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How To Be Great

The secret to greatness lies in painful and demanding practice and hard work.

Greg Fisher




One of the most talked about and quoted magazine articles of 2006 was published in Fortune magazine and entitled: “What it takes to be great”. Geoffrey Colvin, the author of the article, drew on a number of research studies and anecdotal examples from modern history to illustrate that the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success.

The secret to greatness, he suggested, is in painful and demanding practice and hard work. The conclusions from this article have been quoted at valediction ceremonies, sports awards banquets, in CEO presentations and numerous less formal interactions and discussions over the past six months. The lure of greatness is something that is powerful, inspiring and appealing to many, but what does it mean in an entrepreneurial context? Is there such a thing as entrepreneurial greatness?

Greatness defined

Greatness is not easy to define because so many people will see different actions, outcomes or achievements as great. The saying goes that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; the same can be said of greatness. What I consider to be great may be very different from what you consider to be great. As we look for some commonality in respect of a definition for greatness in a business context, some concepts and themes are important:

Moving From Success To Significance

Many business people start off by dreaming of success: leading a company, creating significant wealth, being recognised and respected for one’s achievements. Business success is largely associated with creating wealth and value. Significance moves past just the creation of wealth into the domain of making a real difference, of impacting people’s lives in a positive way and leaving a lasting legacy.

Maslow described this as self-actualisation. It is the reason Warren Buffet has bequeathed $42 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the reason Bono spends more time talking to influential people about poverty and Aids than performing for his fans, and the reason that Oprah Winfrey has invested time, effort and energy in the creation of a school to develop leaders from underprivileged backgrounds in South Africa.

Creating Positive Change That Has

Lasting Impact

Greatness is associated with change. If you just do things the way they have always been done, it is highly unlikely that people will link you with greatness. The change that is created by great business leaders lasts much longer than their time at the helm of an organisation.

Consider how Henry Ford changed the way products are manufactured using an efficient assembly line process, or the way Herb Keller redefined the airline industry by delivering low cost with high service at Southwest. These are entrepreneurial leaders who have reshaped industries. In South Africa, Adrian Gore has reshaped the medical aid industry with Discovery Health and Pravin Gordhan has reshaped our perception of the taxman and proved that government departments need not be inefficient and incompetent.

Greatness Criteria

Consider what makes a leader “great”. The cold, rational response in a business context may be return on investment, but there are very few people who would consider this the sole criterion for greatness. Being classified as a great business leader is far more complex than just money. Great business leaders tend to ignite and share passion, touch lives, develop people and enable others to perform past what would otherwise have been possible.

Sharing passion

Robbie Brozin, founder and CEO of Nando’s, once said to me: “No person can do this alone, not Richard Branson, not Bill Gates, nobody. Building a great business is about surrounding yourself with good people and sharing your passion with them so that they are infected by it.” Passion and business success are integral. There are very few, if any, successful business people who are not truly passionate about their business. Passion is contagious and if you’re passionate about what you do, other people are drawn in and willing to do things they would otherwise not have done. Passion provides energy and energy enables action.

Developing others

Great leaders act as role models, mentors, teachers and motivators for others. They touch and influence people in unique ways, often without realising it. I have listened to Mark Lamberti, the CEO of Massmart, speak on three occasions. Each time I listened to his story, I have gained a fresh perspective and new insights on what it takes to be great in business. He openly shares his philosophy and the lessons he has learned in growing a business. These stories motivate and inspire me to be more and do more with the talents I’ve been given. People want to learn and grow; great leaders enable and encourage others to never stop learning and to keep growing.

Creating Something New

Great leaders create. It may be a company, it may be a philosophy, it may be a new way of doing things. If you are satisfied with the status quo and just want to maintain things as they are, it is unlikely that you will ever move towards greatness.

Pierre Omidyar created a new way of transacting when he devised an online auction site that ultimately became e-Bay. He realised that there were significant inefficiencies in the traditional auction system and that the Internet could be used to enable a far more efficient market place. By experimenting, creating, refining and working hard, he grew a business with a global reach and has created wealth and employment for many others. To effectively create, you need to think, experiment and execute.

Developing Greatness

Gandhi said that “as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves”. In examining the habits, practices and traits of entrepreneurial leaders over the past three years, I have discovered that in order to be a great leader of crowds, one first needs to be a great leader of one’s self and a great relationship builder with others.

Many authors have expressed this in different ways. In Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the first three habits focus on personal leadership (1. Be Proactive; 2. Begin with the end in mind; and 3. Put first things first). The second three habits focus on interpersonal relationships (4. Think win-win; 5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; and 6. Synergise).

