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Beyond Stardom

From signing autographs to writing cheques. There are celebrities who manage to make a successful transition to life-after-stardom

Juliet Pitman




Entrepreneurship offers excitement, challenge and the high of success that so often leaves a gaping hole in the lives of once-famous, highly driven, top-of-their game people. It’s also an easy fit for the perfectionism, single-minded focus and work ethic so characteristic of people who excel in other spheres of life.

And, importantly, it offers an often-welcome opportunity to escape the limelight and get down to the business of living a ‘normal’ life, while still deriving satisfaction from a job well done.

But it doesn’t always come easy. As one of our interviewees points out in this feature, having a public profile might get you through the door, “but once you’re in the room you’d better make sure you have something valuable to offer.”

Many celebs haven’t had time to invest in education and they lack essential work experience. So by the time they enter the world of business, they are often ten years or more behind their better-educated, more experienced peers. It can make their fall to earth that much more humbling.

The smart ones recognise early on that stardom is fleeting and start making plans for the future while still in the limelight. They’re the successful ones, and we interview six of them in the pages that follow.

So if you’ve ever wondered what there can possibly be to match the high of playing for Manchester United, winning Olympic gold, being crowned as Miss South Africa or enjoying a successful modelling, music and film career, read on – the interviews that follow hold some of the answers.

Beyond face value

Former Miss SA Amy Kleinhans-Curd shows she’s more than a pretty face as she proves her entrepreneurial mettle.

When Amy Kleinhans-Curd was the reigning Miss South Africa, she’d seek out marketing and financial directors at events and arrange to sit next to them.

“Business has always fascinated me. I would find talking to those people absolutely intriguing. I knew all the way back then that I wanted to be in business,” she says.

Kleinhans-Curd is a qualified teacher and she combined her passion for education with her interest in business to launch Dial-A-Teacher in 2000 as part of her husband’s newly-formed group, Private Label Promotions (PLP).

“We had identified a gap in the market for 24/7 personal assistant services and had launched My PA in response to this need. Dial-A-Teacher was a similar call-centre based solution that allowed learners to call a teacher for help with their homework,” she explains.

Anticipating customer needs

Since those early days in 1992, PLP has grown to include one of the widest ranges of call-centre based solutions, loyalty, acquisition and retention programmes, value-added benefits, and direct marketing solutions.

PLP’s Loyalty Solutions provides customer engagement and marketing services aimed at customer acquisition and retention; PLP WorkLife Balance Solutions delivers employee wellness and assistance programmes to large corporates; and PLP Business Growth Solutions targets the SME and enterprise development market, providing a wide range of services to help business owners become more efficient in running their day-to-day operations and tackling challenges such as access to market finance and business support. Kleinhans-Curd explains: “All of these services are white-labeled and we tailor them to meet our clients’ needs.”

One of the business’s key success factors has been its ability to identify and respond to market needs with appropriate solutions. “Right from our first PA and education solutions, we have always tried to not only identify what our clients need now, but anticipate what they might need in future.

This has been the growth driver of the business – as we identify a new need, we implement an in-depth research and development programme to build a solution that will fill that need,” says Kleinhans-Curd.

Serving the SME sector

The latest Business Growth Solutions product is a prime example. “South Africa’s entrepreneurs face an uphill battle especially in the first start-up phase. I know this from first-hand experience of trying to get this business off the ground.

Coupled with that is the fact that large corporates struggle to implement successful enterprise development programmes as part of their B-BBEE requirements. There was a clear need for services in this sector. Our solution provides SMEs with everything they need, from legal, financial and tax advisors, to discounted office equipment and workshop tools.

We go as far as providing them with business leads, tender oppportunities, and assistance with obtaining finance or grants,” she says.

Kleinhans-Curd believes each business unit has enormous growth potential, and the company is currently focused on a strong push into mobile apps and social media space across all its divisions. “Business has proved to be every bit as exciting as I first thought it would be. I’m challenged and stimulated every day.”


Still rocking

David Gresham’s name epitomises rock music in South Africa. He shares some insight into how he’s got it right.

Ask David Gresham a question about business and he’ll reply with an answer about music. “The music IS the business,” he says. The seamless integration of the two is what has kept this legend of the South African music industry so successful for so long.

Gresham started what is now South Africa’s longest running independent record company in 1972. He has evolved the David Gresham Record Company into the David Gresham Entertainment Group with recording studios, full promotional, marketing and sales functions, a separate publishing division, a DVD movie division and a separate import division.

The publishing division is the largest independent publisher in South Africa and represents 700 000 titles for artists such as Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, James Blunt, Gwen Stefani and Quincy Jones. The company also represents record labels from all over the world in the South African territory.

No magic formula

Gresham enjoyed an illustrious radio and television broadcasting career, and was the only South African to interview John Lennon, a moment he describes as the highlight of his career. Talking about starting the company he says, “There are always people waiting in the wings to take over your radio or television show. I wanted to create something of my own, and music, being in my blood and my soul, was the obvious route to go.”

The success he’s built up over the years hasn’t always come easily though. “Know this – the music industry has never been easy. If 20% of your releases turn out to be hits, you’re really winning,” he says. There is no magic formula for identifying the next big artist or song or musical trend.

“I think that’s the hardest thing about what we do – identifying an artist or song that the consumer will go out and buy. Music is trend and fashion based and there really is no telling what the next thing will be.

Keeping abreast of music trends

There are still instances when he gets it wrong, he says. “Even today, things that I think will really fly turn out to be a flop and vice versa. For this reason, when we speak to new artists I never guarantee them a hit. It would be an empty promise. But what I can guarantee them is hard work, absolute commitment from me and my team, and outstanding  production,” he adds.

He attributes much of the company’s success to consistency, hard work and a think tank system for generating new ideas for where to take the business. “We’re also not a genre-based company and I think that has kept us broad and open to all types of artists and music.”

