If Obama’s presidential campaign has anything to teach business, it’s the about the power of the personal brand. Political beliefs don’t win elections; people do, which is something every astute politician understands. So while the American public may have been ready for a Democrat to take up a term in office again, it was the man, not the political party that swung people’s votes. What Obama did right was to use his name and personal values as a platform, and to create a brand that resonated with people on a personal level. He gave them a personal touchstone they could relate to and believe in.
It’s not a new recipe for success, in either politics or business, but it is a powerful one. Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson are prime examples of people who’ve used it particularly well. And on a less grandiose scale it’s what Arnold Chatz, South African entrepreneur, motor racing driver and self-confessed ‘car nut’ built a business on. Over a career that spanned more than 40 years, he built a reputation and personal brand that still stands today. It’s weathered massive changes to the motor manufacturing industry, the arrival and departure of various brands to and from the country, amalgamation into a large listed corporate and finally the buy-out and re-establishment as an independent business. What have remained constant are the brand attributes and ability to deliver on the brand promise. Now retired, Chatz looks back on what’s made him most proud. “What’s important to me, and I think I can speak with a fair degree of confidence on this, is that I enjoyed a good reputation. I doubt if there are many people who would say they ever had a conflict with me. In my 42 years of active business in the motor industry, I never once briefed an attorney. I would rather not do a deal than risk losing my reputation,” he says.
That reputation – or personal brand – was built on two core factors: genuine passion and an understanding of how to treat customers.
“But it all started with passion,” says Chatz, “I was absolutely besotted with cars. I loved everything about them. I overhauled the engine of my mother’s car when I was just 15. I suppose it was an innate thing, but I always knew it was what I wanted to follow.” After he matriculated, Chatz joined a finance company run by family friends in Krugersdorp. “Being a finance company, they had repossessions which they needed to sell. They knew about finance and I knew about cars, so I started off with them in a used car operation,” he says. With his eye ever on the motor industry, Chatz noticed a new arrival to the South African commercial vehicle market while working in the used car business. “Datsun, which was the predecessor of Nissan, brought out this little Japanese vehicle that could carry a ton. Compared to the American ¼ ton vehicles, it was so small, and I was so impressed with it that I called up the importer of the vehicles and asked if I could have the franchise. He said yes, I bought four vehicles and sold them within two to three days. Within six months, we were selling 40 units a month. That little car turned out to be the first really big-volume Japanese vehicle. It just took off,” he relates.
At the same time, Chatz was pursuing his personal passion for motor racing. “I was a racing enthusiast and had got involved with a friend of mine, Basil van Rooyen, as his assistant spanner man. He asked me if I’d like to drive a race or two with him and use his car in one or two club events so I started racing,” he explains. By 1961 Chatz had been noticed by the Lawson Motor Group, which had acquired the Renault agency for Johannesburg and offered to sponsor the running of his vehicle if he raced one of their cars. A year later, Chatz applied for and was granted the Alfa Romeo dealership and handled both brands at the Krugersdorp branch. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the Alfa Romeo brand. In 1968 the company approached him to be their works racing driver and a year later he was granted the dealership for the Johannesburg northern suburbs area. “We were selling a lot of vehicles into Johannesburg from our Krugersdorp branch, and when one of their dealers defaulted and the opportunity opened up for me to expand, I jumped at it,” says Chatz.
The net effect of this brand association was that Arnold Chatz built a reputation, in racing and in business, as ‘the Alfa Romeo man’. “People still remember me as the guy who raced and sold Alfa Romeos. Today they still come up to me and tell me that,” he says.
The fit was a natural one. Alfa Romeo was a niche brand that appealed to motoring enthusiasts, many of whom Chatz got to know on the race track. “Alfa Romeo customers liked to deal with people who knew about cars, which I did,” he said, “They knew if they didn’t find me on the showroom floor, they’d find me in the workshop.”Perhaps more than anything, it was this personal touch that appealed to Chatz’s target market. “Alfas were never a high volume seller and the people who bought them wanted special attention. We were as passionate in our workshop about cars as the customers were, and I think that kind of enthusiasm is either there or it’s not. It can’t be faked,” he explains.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge for the business was finding the right people. Living out personal values might come naturally to a leader, but the real challenge lies in getting other people to follow suit. “I think the secret lay in teaching staff how to handle customers. When you’re running a big business, things don’t always go right all of the time. The important thing is to make sure your people know how to manage customer relations when things go wrong. First of all you must know how to talk to people. You must know how to receive them if they are unhappy – with empathy. When things go wrong all people want is for you to fix their problem with as little further irritation as possible,” Chatz explains, adding, “My instruction to the switchboard was to answer in three rings and to never ask who wanted to speak to me. If someone wanted to speak to me, they were to be put through.” Chatz was granted permission to trade as Alfa Romeo Cars, which was unusual at the time. And his public image as a racing champion was also being entrenched as he won the Saloon Car Championships in 1972, 1975, 1977 and 1979. “I was lucky in that I had a public profile in racing apart from my business, which made my name become synonymous with Alfa Romeo. I had a lot of lucky breaks which I suppose is the story with anything. You need to be in the right place at the right time,” he says. It also helped that motor racing provided the South African public with much-needed live entertainment and attracted an enormous following. “Remember that television only arrived in 1975 and then only for a few hours a day, so when there was a race on at Kyalami, people would camp over the night before just to get a good vantage point,” he says.