Emotional intelligence was identified by Daniel Goleman as the foundation to great leadership. Emotional intelligence (EQ) has five different areas; three of them focus on the leadership of self: self-awareness; self-regulation and personal motivation, and two focus on the interpersonal relationships: empathy and social skill.

So, developing leadership greatness happens on three levels: first, one has to learn to lead oneself, and then one should develop the ability to lead in an interpersonal context in order to have the foundation to lead larger groups of people. Many ambitious young entrepreneurs want to dive straight in to leading teams or larger groups without developing the ability to effectively lead themselves and develop relationships with others.

Developing Personal Leadership As A Foundation For Greatness

“Personal leadership is the self-confident ability to crystallise your thinking so that you are able to establish an exact direction for your life, to commit yourself to moving in that direction, and then to take determined action to acquire, accomplish or become what your goal demands.” So said PJ Meyers.

The most consistent attributes of people who move towards greatness in different contexts is a high level of self-awareness, setting and pursuing goals and the effective management of time.

Hence, three things that can contribute significantly to the development and enhancement of one’s personal leadership competence are:

  1. Doing a realistic self-evaluation and assessment of one’s strengths, weaknesses, passions and desires.
  2. Taking time to set meaningful and significant goals that draw you in a particular direction and cause you to take determined action to achieve what you desire. Articulate your goals in a way that inspires you and reminds you of what you have committed to.
  3. Employ a system to effectively manage your time. Whether that means buying and using a new diary or taking the time and effort to carefully plan your week, the effective utilisation of time will pay massive dividends in the long term.

Growing Interpersonal Leadership To Support Greatness

Developing interpersonal leadership is about developing richer, deeper relationships in which one can get honest feedback and learn to trust and draw on the support of others. You will be hard-pressed to find a leader with integrity who does not attribute much of their success to working closely with individuals whom they trust.

Developing strong interpersonal relationships is easy for some and takes a lot more effort and energy for others, but it is important and useful for everybody. To grow and enhance your interpersonal leadership, you should:

  1. Listen more and talk less. Listening is one of the most powerful communication tools available to all of us and the more we use it, the richer our relationships with others become – this applies equally in a work, home and social context.
  2. Ask for feedback and be open and forthcoming in providing feedback to others. Feedback is one of the most powerful mechanisms for facilitating positive change, yet many people shy away from it for fear of feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.
  3. Make and keep promises. Promises that are kept build trust, and trust is the basis of powerful interpersonal relationships. A promise made and kept is a massive investment in an important relationship, but a promise broken is a huge withdrawal that takes much time and effort to recover.

Leading Groups

Leading a large group of people is ultimately what it takes to be great, but it is very difficult to do if you are not able to lead yourself or develop meaningful one-on-one relationships with others.

Leading large groups is what people are remembered for and where entrepreneurs and businesspeople achieve real leverage to do what otherwise could not be done. To effectively lead a large group of people, it is important to:

  1. Establish an outcome that you are aiming to achieve. It can be called a vision, a mission or a set of goals, but in the end it is a target that aligns the group and gets them working towards something that is common, that they understand.
  2. Foster a sense of identity and belonging within a group. Human nature dictates that people naturally like to feel part of something and if you can provide them with that sense of belonging, they will be far more effective in contributing to the success of the group.
  3. Address and resolve conflict in the group. Conflict will arise in any group, and the response of the leader will have a massive impact on the cohesiveness of the group. Some managers prefer to sweep conflict under the carpet; this has the effect of eating away at trust and destroying effectiveness. Strong leaders address conflict in a firm but constructive way.

Ultimately, in business, success and greatness are achieved through other people. Greatness in sport is sometimes recognised as largely an individual effort. Tiger Woods’ effort on the golf course and Rodger Federer’s exploits on the tennis court are often recognised as solo efforts, but very few, if any, success stories in business are solo performances. Therefore, if you are to achieve greatness in business, you need to learn to work with, trust and empower other individuals to assist you in moving towards your dream.

Greatness as a business leader is about making the decision that you want to be great, being bold enough to move past the things that you are just good at, being disciplined enough to continually invest in yourself and others to build behaviour and competence that leads to greatness and, finally, to carry on in spite of the challenges and obstacles that life may throw at you.

Sure, there may be an element of good luck involved, but as Gary Player said: “You make your luck; the more I practice, the luckier I get.”


Great leaders are defined not by how they respond when things go well, but by how they respond to challenges. It is easy to keep going when things go well. It is more difficult to do so when things are going badly. All leaders go through periods when things go badly, when they are faced with adversity and there seems to be no way out. Being great is about adopting the attitude embraced in the words of Rudyard Kipling from the poem If: “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…”.