He’s also kept abreast of the ever-changing music scene: “Today’s iTunes generation has a very different connection to music, and you have to take that into consideration. The only thing that’s constant is the existence of the music, in all its different forms, and its enduring power to resonate deeply with people of all ages and walks of life.”


Off the pitch

Former Man United goal keeper Gary Bailey knows what it takes to be successful – in football and in business.

Within four months of signing for Manchester United Football Club as one of the youngest goal keepers ever to play in English League football, Gary Bailey’s team lost the FA Cup Final because he failed to save a goal in the final minute of play. It gave him an early taste of the immense pressure and intense scrutiny under which professional sportsmen operate.

“Professional football is one of the most pressured businesses in the world. Every year, a third of all managers are fired or resign. And being a goal keeper is perhaps one of the most pressured positions on the pitch. If you fail to save a goal people blame you for losing the match,” he says.

Game plan for business

Since retiring from professional football Bailey has run numerous businesses, enjoyed a successful career in the highly pressured world of sports broadcasting and is one of the country’s top motivational speakers. His latest book, Succeed Under Pressure, converts football lessons into business success and takes many of those lessons from his former manager and one of the most successful ever, Sir Alex Ferguson.

The advice he offers is equally relevant to CEOs and small entrepreneurial enterprises who are passionate about football and those who know nothing about it. “There are five things I believe you need to do or have in order to succeed under pressure,” he says. These include:

  • Gratitude. Be grateful for the opportunities and blessings you have. It will give you positive energy to deal with the challenges you face. When we lost that FA Cup Final, my dad told me to be grateful I had played in a cup final at all. It was an opportunity countless people would never have.
  • Reframe. Take situations that made you feel negative: In my early career I became very scared of making a mistake, until someone pointed out that this would keep me from fulfilling my potential. So the next time I was in the box, I reframed the situation. I thought, “Please shoot for goal. Give me a chance to show you what I can do.” It made a tremendous difference to my entire game.
  • Empathy. Emotional intelligence allows you to understand people, see their strengths and know their weaknesses. You need to learn to observe people. This is how Sir Alex chooses his top players for every match, looking for those who show great energy and desire.
  • Adaptable. Remain open to new possibilities and always make sure you are learning new things. David Beckham’s first few interviews were a disaster until he got some advice on answering questions. Today he’s the biggest sports marketer of all time. It’s often the small learnings that make a big difference.
  • Teamwork. One of the things that makes Manchester United so successful is that everyone works for the other. They never use the words “I” and “Me” – it’s always “We” and “Us”. Reflect glory back to your team, and set them inspiring targets that have emotional resonance, as Sir Alex did when he arrived at Man Utd and set Liverpool as the team to beat.


Fine tuned

Musical prodigy Zwai Bala has learnt some tough lessons, but they’ve all made for a better businessman.

Zwai Bala first exploded to musical stardom with the kwaito group, TKZee, but his career in music stretches back to childhood. Schooled at the Drakensberg Boys Choir, alongside his brothers, his prodigious musical talent was evident from an early age.

“My life has been immersed in the business of music,” he says, adding that it seemed a natural step to form Bala Brothers Productions when the TKZee trio parted ways and Zwai joined brothers Loyiso and Phelo to form the Bala Brothers. The multi-award winning trio have made their mark on the music scene by infusing classical opera with popular African music.

The full package

Bala Brothers Productions manages and produces the group and other artists, but it also offers a broad range of entertainment solutions to the corporate market.

“I’ve drawn on everything I’ve learnt and been exposed to in the music industry and poured it into the business. This means we can offer full package solutions for events – from delivering a live performance and managing all the sound and entertainment, to writing and professionally producing a unique track for the event, which is recorded and delivered to the client before the function is over.”

Formalising the business

These are things Bala had always done, but the formation of Bala Brothers Productions marked an important step towards formalisation and the establishment of a business. Bala walked a hard road to get here.

“When I was with TKZee, I never paid any tax. It never occurred to me that it was something you needed to do. So I ended up getting into trouble with SARS and it’s taken years to sort the whole mess out. But it taught me an important lesson about formalising business and getting the admin side of things in order. When you have someone taking care of the admin, you can focus on the creative stuff, but ignore the admin and it will eventually catch up with you and destroy what you are trying to do creatively,” he explains.

Bala’s kept the business as lean as possible. “One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that when you see an opportunity to make money, you have to think of it as a business from the word go. The money you make is the business’s money and much of it needs to go back into the business so you can build for the future.”

That future holds great promise. Bala recently completed his Masters Certificate in Orchestration for Film and Television at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and went to Hollywood to work on the score for the animated feature film, Zambezia, to be released towards the end of 2012. “Film score is definitely an area I want to move into,” he concludes.


Against the stream

In the time since he won Olympic gold, Ryk Neethling’s been busy. Here’s how he evolved into a businessman and entrepreneur.

Ryk Neethling knew early on that he didn’t want to join the ranks of sports stars whose post-professional life trajectory follows a depressingly downward curve. “I always knew there’d be life after swimming, and I was determined to be successful at it.

I also knew that I wanted to own my own business. Even when I was swimming professionally, the business side of sport interested me. I wanted to have a say in my contracts, I understood that sponsorships were a business transaction and I learnt   an enormous amount about marketing,” says the Olympian-turned-entrepreneur.

Among the things that have kept him busy since he retired from professional swimming are the establishment of six Ryk Neethling Swimming Schools and two Players Swimming Academy facilities. The first of these offers swimming lessons to people of all ages, while the second provides professional training for more serious swimmers.

With one swimming school already successfully franchised, Neethling plans to expand the businesses along these lines.

