When asked for a definition of an entrepreneur many people will describe someone who sees an opportunity, has a good idea and builds a successful company from scratch using vision and energy. But while the description certainly matches the traditional view of entrepreneurship, there’s a case to be made for another kind of entrepreneur – one who sees an opportunity to build greatness in an existing company, and applies similar vision and energy to achieve success.
Wanda Shuenyane, founder of Sceptre Marketing, is such an individual. Sceptre owns significant or controlling stakes in high performance below-the-line marketing companies that operate independently, but that possess synergies that allow them to collaborate if a particular project calls for it.
Doing it differently
What’s so entrepreneurial about buying into companies, you might ask. After all, the current climate of black economic empowerment has created an environment where many people own different stakes in entrepreneurial companies and can hardly be called entrepreneurs themselves. And you’d be making a good point – except for the fact that Shuenyane and his team do far more than simply purchase equity.
“One thing we are categorically not about is passive investment,” he says. “We invest in companies we are inspired by and which we believe will be able to grow as a result of our involvement. We play an active, hands-on role in the running of the company and we’re only interested in buying into organisations that want an active investment partner,” he adds. A number of Sceptre’s investments have been reported in the media as ‘BEE deals’ but while he’s realistic about the fact that the company offers BEE credentials to the organisations in which it invests, Shuenyane is quick to make the point that his business model is not an empowerment one. “We add real strategic value to the businesses we buy into,” he says.
Proving the point
For proof of that he points to perhaps the most publicised Sceptre deal – the 2005 acquisition of 46,16% of experiential business-to-business communications agency, VWV Group. Following the deal, Shuenyane took up the reins as CEO for two-and-a-half years, before handing over to one of his partners in Sceptre Marketing, Abey Mokgwatsane, who held the position of VWV group marketing and sales director prior to that. Jameson Hlongwane is the third Sceptre partner and plays an equally hands-on role.
“The profit of the company has grown eight-fold since we’ve been involved,” Shuenyane says. It’s clear that doors have opened for the company. VWV also landed the contract, together with consortium partner Lebo M, to do the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, having jointly organised the ceremonies for the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009. It has twice staged the MTV Africa Music Awards and boasts a long list of projects for impressive blue chip brands. Shuenyane also points to Sceptre’s involvement at the HR level, which he believes has been key to VWV’s ongoing success. “We implemented a full performance management programme, ensuring people were aware of our strategy for the business and making them accountable for the role they all needed to play,” he says. This meant ‘mean managing’ some non-performers out – around 60% of the original workforce now does eight times the profit – but it also meant that those who remained shared in a rewards-linked bonus pool equivalent to a significant portion of their annual salary.
Sceptre has employed a similar hands-on model in the other companies in which it has invested. Among them are Ministry of Illusion, Westcom, Berge Farrell Africa (BFA), Asiboni Mbala, Show Stoppers and Forwardzone
Media. “All the companies in the Sceptre Marketing group are independent, but they have certain synergies and it often makes sense for them to work together on projects.
“The fact that they can leverage each others’ contacts is just another value-add,” says Shuenyane. Financing these investments has not been easy. “The thing about the marketing sector is that it’s all based on intellectual capital, so you can’t go to a bank and show them all the ‘assets’ of the company in which you want to invest,” he says. His solution? “You need to get creative. Look at joint venture deals, investigate vendor financing. If company shareholders really believe in the value you are going to add, they might be willing to stand surety for the loan. There are ways of getting the finance you need,” he says.
Sharing the lessons
He also believes the business plan is key. To other entrepreneurs he offers this advice: “Get hold of someone who has worked, or works in the SME financing division of a bank and take them your business plan and finance proposal. Ask their advice, get them to point out the holes and then ask them what you need to do to fix them.”
Shuenyane is big on asking advice. “So many entrepreneurs believe that the challenges they face are unique and they’re too afraid to expose the fact that they’re not on top of everything in their business. This is simply not true and I learned that for the first time when I joined EO South Africa. Having access to the ears and minds of entrepreneurs who have all been where I have has been hugely instrumental in helping me grow as a businessperson,” he adds.
Player: Wanda Shuenyane
Contact +27 11 442 2780, www.sceptre.co.za