The greatest contributor to the success of Richard Branson is his resilience and ability to overcome challenges. In the pro-cess of building the Virgin empire, he has been through many tough and testing challenges that would have broken a less determined individual. He had to sell his initial creation, Virgin Music, to generate cash to pay off other debts. A few months after launching Virgin Atlantic he had to convince the banks not to shut him down after a decline in travel and an increase in oil prices. He has also made several failed attempts to circle the globe non-stop in a hot air balloon. He has endured failure on many occasions, but he has not let that defeat him or prevent him from taking on his next challenge.

Good vs Great

The opening line of one of the best business booksof the 21st century reads as follows: “good is theenemy of great.”

Why is this such a profound statement? How might this statement be affecting you right now? What can you do to positively respond to this statement? This is the line that Jim Collins used to open the book entitled Good to Great.

He goes on to say: “And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” You see, if you are good at something, in business or in life, there is very little incentive to change or explore how you could become truly great.

It takes effort, guts and determination to go through the necessary self-exploration and perspiration to become great at something. Most businesspeople are not prepared to make that investment if they are already good at what they do.

If you wish to develop a business that is great or be a great entrepreneurial leader, you need to break away from the areas where you are just good, you need to work hard to move past being just good, you need to make an investment in greatness.

The essence of the article in Fortune magazine that I referred to in the opening paragraph of this article is that greatness takes deliberate practice and hard work. Research suggests that you are very unlikely to become truly great at anything unless you are willing to deliberately practise and work hard to become great.

As the Fortune article states, deliberate practice involves:

  • Approaching critical tasks with an explicit goal of getting much better at them.
  • Focusing on what you are doing and why you’re doing it in the way you are doing it when you carry out the task.
  • Getting feedback on your performance after the task and making the necessary changes to improve.
  • Building mental models to make sense of your situation – your industry, your company, your career – and enlarging the models to encompass more factors.
  • Carrying these out in a disciplined and regular way. Occasional practice does not work.

How to take yourself and your company to greatness

Build and share passion

  • Assess your typical week and evaluate how much time is spent on things you love, that inspire and energise you. Work through the other activities and reassign, delegate and minimise them in a responsible but definitive way so you spend more time on the stuff you enjoy. Remember that there are other people out there who love the stuff you hate.
  • Reconnect with your motivation for getting involved in the business in the first place. Spend time thinking about what inspired you to be there and remind yourself what is really important about what you do.
  • Take time out. It is hard to build and share passion when you’re exhausted. Relaxation brings perspective and passion.

Develop others

  • Interview the people who work for you to find out: Are they currently stretched in their job? Where do they want to go with their career? What will it take for them to get there? What can you do to help? You will be amazed by how a sincere conversation can change a working relationship for the better.
  • Write down the key business lessons that you have learned in your career. Attach a real life story to each lesson. Share the lesson and the story whenever you get the chance. If you don’t think about your lessons and write them down, you are far less likely to remember them at the opportune moment.

Create and build

  • Build some “think time” into your weekly schedule. This is time you dedicate to thinking through problems and putting things into perspective. Push yourself to think about the future of your industry or sector and what you can do to shape that future.
  • Experiment with new ideas. Try things on a small, inexpensive scale. If they don’t work, discard them. If they do work, embrace them and build them into bigger, more influential projects.
  • Create a new measure for success in your business, such as: How brave have we been? What rules have we changed?  How do we rank on the creativity index? Evaluate yourself with your team against this measure on an annual basis


  • Redefine failure. Consciously work through redefining failure from a negative outcome to a positive opportunity to learn.
  • Share the load. Foster a relationship with a colleague, mentor or friend with whom you can share your frustrations and failures and who can help you put things in perspective and recognise ways to get up to fight the next battle.
  • Engage in scenario planning. Prepare for the negative scenario. Work through some negative business scenarios with your team and decide how you will respond if such scenarios hit. In real life the negative outcome is usually not as bad as the scenario and you already have the tools and response to deal with it.

Greg Fisher, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Management & Entrepreneurship Department at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He teaches courses on Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Turnaround Management. He has a PhD in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle and an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He is also a visiting lecturer at GIBS.

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How to Guides

15 Of South Africa’s Business Leaders’ Best Advice For Your Business

15 of SA’s entrepreneurs have already made the mistakes. If you heed their advice, you’ll avoid repeating the same blunders.

Nicole Crampton



Natasha Sideris
Stephan Ekbergh

Stephan Ekbergh

Do you want to hit that R100 million mark in turnover? Do you want to make a name for yourself as one of those that made it? If you want to streamline your path to success read these insights from some of SA’s leading businesspeople, you’ll be richer (and wiser).