Maximising the platform

He also manages professional swimmers, including Cameron van den Burgh and Chad Le Clos, through Ryk Neethling Marketing, and is the African representative for Italian pool company Myrtha. Van den Burgh has also participated in Players for the past four years.

There’s an obvious alignment between these businesses and Neethling’s previous life in swimming, but his real passion lies in property. He’s a shareholder and marketing director for Val de Vie Wine and Polo Estate, Guardian Development Projects and Brick Art Construction. “Val de Vie keeps me really busy, and it’s been exciting to be part of the creation of such a unique development,” he says.

Neethling’s obvious talent for marketing has its roots in the world of sport. “I recognised the importance of maximising the platform I’d been given to market myself and build a profile.

As a professional sportsperson, you only have that platform for a short period of time, but if you work hard at it, you can create the foundations for a life and a business after sport,” he explains. In addition to his other pursuits, Neethling is highly sought-after on the speakers’ circuit.

Tangible business value

There’s no doubt that his public profile opens doors, but as Neethling points out, “Getting through the door is just the first step. Once you’re in the room, you’d better make sure you have something of value to offer. Whether I’m selling wine, property development, delivering a talk or representing a professional sportsperson, I focus on delivering real, tangible business value.”

He’s bemused by the perception that he’s ‘made it and can lie by the pool all day living it up.’ “Make no mistake, I have to work,” he says. The fact that hard work comes naturally makes entrepreneurship an easy fit: “I always knew that I could outwork anyone in the pool, and I’ve just carried that over to business. I work seven days a week and I love it. It’s stimulating, exciting, challenging and exhausting. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”


Star billing

Kimberleigh Stark’s extensive experience as an actress and casting director gives her invaluable insight into what artists need from the industry, and what the industry needs from artists. She brings the two together in Stark Raving Management.

When actress and former model Kimberleigh Stark opened the doors to Stark Raving Management in 2003 her vision was to create an agency for artists that protected their interests while promoting absolute professionalism.

“I run my business very much with my heart. I care about the people on my books. I want them to be working. It’s like a family here,” she says.

The entertainment industry is notoriously tough and Stark knows first-hand that it can be extremely exploitative of artists who are desperate to get work and make a name for themselves. “You get a lot of fly-by-night companies and unscrupulous practices such as charging artists to keep them on the books or charging them for every audition secured.

I realised from my own experience in the industry that there was a need for above-board, professional management,” she says. The company is accredited with the Personal Management Association (PMA).

Leveraging experience

But while protecting the rights of artists is undoubtedly important, so too is getting them work, and in this Stark is well positioned to deliver. In addition to many years’ experience in acting, Stark draws on her role as casting director for shows such as Egoli, Generations and Muvhango, and international films.

“I believe that having been a casting director makes me a better agent. I’ve been on the other side. When I get a casting brief I have a good sense of what the casting director is looking for. I am therefore able to brief my artists properly so that they are thoroughly prepared, and I only send those who I think have a good chance of landing the part,” she says.

Attracting high profile artists

She also has her own reputation to protect. “At the end of the day, I’m sending artists to my colleagues in the industry, so my name is very much on the line,” she explains.

The combination of integrity, professionalism and transparency has landed her a string of high profile artists, including Patrick Shai, Darlington Michaels, Rose Motene and Palesa Mocuminyane. “This business is based on trust and relationships.

My artists know I will fight for them. But I only take those who are absolutely committed to working and in whom I can detect an abiding passion for acting and the work. I don’t head-hunt. I don’t go looking to sign artists,” she says.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Entrepreneur Profiles

Expert Advice From Property Point On Taking Your Start-Up To The Next Level

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty have worked with more than 170 businesses to help them scale. Here’s what your start-up should be focusing on, based on what they’ve learnt.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Players: Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty
  • Company: Property Point
  • What they do: Property Point is an enterprise development initiative created by Growthpoint Properties, and is dedicated to unlocking opportunities for SMEs operating in South Africa’s property sector.
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit:

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and his team have spent ten years learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and what small business owners need to implement to become medium and large business owners. In that time, over 170 businesses have moved through the programme.

While Property Point is an enterprise development (ED) initiative, the lessons are universal. If you want to take your start-up to the next level, this is a good place to start.

Risk, reputation and relationships

“We believe that everything in business comes down to the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation and Relationships. If you understand these three factors and how they influence your business and its growth, your chances of success will increase exponentially,” says Shawn Theunissen, Executive Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point.

So, how do the 3Rs work, and what should business owners be doing based on them?

Risk: We can all agree that there will always be risks in business. It’s how you approach and mitigate those risks that counts, which means you first need to recognise and accept them.

“We always straddle the line between hardcore business fundamentals and the relational elements and people components of doing business,” says Shawn. “For example, one of the risks that everyone faces in South Africa is that we all make decisions based on unconscious biases. As a business owner, we need to recognise how this affects potential customers, employees, stakeholders and even ourselves as entrepreneurs.”

Reputation: Because Property Point is an ED initiative, its 170 alumni are black business owners, and so this is an area of bias that they focus on, but the rule holds true for all biases. “In the context of South Africa, small black businesses are seen as higher risk. To overcome this, black-owned businesses should focus on the reputational component of their companies. What’s the track record of the business?”

A business owner who approaches deals in this way can focus on building the value proposition of the business, outlining the capacity and capabilities of the business and its core team to deliver how the business is run, and specific service offerings.

“From a business development perspective, if you can provide a good track record, it diminishes the customer’s unconscious bias,” says Shawn. “Now the entrepreneur isn’t just being judged through one lens, but rather based on what they have done and delivered.”

Related: Property Point Creates R1bn In Procurement Opportunities For Small Businesses

Relationship: “We believe that fundamentally people do business with people,” says Shawn. “There needs to be culture match and fluency in terms of relations to make the job easier. As a general rule, the ease of doing business increases if there is a culture match.”