But while Chatz undoubtedly happened to be the right person with the right skills in the right place at the right time, he also understood the importance of marketing his reputation and harnessing the power of his public image. “I did all my own radio adverts, and I’d always end them with ‘And remember, when you call, please call me Arnold.’” Stretching his marketing buck, Chatz also took out a small advert every two days in the main body of the daily newspaper. “It was really simple and really economical but it worked. Everyone became aware of our existence,” he explains. The Arnold Chatz name may not yet have been on the outside of the building, but the brand was gaining traction and the public was left in no doubt about the identity of the man behind the business.
Alfa Romeo granted Chatz sole representation for the area north of Braamfontein, and eventually a dealership in the city as well. “My payoff line then was ‘Arnold Chatz is Alfa Romeo’, which used to drive the other dealers mad,” he recalls. At the height of his success, Chatz was selling over 175 cars a month, an impressive volume for the time and the brand. But then in 1985 everything changed. Alfa Romeo took a decision to withdraw from South Africa. “It broke my heart because the brand was my life. It was in my veins,” says Chatz. With his name so closely associated with Alfa, Chatz faced the real prospect of losing the brand equity he’d worked so hard to build. It was a challenge he managed to turn to his advantage, once again employing the power of smart marketing. “Everyone wondered what brand we were going to go with, and even if such a transition was possible, after having been the Alfa Romeo people for so long. So I started a billboard teaser campaign during the five-month Alfa wind-down period. Instead of ‘Arnold Chatz is Alfa Romeo’, the billboards read ‘Arnold Chatz is (?)’.”
When he eventually filled in the blank with ‘Nissan’, people were more than a little surprised. “It was a very different market to Alfa Romeo. Nissan was commercially-orientated, was into the fleet business, wasn’t a niche specialised vehicle and it didn’t have a strong presence in the Northern suburbs, which had become my stamping ground. But I’d had a long-standing pleasant relationship with Datsun, which had become Nissan, and I felt it was the right move,” he says. So the Alfa Romeo signs came down, the Arnold Chatz Cars signs went up and Chatz changed his strategy to suit an entirely new market. He won over some of the biggest fleets in the country, including the entire Automobile Association fleet, eventually becoming one of the largest Nissan dealerships in South African. Within a few years, Nissan brought out models like Car of the Year-winner, Maxima, and the 300ZX, which appealed to the northern suburbs market. “By that time, the Arnold Chatz name had become associated not only with the Alfa Romeo brand, but with good customer service and integrity, and I think it was this brand equity that made the transition surprisingly easy,” he relates.
The 1990s ushered in a new era for the business. “Nissan approached Fiat to bring the Uno into South Africa, and with Fiat being the parent company of Alfa Romeo, it was a natural progression for Nissan South Africa to get Alfa Romeo in 1995 when the brand came back to us,” Chatz explains. A year later, the company was approached to join Super Group for a listing. “I agreed to stay on with them for four years and then retire, which I did, but it was a very very difficult period for me. Being part of a large corporate with 26 dealerships is a very different game to running your own operation, but we made a success of it,” Chatz says. Before joining the Super Group, Chatz had taken on a partner in Derik Scorer, formerly from Fiat, and originally brought into the business to turn around the struggling Krugersdorp Nissan dealership. “Derik is a very, very smart man. He took that dealership from under 10 units a month, to 40 units a month and eventually became Nissan South Africa Dealer of the Year. After we joined Super Group he ultimately went on to become Managing Director of their Motor Division,” Chatz explains.
Three years ago, well after Chatz’s retirement in 2000, Scorer bought back the Arnold Chatz brand and original Hyde Park dealership from Super Group and went on his own. Chatz relates: “He called me up and told me he wanted to re-inject the original passion into the brand and asked if I’d help him, which I was more than happy to do. I am retired but I still read his ads for him and I am often in the dealership.” He concludes, “People still walk in and tell me they bought their first Alfa Romeo from me and are back to buy another. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction and continuity.”