These 15 South African business leaders have already circumvented start, and growth hurdles and built-up their R100 million business. It’s always a good idea to listen to the advice of established, successful entrepreneurs, especially when you’re just starting out, or are experiencing growing pains, or even if you can’t figure out why your business isn’t growing.

Learn the secrets, top-tips and best advice for your business from 15 of South Africa’s biggest business leaders. You know their advice is going to apply to your context, market and customer base, because they’re operating in the same local market that you are.

Here is the best advice for your business from 15 of South Africa’s business leaders:

Best Advice 15: Go all in

Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa

Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa

Vital Stats

  • Player: Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa
  • Brand: Hello Group (includes Hello Mobile, Hello Distribution and Hello Paisa)
  • Established: 2005
  • Visit:

Hello Mobile achieved 718% growth from 2010 to 2015, while Hello Paisa achieved 1100% growth from March to October 2015. These next-level growth entrepreneurs disrupted international calling, telecom distribution, money transfer and low-cost banking across Africa and Asia.

It wasn’t an easy journey for these two brothers, R6 million in seed capital turned into R30 000 after some early, expensive mistakes. But they persevered, and today Hello Group is changing lives at the base of the income pyramid.

Best Advice For You

What do you do when your first business idea is a failure and you’ve lost all your money? According to Nadir and Shaazim Khamissa, go back to the drawing board.

“We needed to make sure we created value, differentiated ourselves and knew why people would buy our product,” explains Shaazim. “This meant challenging all of our own ideas and making sure that only the best survived. It’s a process we still follow today and is part of our DNA.”

This won’t be easy, you’ll need to be able to critically evaluate your own ideas, admit when they’re flawed, listen to other people’s opinions and move on quickly when something isn’t quite right.

Related: Hello Group’s Initial Product Failed The Night Before Launch. Today They Are An Industry Disruptor

Best Advice 14: You can still launch without being fully funded

Natasha Sideris

Natasha Sideris

Vital Stats

  • Player: Natasha Sideris
  • Brand: tashas
  • Established: 2005
  • Visit:

Natasha Sideris overcame the challenges associated with starting a restaurant to create a brand that is utterly unique. Like other successful franchises, tashas grew from a small sole operation into a large organisation.  

With 19 locations, including 2 in Dubai and 1 in Abu Dhabi, tashas has started its journey to become a global franchise. But it hasn’t been an easy journey, trying to get a hold of funding was a serious obstacle for Sideris.

Best Advice For You

“Money helps, but you can get very far with hard work, tenacity and ingenuity. Don’t let money put you off. Too many entrepreneurs feel that they can’t pursue their dreams because they don’t have money. That’s just not true. If you’re willing to work extremely hard, you can make it happen,” explains Sideris.

“A lack of money can often be a good thing, since it forces one to think creatively,” she continues.

Related: 5 Lessons From tashas Founder Natasha Sideris

Best Advice 13: The power of marketing

Grant Rushmere

Grant Rushmere

Vital Stats

  • Player: Grant Rushmere
  • Brand: Bos Brands
  • Established: 2009
  • Visit:

Grant Rushmere engineered Bos Ice Tea for stratospheric growth, which required a ballsy optimism and willingness to go big or go home. “From the beginning we jumped in with both feet. We approached retailers and secured contracts that we knew we wouldn’t be able to sustain down the line if we didn’t get funders on board, but it was a calculated risk that we were willing to take,” says Rushmere.

Best Advice For You

In their first year, Rushmere and Bowsher, his partner, spent as much on marketing as their turnover. “We knew we were tapping into a health trend, but this didn’t mean we should scream health from the front of our packaging, and in our marketing messages. If you do that, you lose all sense of fun. You want your consumers to feel a little naughty; like they’re having fun,” explains Rushmere.

This might sound counter-intuitive to you, but from a brand’s perspective, an emotional hook is much easier to defend than a functional hook.

“By tapping into emotions, what the brand stands for and how it makes you feel, you give the brand a voice; you’re not just selling features and benefits. If you take a functional approach to marketing, you’re basing everything on the fact that you contain less sugar than other soft drinks. What happens when someone comes along with even less sugar? You’re suddenly dead in the water,” advises Rushmere. 

Related: Grant Rushmere Is Going Bos With Iced Tea

Best Advice 12: Like who you’re hiring

3 Way Marketing

3 Way Marketing

Vital Stats

  • Players: Tom Goldgamer and Danny Aaron
  • Company: 3 Way Marketing and Benater Production Group
  • Established: 2008 and 2012
  • Visit:

Danny Aaron and Tom Goldgamer launched their business in 2008 with no grand strategy, five-year plan or a physical product. They started with an idea, a few business philosophies and a willingness to take on a lot of risk.