This relates to understanding what your client needs, how they want to do business, their user experience and customer experience. “We like to call it sharpening the pencil,” says Desigan Chetty, Property Point’s Head of Operations.

“In terms of value proposition, does your service offering focus on solving the client’s needs? Is there a culture match between you and your client? And if you realise there isn’t, can you walk away, or do you continue to focus time and energy on the wrong type of service offering to the wrong client? This isn’t learnt over- night. It takes time and small but constant adjustments to the direction you’re taking.”

In fact, Desigan advises walking away from the wrong business so that you can focus on your core competencies. “If you reach a space where you work well with a client and you’ve stuck to your core competencies, business is just going to be easier. It becomes easier for you to deliver. Sometimes entrepreneurs stretch themselves to try to provide a service to a client that’s not serving either of their needs. This strategy will never lead to growth — at least not sustainable growth.”

Instead, Desigan recommends choosing an entry point through a specific offering based on an explicit need. “Too often we see entrepreneurs whose offerings are so broad that they don’t focus,” he says. “Instead, understand what your client’s need is and address that need, even if it means that it’s only one out of your five offerings. Your likelihood of success if you go where the need is, is much higher.

“Once you get in, prove yourself through service delivery. It’s a lot easier to on-sell and cross sell once you have a foot in the door. You’re now building a relationship, learning the internal culture, how things work, what processes are followed and so on — the client’s landscape is easier to navigate. The challenge is to get in. Once you’re in, you can entrench yourself.”

Desigan and Shawn agree that this is one of the reasons why suppliers to large corporates become so entrenched. “Once you’re in, you can capitalise from other needs that may have emanated from your entry point and unlock opportunities,” says Shawn.

Building a sustainable start-up

While all start-ups are different, there are challenges most entrepreneurs share and key areas they should focus on.

Shawn and Desigan share the top five areas you should focus on.

1. Align and partner with the right people

This includes your staff, stakeholders, partners, suppliers and clients. Partnerships are the best thing to take you forward. The key is to collaborate and partner with the right people based on an alignment of objectives and culture. It’s when you don’t tick all the boxes that things don’t work out.

2. Make sure you get the basics right

Never neglect business fundamentals. Do you have the processes and systems in place to scale the business?

3. Understand your value proposition

Are you on a journey with your clients? Is your value proposition aligned to the need you’re trying to solve for your clients? Are you looking ahead of the curve — what’s the problem, what are your clients saying and are you being proactive in leveraging that relationship?

Related: Want To Start A Property Business That Buys Property And Rents It Out?

4. Unpack your value chain

If you want to diversify, understand your value chain. What is it, where are the opportunities both horizontally and vertically within your client base, and what other solutions can you offer based on your areas of expertise?

8. Don’t ignore technology

Be aware of what’s happening in the tech space and where you can use it to enable your business. Tech impacts everything, even more traditional industries. Businesses that embrace technology work smarter, faster and often at a lower cost base.

Ultimately, Desigan and Shawn believe that success often just comes down to attitude. “We have one entrepreneur in our programme who applied twice,” says Shawn. “When he was rejected, he listened to the feedback we gave him and instead of thinking we were wrong, went away, made changes and came back. He was willing to learn and open himself up to different ways of approaching things. That business has grown from R300 000 per annum to R20 million since joining us.

“Too many business owners aren’t willing to evaluate and adjust how they do things. It’s those who want to learn and embrace change and growth that excel.”

Networking, collaborating and mentoring

Property Point holds regular networking sessions called Entrepreneurship To The Point. They are open to the public and have two core aims. First, to provide entrepreneurs access to top speakers and entrepreneurs, and second, to give like-minded business owners an opportunity to network and possibly even collaborate.

“We believe in the power of collaboration and networking,” says Desigan.

“Most of our alumni become mentors themselves to new entrants to the programme. They want to share what they have learnt with other entrepreneurs, but they also know that they can learn from newer and younger entrepreneurs. The business landscape is always changing. Insights can come from anywhere and everywhere.”

The To The Point sessions are designed to help business owners widen their network, whether they are Property Point entrepreneurs or not.

To find out more, visit

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Bain & Company Give You The Data On How To Become 40% More Productive

Top performing organisations get more done by 10am on a Thursday than most companies achieve in a full week. They don’t have more talented employees than everyone else though — they’re working with the same people and tools as you. Michael Mankins unpacks what separates these businesses from everyone else, and how you can learn to be more like them.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

“Engaged employees are 45% more productive than satisfied employees. An inspired employee is 55% more productive than an engaged employee and 125% more productive than a satisfied employee.”

When Bain & Company partner, Michael Mankins evaluates businesses, he clearly distinguishes between efficiency and productivity. Efficiency is producing the same amount with less — in other words, finding and eliminating wastages. Productivity, on the other hand, is producing more with the same, which requires an increased output per unit of input and removing obstacles to productivity.

Interestingly, when businesses face challenges or tough operating conditions, the first response is always to become more efficient, instead of more productive. Restructuring and ‘rightsizing’ are the result. The problem, says Michael, is that when companies take people out, they don’t take the work out, and so the people end up coming back, along with the costs.

A better response, he says, is to identify the work that could be removed to free up time, which could then be invested in producing higher levels of output.

While businesses have become very good at tracking the productivity levels of blue-collar and manufacturing workers, tracking the productivity of knowledge workers is entirely different.

“There’s no data around white-collar productivity,” says Michael. “The problem is that the world is shifting towards knowledge work, and so, if we can’t measure productivity, output and obstacles in that space, businesses will never get the great levels of performance they’re looking for.”

Because of a complete lack of statistics in this area, when Michael and his colleague, Eric Garton, were approached by Harvard Business Review Press to write a book dealing with this issue, they had to devise a way of looking at the relative productivity of organisations comprised of white-collar workers.

