba: having no money, no technology and no plan. He’s said that having limited resources made his team more diligent – especially when it came to money, because they had to use their limited funds carefully.
Even as Alibaba grew, Ma admits the company tried to expand too fast, was stretched too thin and had to lay off a lot of people. By the end of 2002, Ma said the company had made just $1 in profits.
Alibaba holds the record for most money raised in an IPO
When Alibaba went public in 2014, its $25 billion IPO broke records for the largest IPO in history – beating both Facebook and Visa.
But Ma wishes Alibaba never went public
In 2015, Ma admitted that if he could do it again, he would keep Alibaba private. “Now, after the IPO, it’s much worse,” he said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York. “If I had another life, I would keep my company private.” After Alibaba went public, it entered the spotlight and faced some scrutiny from investors, regulators and the media. Ma was playing on a bigger stage. “It’s not only our people that watch us,” he said, “the globe watches us.”
He says he doesn’t know much about technology
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ma admitted that he actually doesn’t know much about technology, despite owning one of the most successful tech companies in the world. “I know nothing about technology,” he said. “The only thing I can use my computer [for] is [to] send [and] receive email and browse.”
He loves to perform
Ma loves to put on a show. In 2009, during Alibaba’s 10th anniversary party, Ma threw on a blonde wig and performed The Lion King onstage. At the 2017 anniversary party, Ma went all out and dressed up as Michael Jackson from the Dangerous World Tour. With a group of hired backup dancers, he performed “Billie Jean” and Beyoncé’s “Formation.”
He’s the second-richest person in China
As of September 14, 2017, Ma is the second-richest man in China, according to Forbes. He has a net worth of $39 billion.
He stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO because he felt he was too old
In 2013, Ma stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO, saying, “I’m 48. I’m no longer young enough to run such a fast-growing business. When I was 35, I was so energetic and fresh-thinking.”
After stepping down as CEO, Ma refocused his efforts on social issues
In an interview with the Financial Times, Ma shared what he planned to do after leaving his executive position. “In China, because of problems in water, air and food safety, in 10 or 20 years, we will face a lot of health problems, like increased cancer. So that is one area where I will invest my money and time.”
Alibaba bought a stake in Citic 21CN in 2014, changing its name to Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd. Since then, Ma has spent much of his time and money attempting to bring hospitals and pharmacies online.
That same year, Ma launched the JackMaFoundation, which focuses on education, the environment and public health. In 2015, Ma was recognised as China’s biggest philanthropist, having donated a total of $2.4 billion (after share options) to his foundation.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Build A Top-Class Reputation In The Competitive World Of Media And Agencies
Darren McKinon’s clients and colleagues love him, as evidenced by his winning the Media Owner Rising Star Award at this year’s MOST Awards. Entrepreneur chatted to him about putting clients first, focusing on achieving your goals, and always staying positive.
The MOST awards are voted for by the media industry. What does it mean to you to be voted Rising Star?
This was a goal I set for myself three years ago. To achieve this accolade is confirmation for myself that if you set your mind on something, anything is possible. It’s particularly important to me that my clients voted for me, because it means I’m consistently delivering on my promises and commitments.
I’ve built up long-standing client relationships over many years and at all levels. I believe you need to be willing to put your client’s challenges ahead of your own agenda, and to understand what really matters to their business. This is the key to building partnerships and trust.
What is your business ethos, and how has this impacted the way you operate, and how your industry, clients and colleagues view you?
Teamwork, humility, perseverance, and a whole lot of fun along the way. Whether I’m in a client meeting or at the office with my team, I’m the same guy. Being real is crucial. In business and life, people see through the BS.
I’ve always believed that you can get absolutely anything you want by going about it the right way.
Winning should never be at the expense of something or someone else. You should always have a sense of humour. This has worked well for me – if you’re having fun, not only does your best work come out, but people relate to you that much more.
If there’s one key lesson I’ve learnt, it’s that making people feel at ease is an important part of any negotiation and a crucial start to building a real relationship.
But the real magic lies with your team – surround yourself with the most dynamic people you possibly can, give them the tools to do what they do best, and then get out of their way. I have the best team in the industry, and I’m privileged to work with them on a daily basis.
What is your productivity mindset, and how does it promote effective and efficient work?
Make time for yourself and be selfish about it. This comes at a price as it means unplugging, switching off or tuning out. Work never ends, so manage yourself and your time in order to commit 100% of your focus to the task at hand.
Being connected has massive advantages, as everyone has access to information. This greatly benefits productivity as long as it’s used responsibly.
In general, my mindset is extremely positive – even on bad days. Having a great attitude is a fundamental force in driving productivity and achieving positive results. It’s also infectious. I surround myself with positive people. Time is too precious for negativity.
How important is a personal brand?
It’s a double-edged sword. Your personal brand is everything, but should never be the driver or reason for why you are doing something. It’s the by-product of doing something meaningful and being honest and real.
Building your personal brand takes time, and time means consistency. If I could sum it up in one word, your personal brand is trust. And be humble in your wins – it’s almost never a solo effort.
What does success mean to you?
Balance. It’s not a destination. You’ll never arrive at ‘success’. Instead, I focus on being resent in everything I do, and enjoying the ride.
If I’m at work, I’m committed, driven and focused. When I’m with my family, they get all of me. Put everything you have into what you’re currently doing and you won’t go wrong.
What’s the most exciting thing currently happening in the advertising and media world?
The fact that everyone has a voice. Consumers have taken the lead and brands are being forced to listen, change and adapt. I get to be an important part of that for a variety of different brands. Every day is new, challenging and unpredictable. I love it.
Out of Home (especially Digital OOH) is changing the media landscape, and allowing synchronisation and synergy between all other media types to take place. It’s forcing everyone out of their media bubble, to understand what clients are needing in the bigger media picture, and ultimately connecting with consumers on a more meaningful level.
I’ve witnessed huge innovation in the OOH space during my time in the media industry, from classic to digital OOH, mass reach to activations and experiential marketing. OOH has become both a mass reach, high impact media platform, as well as an interactive, experience-building opportunity for all audiences.
What big changes do you see on the horizon that you believe your industry peers should be keeping an eye on?
The answer has to be digital, but it’s in the way it’s applied. Digital allows for a more relevant, in-the-moment interaction that should lead to more meaningful connections, but I don’t yet see enough brands using digital for these reasons.
Some brands are getting it right, and understand the synergy between platforms in order to engage with their consumers at various times throughout the day and in the right way. They understand consumer mindsets and plan their campaigns and communications accordingly.
Digital has played a big role in the fragmentation of media, which is often used as a negative term.
Instead, this fragmentation, or niche opportunities as I’d prefer to call them, has allowed for far more meaningful and personal connections.
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