“We operate in an industry that changes frequently, so strategising too far ahead is difficult and often counter-productive,” says Goldgamer. “But we knew we needed strong foundations if we wanted longevity and growth, and so we focused our energy on developing business philosophies that we could implement across our various companies.”

They now have a turnover of over R200 million, with staggering year–on-year growth.

Best Advice For You

Conventional business practice says hire for skill. Goldgamer and Aaron have done the opposite. A large portion of their early hires were friends or friends of friends. Everyone had strong referrals and they only hired people they liked.

“We hired people who we thought could help us grow the business, not necessarily because they possessed the right skills, those could be learnt, but because they had the right attitude,” says Aaron. Today, those early hires are managers, instilling company values in their own teams, hiring based on values and continuously focusing on upskilling.

Related: Less Than 10 Years Got 3 Way Marketing Crashing Through Glass Ceilings

Best Advice 11: Make fewer mistakes than your competition

Stephan Ekbergh

Stephan Ekbergh

Vital Stats

  • Player: Stephan Ekbergh
  • Company: Travelstart
  •  Established: 1999 (Sweden), 2006 (South Africa)
  • Visit:

Stephan Ekbergh recently sold 49% of his business for R648 million, but at one stage he had to lay off 34 of the company’s 40 employees. Ekbergh founded Travelstart in Sweden in January 1999. In 2002, after a few very bumpy years, the tide turned, and Travelstart started to become exceptionally profitable. In 2004, he decided to move to Cape Town and launch Travelstart here.

Best Advice For You

You’re going to make mistakes, but so is your competition. If you’re on the ball, you can benefit from every mistake they make. “The difference between failure and success often lies in making fewer mistakes than your competition. You need to ride in the slipstream of your competitors and wait for them to mess up. Over the years, we’ve made some good decisions at Travelstart, but at least some of our success is attributable directly to the mistakes of our competition,” says Ekbergh.

Related: Inside The Mind Of The Travelstart Risk Taker – Stephan Ekbergh

Best Advice 10: Your customer is the boss

Peter du Toit

Peter du Toit

Vital stats

With no experience in publishing, Peter Du Toit built up the biggest single-copy-sale weekly publication in South Africa. Soccer Laduma has a turnover of R90 million, 3.4 million readers and some of the most loyal customers in the country.

Best Advice For You

Du Toit’s first rule is that he’s not the boss. The readers and online users are always the boss. “No one works for me. They work for the reader. It’s an important mind-set, because it means that everything we do is with the reader in mind,” says Du Toit. “What do they need from us? What do they care about? Are we delivering on those needs?”

Even though the reader is the boss, Du Toit has implemented a system to ensure everyone works towards keeping that boss happy, he labelled them his six golden rules: Planning, planning, planning, preparation, preparation, and preparation. You can use these six golden rules to ensure your team works towards keeping your consumer happy.

Related: How Soccer Laduma Scores In More Than One Way

Best Advice 9: Stick to your guns

John Nicolakakis

John Nicolakakis

Vital stats

  • Player: John Nicolakakis
  • Company: Roman’s Pizza
  • Established: 1995
  • Visit:

John Nicolakakis took over the reins of Roman’s Pizza from his father. He had only one goal: To create the biggest pizza brand in SA. With R1 billion in system-wide sales, the company’s aggressive expansion plans have never wavered.

Best Advice For You

Nicolakakis developed a specific business plan for Romans Pizza; have high-quality product with a low price. To do this he decided not to offer delivery services throughout the whole brand.

“I don’t believe the South African market suits a delivery model. Urban areas are congested with traffic, and suburban living means that a delivery radius needs to be quite large. It’s expensive to offer; even if it’s marketed as ‘free,’ that service has to be built into the product’s price point. It’s also difficult to deliver a hot product that’s as good when it reaches its destination as it was when it left the store, and there will always be incorrect orders.”

Even though he’s lost business to customers who want delivery, he’s stuck to his guns and refuses to budge on his price just to capture the delivery market. Once you’ve decided on something, whether it’s for financial reasons or based on what you offer your customers, you should be resolute in your decisions, after all, you made them for a reason.

Related: How Roman’s Pizza Got A Great Big Slice of Success (Over R1 Billion Of It)

Best Advice 8: Build positive relationships

Tshego Sefolo (founder and CEO) and Londeka Shezi

Tshego Sefolo (founder and CEO) and Londeka Shezi

Vital Stats

  • Players: Tshego Sefolo (founder and CEO) and Londeka Shezi
  • Company: Agile Capital
  • Launched: 2016
  • Visit:

Hard work, determination, drive and discipline are the habits of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and you need to study them. Tshego Sefolo and his business partner Londeka Shezi recently raised over R500 million in capital to launch their private equity firm, Agile Capital.