The results were unexpected. “We were asked to research the difference between top performing organisations (the top quartile) compared to average organisations. I honestly thought the answers would be obvious, even if we didn’t yet have the tools to track them. I thought the best companies would have the best people. That’s 90% of the answer. Simple as that.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t that simple at all. Of the 308 organisations in the study, drawn from a global pool, the average star performer or A-player was one in seven employees. This statistic held true whether the company was in the top 25% of performers or an average performer. The difference was that the top performing businesses were 40% more productive than their counterparts — and yet their mix of talent, on average, was the same.

“There were some exceptions, but on the whole, the best in our research accomplishes as much by 10am on a Thursday as the rest do the whole week. And they continue to innovate, serve customers and execute on great ideas — all with the same percentage of A-players as other, more mediocre businesses.”

Related: (Slideshow) Top Advice From Local Entrepreneurs That Will Change Your Business In 2019

So, what were the differentiating factors?

What’s dragging your organisation down?

First, we need to understand how Michael and Eric approached their research before we can understand — and implement — their conclusions.

“We began with the notion that every company starts with the ability to produce 100 if they have a workforce that’s comprised of average talent, that’s reasonably satisfied with their job and can dedicate 100% of their time to productivity — bearing in mind that no-one can dedicate 100% of their time to productive tasks.

“The question we were focusing on was around bureaucratic procedures, complex processes and anything else that wastes time and gets in the way of people getting things done, but doesn’t lead to higher quality output or better service to customers. That’s what we call organisational drag. You start at 100 and then the organisation drags you down. The good news is that you can make up for organisational drag in three ways: First, you can make better use of everyone’s time. Second, you can manage your talent better by deploying it in smarter ways, which includes placing it in the right roles, teaming it more effectively and leading it more effectively. Third, you can unleash the discretionary energy of your workforce by engaging them more effectively.”

This trifecta — time, talent and energy — became the basis for Michael and Eric’s book, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag & Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. “The way you manage the scarce resource of talent can make up for some, potentially even all, of what you lose to organisational drag,” says Michael.

What the research revealed: Time


“Wasted time is not an individual problem,” says Michael. “It’s an organisational problem. The symptoms include excess emails and meetings and far more reports being generated than the business needs to operate.”

These are all manifestations of an underlying pathology of organisational complexity, which is managed by senior leadership. “The best companies lose about 13% of their productive activity to organisational drag. The rest lose 25%. The most important thing is to reduce the number of unnecessary interactions that workers are having. That means meetings and ecommunications need to be relooked.”

The easiest manifestation for Michael and Eric to observe were hours committed to meetings and how much time workers spend dealing with ecommunications. What’s left-over is the time people can actually get some work done.

What they found is that the average mid-level manager works 46 hours a week. 23 hours are dedicated to meetings and another ten hours to ecommunication. That leaves 13 hours to get some work done — except that it doesn’t.

“It’s difficult to do deep work in periods of time less than 20 minutes. When we subtracted all the other distractions that happen daily, we were left with just six and a half hours each week to do work.” What’s even scarier about this statistic is the fact that meeting work and ecommunication time is increasing by 7% to 8% each year and doubles every nine years. If left unchecked, no-one will have the time to get any work done. “This is why everyone plays catch-up after hours and on weekends,” says Michael.

“One of my clients told me that his most productive meeting is at 6.30am on a Saturday, because it doesn’t involve one minute that isn’t required or one individual that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. If the same meeting was held at 2pm on a Tuesday, there’d be twice as many people, it would be twice as long and there’d probably be biscuits.”

The point is clear: We don’t treat time as the precious resource that it is, and if we did, we would radically shift our behaviour.

Start by asking what work needs to be done and then figure out the best structure to do that work. “Don’t confuse having a lean structure that does the wrong work with being effective,” says Michael. “One of the biggest problems we see is that companies are not particularly good at stopping things. Things get added incrementally, but nothing ever gets taken away. For example, we found that 62% of the reports generated by one of our clients had a producer — but no consumer. Time, attention and energy was invested in reports that no one needed and no one read.

“Ask yourself: How many initiatives have you shut down? If you made the decision that you could only do ten initiatives effectively, and each time you added an initiative, one had to be eliminated, what would your organisation look like?

“Unless you routinely clean your house, it gets cluttered. The same is true of companies. Initiatives spawn meetings, ecommunications and reports, which all lead to organisational drag.”

What the research revealed: Talent

According to Michael, the biggest element in their research that explained the 40% differential in productivity is the way that top performing organisations manage talent.

“We conducted research in 2017 that revealed the productivity difference between the best workers and average employees. Everyone knows that A-level talent can make a big difference to an organisation’s performance, but not everyone knows just how big that difference is.”

To put it in context, the top developer at Apple writes nine times more usable code than the average software developer in Silicon Valley. The best blackjack dealer at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas keeps his table playing at least five times as long as the average dealer on the Strip. The best sales associate at Nordstrom sells at least eight times as much as the average sales associate walking the floor at other department stores. The best transplant surgeon at Cleveland Clinic has a patient survival rate at least six times longer than that of the average transplant surgeon. And the best fish butcher at Le Bernadin restaurant in New York can portion as much fish in an hour as the average prep cook can manage in three hours.

It doesn’t matter what industry you investigate, A-level talent is exponentially more productive than everyone else.

This is why Michael thought that the obvious answer to why some organisations perform better than others is the mix of talented employees they’ve attracted.

“When we asked senior leaders to estimate the percentage of their workforce that they would classify as top performers or A-level talent, the average response was slightly less than 15%. And that’s despite the fact that most companies have spent vast sums of money in the so-called war for talent.”