Afritorch Digital An Overnight Success That Was Years In The Making
By any standard, local start-up AfriTorch Digital has seen phenomenal growth and traction. But, while the company’s success might seem quick and effortless, there is a lot of hard work behind it.
- Players: Michel M. Katuta and Thabo Mphate
- Company: Afritorch Digital
- Established: 2017
- Visit: afritorchdigital.com
- About: Afritorch Digital assists research agencies in conducting market research through its in-depth knowledge of the African continent and its use of the latest digital technologies.
There is a saying that goes: It takes years to become an overnight success. While a company or individual might seem to enjoy sudden (and seemingly effortless) success, there is often more to the story. The results are usually public and well-publicised, but the years of hard work that came before go unnoticed.
Local start-up AfriTorch Digital is a great example of this. Since launching in May 2017, the business has seen excellent growth. “To be honest, we were very surprised by the level of success. Things progressed a lot quicker than we anticipated,” says co-founder Thabo Mphate.
“All the goals we had hoped to reach in four or sixth months, we managed to hit in the first month. It was just amazing.”
Preparing to launch
While AfriTorch Digital has certainly seen quick growth and success, it would be a mistake to assume that the same is true of the two founders. For them, the creation of AfriTorch was years in the making.
“The goal was always to start our own business,” says Thabo. “I think we’re both entrepreneurs at heart, and we saw an opportunity to create a unique kind of business that offered an innovative solution to clients, but we also realised the value of getting some experience first. Without the knowledge, experience, network and intimate understanding of the industry landscape, getting AfriTorch off the ground would have been incredibly difficult.”
Entrepreneurs tend to dislike working for other people. They want to forge their own path. However, as AfriTorch Digital’s case illustrates, spending time in the industry that you’d like to launch your business in is tremendously useful.
“Finding clients when we launched AfriTorch was relatively easy,” says company co-founder and CEO Michel Katuta. “One reason for this, I think, was that we were offering potential clients a great solution, but the other was that we had established a name for ourselves in the industry. People knew us. We had worked for respected companies, and we had done work for large clients. So, when we launched, we were able to provide a new start-up with credibility in the industry.”
The Lesson: Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t always start with the launch of a company. Spending time in an established business, gaining experience and making contacts, can be invaluable. Very often, it’s the relationships you build during this time and the knowledge you accumulate that will help make your company a success.
Solving a problem
Everyone knows that launching a successful business means solving a burning problem, but what does that mean in practice? Aren’t all the burning problems already being addressed? And how do you attempt this without any money?
Thabo and Michel identified a small group of potential clients with a burning problem. Crucially, it was a problem that no one outside of the research field could have identified. Having spent years in the trenches, they saw a massive gap waiting to be filled.
“A decade ago, researchers were still debating whether the future of the field was in the digital space. That debate is now over. Everyone agrees that online is the way to go. What once took months now takes days or hours, and the cost of research can be reduced by a factor of five,” says Michel.
“But researchers are not technology specialists. If made available, they are eager to adopt digital tools, but they aren’t eager to develop these tools themselves. That’s not their area of expertise.”
AfriTorch Digital stepped up to provide these tools. Katuta has a background in software engineering, so he could approach research problems with the eye of a tech specialist. Very soon, research agencies were lining up to make use of AfriTorch Digital’s services.
“We work with research agencies that conduct research on behalf of their clients. We provide the digital tools needed to conduct research online, and we provide the online communities. A big reason for our success is that we understand Africa. A lot of companies want to conduct research in Africa, but traditionally, this has been very hard. There was a lack of access and a lack of infrastructure that made research very hit-and-miss. Thanks to the continent’s adoption of mobile technology, it’s now much easier. If you have the technological know-how and an understanding of the environment, you can do amazing things,” says Michel.
The Lesson: Find a niche and own it. Research agencies might not have seemed like an obvious and lucrative market, but having spent time in the industry, the AfriTorch founders were able to identify clients who would be desperate for their offering. Spending time in an industry will help you see where the opportunities lie.
Before launching a business, get to know an industry from the inside out. This will give you an unparalleled view into gaps you can service.
Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’
Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.
- Player: Jason English
- Position: CEO
- Company: Prommac
- Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
- Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
- Visit: prommac.com
- About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.
Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.
Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.
“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.
“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.
“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.
“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.
“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.
“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.
“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.
“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.
“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.
“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.
“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.
“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.
“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”
When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.
Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?
You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.
- Player: Billy Selekane
- Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
- About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
- Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com
We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.
In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.
“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.
The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.
“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.
Related: Billy Selekane
The monkey on your back
“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”
Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.
“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.
“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.
“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.
“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”
Getting out of the monkey business
To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.
According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.
First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”
Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.
“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”
Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.
“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”
If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.
Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.
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