Building market trust and credibility to make his dream a reality has been 14 years in the making for Sefolo, and worth every second.

Best Advice For You

“My role was to identify opportunities for the business, but on a personal level I saw it as the start of my own foundations and networks. Investing is all about building and leveraging networks. Sustainable relationships allow you to identify and then tap into opportunities. Integrity is incredibly important in all business dealings, but it’s integral to the private equity space,” says Sefolo.

Through his positions over the years he came into contact with the business that would eventually found Agile Capital. Because he built up trust and integrity he was able to realise his dream.

“It takes time to build up trust and integrity in the market place, so I knew that this was a long-term commitment. That was okay, I wasn’t in any rush. The right foundations have been fundamental to launching Agile Capital.”

Related: Tshego Sefolo On Living The Dream

Best Advice 7: Don’t be afraid to fail

Brian Altriche

Brian Altriche

Vital stats

  • Player: Brian Altriche
  •  Company: RocoMamas
  •  Launched: 2014
  •  Visit: 

Altriche has taken RocoMamas from three stores to 49 in 18 months, and is spearheading South Africa’s renewed love affair with the burger. Even though he has achieved success, his past is riddled with failures. His first franchise left him in debt, he lost almost his entire life’s savings on the stock market, he got squeezed out of one business and sued by Red Bull in another, and the list goes on.

Best Advice For You

“Failure is part of the equation of success. I call them my fabulous failures. You can’t achieve greatness without failures and risk,” says Altriche.

Failures are teaching moments that can help you learn to navigate future business opportunities.Yes, they hurt, but if you didn’t experience them it wouldn’t change your thinking and help you to make a break-through, or at the very least progress.

“I opened a Longhorn Steakhouse in Pretoria. It was a lead balloon,” he says. “My gut told me the location wasn’t right, but I didn’t listen. On paper it looked great, a good suburban, high-LSM area. Once I opened, it quickly became apparent that there were no office parks in the area, which meant no lunch trade, and the residents were primarily retirees whose kids had left the house. This was not the right demographic for my steakhouse.”

He immediately approached Fats Lazarides, who had five Ocean Baskets. Altriche became his first franchisee. “I opened in Southgate. The lessons I had learnt were valuable with the second business. Thanks to Ocean Basket I paid off my debt, had a nice living wage, and walked away with R240 000 in profit when I sold it in 1998.”

Related: RocoMama’s 7 Lessons To Remain On Top Of Your Game With Customers

Best Advice 6: Aim for the stars

Manny Rivera

Manny Rivera

Vital Stats

When Manny Rivera launched Planet Fitness 20 years ago, he was fresh from New York, having married a South African girl. He was in his early 20’s, had no credit record, no assets and no money. And he had one goal: To take on the Health and Racquet Club to become the biggest health and fitness brand in the country, and he achieved it.

Now, he’s in a position to open a club every month for the next five years, despite the recession.

Best Advice For You

Michelangelo says: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it’s too low and we reach it.”

Don’t settle for a business idea or opportunity because you think you might not be able to achieve it. Aim for the moon, and if you don’t land it, they say “at least you’ll land among the stars.”

“Take on the big player. Believe in yourself. Know you’ll build a big business that’s profitable. If you have the passion and you’re able to reverse engineer your success with a step-by-step growth plan, you’ll reach your dream,” says Rivera.

Related: 7 Profound Business Lessons From The Founder Of Planet Fitness

Best Advice 5: Actively seek growth

Nicholas Bell

Nicholas Bell

Vital stats

  • Player: Nicholas Bell
  • Company: Decision Inc
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit:

Successful businesses are formed through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, and determines what is currently stopping him from achieving those goals. Then he puts a strategy in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

Nicholas Bell founded Decision Inc and within 2 years he had achieved R1.6 million in revenue. Eight years later, Bell hit R100 million, and now his sights are on a R1 billion business that will show a 10x return.

Best Advice For You

“I don’t ever want a challenge to slow me down,” he says. “You can let a setback derail you, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and carry the business forward. I believe it’s important to dissect everything — even opinions and advice I don’t initially agree with. Mentors have taught me that it’s important to be adaptable and that nothing in business is hard or fast. We’re constantly faced with new sources of data needed to grow our business, and I’ve learnt that the only real question is whether you’re willing to use that data to drive the business forward.” 