The big difference, as Michael and Eric discovered, is how that talent is deployed. “It’s what they do with that one in seven employees that makes the biggest difference,” says Michael. “Most companies use a model called unintentional egalitarianism, which basically means that they spread star talent across all roles. The best on the other hand, are more likely to deploy intentional non-egalitarianism. They ensure that business-critical roles are held by A-level talent.”

The challenge is that approximately 5% of the roles in most companies explain 95% of a company’s ability to execute its strategy, and very few organisations articulate which roles those are — but the ones that do tend to be top performers.

“There’s an excellent historical example of this at work,” says Michael. “Between 1988 and 1994, Gap was a high-flyer in the retail sector. They performed globally on all levels — they grew faster than anyone else, were more profitable, had higher shareholder returns, and were the most admired company.

“During that time period, the organisation was led by Mickey Drexler, and his strategy was to focus on what he believed was Gap’s critical role, which was merchandising. He wanted every merchandiser to be a star. ‘No one will tell us what the colour is this year — we’re going to tell the world. We’re going to determine which styles are in and what everyone will be wearing.’

“And they did. If you want proof that Gap’s merchandisers were in fact stars during that period, you can look at today’s CEOs and COOs of the world’s largest retailers. Most of them were merchandisers at Gap during those years.”

The challenge of course is that everyone is always trying to hire stars, and yet only 15% of employees can be described as A-level talent. What can organisations do to utilise their stars wisely?

“First, move a star into a different position if they’re not in a business-critical role. To achieve this, how you define a star might have to change. Some companies hire for positions, and others hire for skills across positions. Stars, in my view, are more the latter. They can learn different skills and fill different roles.

“Second, start defining your business-critical roles. If you ask executives what percentage of their roles are business critical, most say 54%. They’re not discerning. It’s unintentional, because they don’t want to signal to their workers who aren’t in a business-critical role that they’re not as valuable to the organisation, but the reality is that people figure it out anyway, and you just end up with business-critical roles that aren’t filled by the right people, and stars in positions that anyone else could fill.”

Related: Entrepreneur Erik Kruger On The Importance Of Clarity And Embracing Failure

Teams perform better than individuals

To understand how important teams are when deploying talent, Michael uses an example from the world of racing — Nascar in the US to be precise.

“Between 2008 and 2011, there was one pit crew that outperformed everyone else on the track,” he says. “A standard pit stop is 77 manoeuvres, and this crew could complete them in 12,12 seconds, which was faster than any other team. However, if you took one team member out and substituted them with an average team member, that time jumped to 23 seconds. Substitute a second team member, and it was now 45 seconds. The lesson is simple: As the percentage of star players on a team goes up, the productivity of that team goes up — and it’s not linear.”

Michael and Eric also discovered that the role leadership plays on team productivity is both measurable and exponential.

“In 2011, the National Bureau of Economic Research wanted to quantify the impact of a great boss on team productivity. They found that a great boss can increase the productivity of an average team by 11%, which is the same as adding another member to a nine-member team.

“If you take that same boss and put them in charge of an all-star team, productivity is increased by 18%, and this is with a team whose productivity was exponentially higher to begin with. Great bosses act as a force multiplier on the force multiplier of all-star teams.”

According to Michael and Eric’s research however, what most organisations tend to do is place a great boss with an under-performing team in the hopes of improving them, when what they should be doing is pairing great bosses with great teams.

“We did a survey that asked a simple question: When your company has a mission-critical initiative, how do you assemble the team? A: Based on whomever is available. B: Based on perceived subject matter expertise. C: We attempt to create balanced teams of A, B and C players to foster the development of the team. D: We create all-star teams and we put our best leaders in charge of them.

“We thought everyone would answer D. We were wrong. 30% of our bottom three quartiles answered B, closely followed by C, and then A. Only 8% of them answered D.

“The results were very different in our top-performing quartile though. There, 81% of respondents answered D. In other words, the 25% most productive companies in our study set were ten times more likely to assemble all-star teams with their best players than the remaining 75% of the organisations in our research.”

How talent is deployed makes a difference. “I recently had this highlighted for me through another sporting analogy. The world record for the 400-metre relay is faster than the 100-metre dash multiplied four times. How is that possible? When your role is clear and your position is clear, the handoff is seamless. Under these conditions, the best teams outperform a collection of the best individuals.” Michael does offer a word of advice though.

“Don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you do have the best talent, you don’t need to worry about anything else. I don’t believe that’s true. There are always higher levels of performance that can be achieved because there are always areas you can improve on.”

What the research reveals: Energy

According to Michael, employee engagement and inspiration is a hierarchy. “There are a set of qualifiers that have to be met just to feel satisfied in your job: You need to feel safe, have the resources you need, feel that you’re relatively unencumbered in getting your job done every day and that you’re rewarded fairly.

“To be engaged, these all need to meet, and more. Now you also need to feel part of a team, that you’re learning on the job, that you’re having an impact and that you have a level of autonomy.”

Inspiration takes this a step further. “Inspired employees either have a personal mission that is so aligned with the company’s mission that they’re inspired to come to work every day, or the leadership of their immediate supervisors is incredibly inspiring, or both.”

Why does this matter? Because how satisfied, engaged or inspired your employees are has a real, tangible impact on productivity. “Engaged employees are 45% more productive than satisfied employees. An inspired employee is 55% more productive than an engaged employee and 125% more productive than a satisfied employee.”

The really scary statistic is that 66% of all employees are only satisfied or even dissatisfied with their jobs, 21% are engaged, and only 13% are inspired. “These statistics are pretty constant, although top organisations can improve their engaged and inspired ratios,” says Michael. “What we found amongst those companies that did have more engaged and inspired workers was that they all tended to believe that inspiration can be taught. It’s not innate. You can become an inspirational leader with the right attitude and training.