Related: How Nicholas Bell Got 10x Growth Right And Sky Rocketed Decision Inc

Best Advice 4: Don’t divide your focus

Marnus Broodryk

Marnus Broodryk

Vital stats

  • Player: Marnus Broodryk
  • Company: Beancounter
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit:

Marnus Broodryk was a self-made millionaire by the time he was 24. He founded Beancounter, but that wasn’t his only successful business, “I also got involved in a frameless glass company, a construction company, and bought a vegan restaurant,” he adds.

“It was a good experience, and I was particularly proud of some of the individuals I’d helped during those years. I lent one construction worker R20 000 to start his own business, for example. Today he employs 200 people and has the biggest road maintenance contract on the N3.” 

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“I knew that I wanted to build something big, and I was never going to do it like this, with my focus spread across so many different businesses. I sat down and asked myself, ‘where’s my biggest opportunity?’ The answer was clear. The Beancounter. We’d made progress, had the right foundations, could drive it — and the market was ready,” says Broodryk.

“In 2008, when I launched the business, cloud technology didn’t exist yet, but we had a vision. By 2014, real-time information was now possible because of the cloud, and it was affordable and accessible for SMEs,” he explains.

Related: Self-Made Millionaire At 24 Marnus Broodryk On How To Build A R1 Billion Business

Best Advice 3: Anything is possible if you get started

Rodney Norman

Rodney Norman

Vital stats

  • Player: Rodney Norman
  • Company: Chrome Supplements and Accessories
  • Launched: 2009
  • Visit:

When Rodney Norman was 21, his first business ended up R1 million in debt. He owed too much to suppliers to continue trading. Ten years later, Chrome SA has a turnover of R100 million, he still works with all his previous suppliers, a testimony to how well he handled the situation.

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“At 21 I had this enormous debt. It was a defining moment for me. I could call it quits, or get stuck in and make it happen. I managed to pay it back in two years. That’s all it took. I just had to start. So how could I do it? The answer: Slowly,” says Norman.

His first step to fixing the problem was to speak to all of his suppliers. He explained the situation, and that he would be fixing it and paying off the company’s debt, he just needed time.

“I made small deposits consistently, and that was enough. As long as it was being paid, and the needle was moving, everyone who I owed money to was happy. That’s the secret: Consistency. Don’t avoid the tough calls; take them and face the music.”

Because of Norman’s actions a few years later when he started Chrome SA, all of his previous suppliers were happy to work with him again. He earned their trust, and trust can make or break a business.

Related: At 21 Rodney Norman’s Business Owed R1 Million. Today He Has A R100 Million Turnover

Best Advice 2: The wheel keeps turning

Sisa Ngebulana

Sisa Ngebulana

Vital stats

  • Player: Sisa Ngebulana
  • Company: Rebosis Property Fund
  • Listed: 2011
  • Visit:

When Sisa Ngebulana left Mthatha to pursue his dream he had high aspirations for himself. He didn’t know what path his career would take, but he did know he wanted to achieve greatness. When he listed Rebosis Property Fund in 2011, it was the first black-managed and substantially held property fund to be listed on the JSE.

He is also founder and CEO of the Billion Group, a commercial and retail property developer that will spend in excess of R35 billion over the next ten years on its current projects. The journey wasn’t an easy one, but he says an entrepreneur needs to take the hard knocks, learn the lessons they bring you and forge ahead with a positive attitude. That is the entrepreneurial way. That’s the real secret to success.

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Just when you’re at the top you find yourself R30 million in debt and need to regroup and start again. Ngebulana says that success is cyclical, you can be abundant one minute, and have nothing the next, but if you keep moving forward, you can build that abundance again. You just need to get started and then build on each small success.

“The coal mining business was a financial blow, but it was also a blessing in disguise. It forced me out of employment, if it hadn’t, I might still be employed today, and I would never have achieved what I have through the Billion Group and Rebosis. ”

Related: Persistence Can Beat Any Odds Says The Founder Of Rebosis Property Fund

Best Advice 1: Run a tight ship


Andrew Brand

Vital stats

  • Player: Andrew Brand
  • Company: 99c
  • Established: 2008
  • Visit:

Andrew Brand learnt to build an advertising agency that cares more about customer supplier awards than glittering design awards. It’s a foundation of a 300-employee strong business with a turnover in excess of R175 million that was only launched because Checkers was willing to give a two-man agency a chance to improve itself. And it’s how a business that launched just as the recession hit, not only survived, but thrived.

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One of biggest factors separating corporates from smaller entrepreneurial businesses is cash flow. But, while corporates have healthy cash flow to work with, the ability of a start-up to run lean is invaluable as the business grows. This is because you’ve built into the business’ DNA to be careful with expenditure.