“For example, one organisation surveys its employees every six months and specifically asks workers to rate how inspirational their leaders are. If you’re rated uninspiring by your team for the first time, you’re given training. If, six months later, you’re still rated uninspiring, you’re given access to a coach to evaluate why the tools aren’t working for you.

“By the third, two questions are asked: Should you be a leader, and should you be at the company? Many productive employees can be effective individual contributors but aren’t necessarily leaders, or aren’t happy as leaders, and would best serve the organisation in a different role. The second question is tougher, but even more important. If an inspired employee is 55% more productive than an engaged employee and 125% more than a satisfied employee, an uninspiring leader is a tax on the performance of the company, and there has to be a consequence to that. We have to constantly enrich our workforce and leaders need to be included in that.”

The problem is that very few organisations are asking how inspiring their leaders are. “If you don’t know if your employees are engaged or if your leadership is inspiring, you can’t address it,” he says. “You can take a satisfied employee and make them engaged, but you can’t inspire someone if they aren’t first engaged — that’s the hierarchy. Employee engagement is largely achieved through the way you manage teams. You have to give people the sense that they are having an impact, working within a team and learning. Get that right, and you’ll unlock a powerful level of discretionary energy that will drive productivity in your organisation.”

Related: How Yoco Successfully Secured Capital And The Importance Of A Pitch

Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, by Michael Mankins and Eric Garton, focuses on the scarcest resource companies possess — talent — and how it can be utilised to drive productivity.

Visit to find out more.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

7 Foundational Values Of Brand Cartel And How They Grew an Iconic Business From The Ground Up

Marco Ferreira, Renate Albrecht and Dillon Warren built Brand Cartel, a through-the-line agency, that delivers exactly what they wanted — and has grown exponentially as a result.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Players: Marco Ferreira, Renate Albrecht and Dillon Warren
  • Company: Brand Cartel
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit:

“We’d never worked at agencies, which meant we had no idea how much you need to run an agency. We grew into it. It’s made us really good at what we do.”

When Dillon Warren, Renate Albrecht and Marco Ferreira launched Brand Cartel in 2013 they were in their early 20s with zero agency experience between them. The idea had started when Marco recognised that social media was taking off, but no agencies were playing in that space yet. It was a clear opportunity.

Printing flyers that said ‘Your social media is so last season’, Marco and Renate went from store to store in Sandton City, pitching their services. When Dillon joined them a few months later because they needed someone to handle the company’s finances, they had two laptops between them, R6 000, which Dillon had earned from a Ricoffy advert, and sheer will and tenacity.

“We shared a house to save on rent and split everything three ways,” says Renate. “At one point we hadn’t eaten in two days. My mom lent me R500 so I could buy Futurelife and a bag of apples for the three of us.”

The trio hired their first employee soon after launching Brand Cartel, and after prioritising salaries and bills, there wasn’t much leftover. “Dillon actually paid us R67 each one month,” laughs Marco. “That’s what was left — although I still can’t believe he actually sent it to us.” It was at this point that the young business owners realised they needed credit cards if they were going to make it through their start-up phase — not an easy feat when your bank balance is under R100.

Related: What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

“Looking back, those days really taught us the value of money,” says Dillon

We spent a lot of time with very little, and we’re still careful with money today.” Through it all though, the partners kept their focus on building their business. “It almost didn’t work for a long time. We were young and naïve, but in a way, that was our strength. We didn’t have any responsibilities, and we’d never worked at agencies, which meant we had no idea how much you need to run an agency. We grew into it. It’s made us really good at what we do. All of our business has been referral business. It takes time, but we focused on being the best we could be and giving everything we had to our clients. Our differentiator was that we really cared, and were willing to offer any solutions as long as they aligned with our values.”

This is how Brand Cartel has grown from a social media agency into PR and Media Buying, SEO and PPC Strategy, Digital and Print Design, Web Development, Campaign Strategy and now an Influencer division. “It’s an incredibly competitive space with low barriers to entry, which meant it was easy to launch, but tougher to build a client base,” says Renate. “I’d sometimes cry in my car between sales pitches, and then walk in smiling. We had no idea if we’d make it.”

The perseverance has paid off though. Strong foundations have laid the groundwork for exponential growth over the past year, with turnover growing almost ten-fold in 2017 thanks to relationship-building, strong referrals and fostering an internal culture and set of values that has driven the business to new heights as a team.

Like many start-ups, Renate, Dillon and Marco have made their fair share of hiring mistakes, but as the business grew and matured, the young entrepreneurs began to realise that the success of their business lay in the quality of their team and the values they stood for.

This meant two things: Those values needed to be formalised so that they could permeate everything Brand Cartel does, and they needed a team that lived, breathed and believed in them.

“We’ve had some nasty experiences,” admits Dillon. “You should always hire slowly and fire fast, and for five years we did the opposite. We’ve hired incredible people, but we’ve also ended up with individuals who didn’t align with our values at all, and that can destroy your culture.

Dillon, Marco and Renate realised they needed to put their values on paper. “We did an exercise and actually plotted people based on a score grading them against our values, so we knew where our issues were. We knew what we wanted to stand for, and who was aligned with those values. We were right; within a few weeks resignations came in and we mutually parted ways.”

The team that stayed was different. They embraced Brand Cartel’s values, and more importantly, it gave the partners a hiring blueprint going forward.

“Values are intangibles that you somehow need to make real, so it’s important to think about the language you use, and how they can be used in a real-world work context,” says Marco.

The team has done this in a number of ways. First, they chose ‘value phrases’ that can be used in conversation, for example, ‘check it, don’t wreck it’, and ‘are you wagging your tail?’ Team members can gently remind each other of the value system and focus everyone on a task at hand simply by referring to the company’s values. “In addition, when someone is not behaving according to those values, you can call them out on the value, which is an external thing, rather than calling them out personally,” explains Dillon.