“We needed to hire a team, purchase equipment and find premises. We also couldn’t afford to run with fewer people than we needed, and so our first round of hiring was over 30 people. We haven’t stopped growing since, and I believe in investing in people. That said, there are many ways you can run a lean organisation without skimping where it matters. Don’t be a bloated, top heavy business. Rather invest in the core of your business. What will enable you to offer your clients the best service possible? That’s where you should be investing,” advises Brand.

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How to Guides

How To Make Better Business Decisions That Drive Productivity And Profits

Here are a few ways to enhance your decision-making skills.




Running a business requires some fairly particular skills. You are expected to be a project manager, financial guru, administrative champion, staff motivator and then some.

Your personality and determination will be constantly challenged and you’ll be exhausted. But you may never be too tired or too overwhelmed to grab opportunities and steer your company in the right direction.

Making the best decisions for your business is possibly, standalone, one of the most difficult things to tackle. You’re expected to make decisions that will drive productivity and profits, but which will keep your operation stable. Sometimes opportunity knocks at the worst times and you have to wave it on by as it passes. However, this type of situation can be mitigated if you have strong decision-making skills.

Nurturing your ability to make informed and smart decisions is something you should begin focusing on right at the start. Before you’ve opened your business’ doors, you should have honed in on this skill.

The best way to foster strong decision-making skills is by reading, researching and empowering yourself with a broad spectrum of business knowledge.

Related: What Tinder Can Teach You About Better Strategic Decisions

Follow entrepreneurs who you respect or who have failed and returned a more powerful force in their industry. Considering many of the great, well-known entrepreneurs out there have suffered incredible failures, there are a variety of personalities to choose from.

Make sure you pay attention to how they remain ready, and at the helm at all times, to make decisions that will benefit their business.

Here are a few ways to enhance your decision-making skills. 

Learn how to make quick decisions

Really sit and think about all the variables you must consider before making any business decision. Unpack the areas in which you have ample knowledge and expertise and those in which you don’t. The areas where you lack knowledge is where you should focus your attention.

Gain some topline knowledge about everything that affects your business. From which internet service provider is considered the best to what courses you might send your staff on to upskill them. And making decisions about your staff in any capacity is often considered a quick decision. The staff member in question often wants an answer, and soon.

You need to learn to trust your gut so that these types of quick-fire answer situations are handled seamlessly and timeously.

Consider attending short courses on various aspects of the business that are out of your realm of expertise. For instance, participating in a human resources and legal course will assist you with your hiring and firing procedures.

Related: 3 Unusual Ways You Can Make Better Decisions

Practice mindfulness


Mindfulness is such a trend at the moment that it’s bordering becoming a marketing buzzword. But the concept makes sense and has helped many people in their personal lives.

Practicing mindful eating will assist with a healthier lifestyle, being mindful in your relationships will bring about more peaceful interactions and so on. Being mindful in your business is important too.

Mindfulness applied to a real time business environment means the business owner makes decisions based on what actually makes sense for the business in that moment.

Many business owners have a tunnel vision approach to their goals and focus far too much on not upsetting the marketplace, making up numbers and ensuring they look like a burgeoning enterprise.

When in fact, they’re making decisions based on external (possibly unimportant) factors and therefore not thinking first.

Transformation, innovation and the possibility of being disruptive are all restricted.

Enrol the help of those you trust

Just because you are the business owner doesn’t mean you’re the only one capable of making a good decision. If you’ve employed staff then you will know you’ve had to learn to trust that they too have your business’ best interests at heart.

Related: The 3 Decisions That Will Change Your Financial Life

When faced with a big decision, bring the top level staff together and put the concern to them. Ask them to assist you with breaking down the options and even create business plan templates for each option and potential outcome. Have your finance person factor in all expected profits, losses and risks.

Have your marketing person consider campaigns they’d like to see roll out for each option you have and enlist the help of your project manager to estimate deadlines and responsibilities. In this way you’re able to take a more pragmatic approach to making a big decision.

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How to Guides

How To Say ‘No’ At Work (Infographic)

Don’t let this two-letter word scare you.




Whether you’re trying to impress your boss or you fear you’ll let someone down, saying “no” at work can be hard. But it shouldn’t be.

Too often, people burn themselves out by agreeing to take on more tasks than they can handle. However, overloading yourself with work can reduce the quality of what you produce. If you’re too busy, you may also miss deadlines. In those cases, the person you’re working for likely would have preferred that you had just said “no” from the start.

Don’t feel bad or guilty about saying this two-letter word. If you want to build a great career, you’ve got to get used to it. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons to say no to someone – it’s just a matter of how you say it.

Related: How To Say No Nicely

Check out Business Backer’s infographic below to learn how.


Related: Here’s Your Next Move When Your Customer Says ‘No’

This article was originally posted here on

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