Related: How Matthew Piper And Karidas Tshintsholo Launched Their First Business From Their UCT Dorm Rooms

Second, all performance reviews are based on the values first. This means everyone in the organisation begins any interaction from a place of trust, knowing they are operating according to the same value system.

“When you’re in a production environment with jobs moving through a pipeline, there can be problems and delays,” explains Marco. “Instead of pointing fingers when something is over deadline or a mistake is made, our team can give each other the benefit of the doubt and work together. They trust each other, which creates cohesion. We all work as a team, which impacts the quality of our work and the service we offer our clients.”

The system is simple. Coaches will step in first if there is an issue before it escalates to the Head of Team Experience, Nicole Lambrou. If Nicole is called in, she will address the problem head on. “Inevitably it’s something fixable,” says Marco. “By addressing it immediately and in the context of our values it can be sorted out quickly. Ultimately, the overall quality of our team improves, and we are a more cohesive unit.”

The founders have seen this in action. “I recently arrived at a client event and three different people came up to me and complimented my team on the same things — all of which aligned with our values. Everyone at Brand Cartel lives them, internally and externally,” says Renate.

The value system has also shaped how the team hires new employees. “We used to meet people and hire for the position if they could do the job,” says Renate. “But then we started realising that anyone can hold up for an hour or two in an interview. You only learn who they really are three months and one day later.

“We need people who walk the talk, and we really only had a proper measurement of that once we articulated our values. Our interview style has changed, but so has what we look for.”


Here are the seven values that Dillon, Marco and Renate developed based on what they want their business to look like, how they want it to operate, and what they want to achieve, both internally, and in the market place.

1. Play with your work

Our goal is for everyone on our team to become so good at what they do that it’s no longer work. Once that happens you love your job because you’re killing it. It’s why sportsmen are called players, not workers, and it starts with the right mindset.

2. Wag your tail

The idea behind this value stems from Dale Carnegie, who said ‘have you ever met a Labrador you don’t like?’ In other words, we all respond well to people who are friendly. It needs to be genuine though, so again, it’s a mindset that you need to embrace.

We live these values whether we’re at the office or meeting clients. If you go into each and every situation with joy and excitement, from meeting someone new to a new brief coming in, you’ll be motivated and excited — and so will everyone around you.

3. Check it, don’t wreck it

The little things can make big differences. Previously it was too easy to pass the buck, which meant mistakes could — and did — happen. Once you instil a sense of ownership and create a space where people are comfortable admitting to a mistake however, two things happen. First, things get checked and caught before there’s a problem. Second, people will own up if something goes wrong. This can help avoid disasters, but it also leads to learnings, and the same thing not happening again.

4. What’s Plan B (aka make it happen)

We don’t want to hear about the problem; come to us with solutions, or better yet, already have solved the problem and made it happen. We reached a point where we had too many people coming to us with every small problem they encountered, or telling us that something wasn’t working so they just didn’t do it.

That wasn’t the way we operated, and it definitely wasn’t the way we wanted our company to operate. We also didn’t want to be spoon feeding our team. It’s normal for things to go wrong and problems to creep in — success lies in how those problems are handled.

Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, so we embrace them instead, encouraging everyone on our team to continuously look for solutions. For example, the PR department holds a ‘keep the paw-paw at Fruit & Veg City’ meeting every morning, where we deliberately look for where problems might arise so that we can handle them before they do. We start with what’s going wrong and then move to what’s going right. You need to give your team a safe and transparent space to air problems though. We don’t escalate. We need to know issues so that we can collectively fix them, not to find fault.

Related: The 5-Hour Rule Used By Bill Gates, Jack Ma And Elon Musk

5. Put your name to it

It’s about pride in work and making it your own. When someone has pride in what they’re doing, they’ll not only put in extra time and effort, but they’ll pull out all the stops to make their creative pop, or go the extra mile for a client.

We need to find the balance between great quality work and fast output though. One way we’ve achieved this is by everyone reviewing the client brief and then committing to how long their portion will take.

When someone gives an upfront commitment, they immediately take ownership of the job. It took time for us to find our groove with this, but today we can really see the difference. Our creative coaches also keep a close eye on time sheets and where everyone is in relation to the job as a whole to keep the entire brief on track. If someone is heading towards overtime we can immediately ask if something is wrong and if they need assistance.

We also celebrate everything that leaves our studio. Every morning we have a mandatory 15-minute catch up session where we check in on four core things: How am I feeling (which allows us to pick up on the mood in the room and the pressure levels of our teams); What’s the most important thing I did yesterday; What’s the most important thing I’m going to do today (both of which give intention and accountability); and ‘stucks’, issues that team members need help with. We then end off with our achievements so that we can celebrate them together.

6. Keep it real (aka check your ego at the door)

We believe in transparency. At the end of the day we’re all people trying to achieve the same thing, but it’s easy for ego to creep in — especially when things go wrong. You can’t be ego-driven and solutions-orientated. If clients or team members are having a bad day, you need to be able to focus on the solution. Take ego away and you can do just that. It’s how we deal with stucks as well. We can call each other out and say, ‘I’m waiting for you and can’t do my job until I receive what you owe me,’ and instead of getting a negative, ego-driven reaction, a colleague will say, ‘sorry, I’m on it.’

7. Walk the talk

For us, ‘walk the talk’ really pulls all our other values together. It’s about being realistic and communicating with each other. If you’ve made a mistake or run into a problem, tell your client. Don’t go silent while you try and fix it. Let them know what’s happening and fill them in on your plan of action.

Walk the talk also deals with the industry you’re in. For example, if you’re a publicist, you need to dress like a publicist, talk like a publicist, and live your craft. In everything we do, we keep this top of mind.

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