Connect with us

Entrepreneur Profiles

Big Concerts: Attie Van Wyk

An accountant with musical aspirations talks to entrepreneur about how he built South Africa’s biggest live events promotions company.




Attie van Wyk of Big Concerts

It was Courtney Love who, perhaps in a rare and sober moment of clarity, said, “Rock is all about writing your own script; it’s all about pioneering.” She may not (yet) be one of the artists promoted by Attie van Wyk, but her statement couldn’t be more true or descriptive of his journey. It’s a journey that has seen an accountant with musical aspirations become a hit song writer, band member, music producer, tour organiser, and concert promoter extraordinaire. Wherever South African music and live concert boundaries were being pushed, Van Wyk – the founder and CEO of Big Concerts – was at the forefront. In the process, he’s built a business that’s gained the respect of the international heavyweights in music.

The story of Big Concerts started in 1992 when, after helping to negotiate the end of the cultural boycott against South Africa, Van Wyk brought out Paul Simon, one of the first international acts South Africa had seen for a long, dark time during Apartheid. But, to understand the success of Big Concerts, you need to look further back to when Van Wyk’s musical career started. It was here that the seeds of passion for making and promoting great music were planted, and where Van Wyk first started to prove that he could move obstacles and make things happen.

“Back in the 80s I was a songwriter for a band called Ballyhoo when I got an offer from the Dephon Record Company, which was part of the Gallo stable, to join them as a music producer. So I quit the band and joined them, producing records mainly for music targeted at the black market in those days,” he says. Between 1982 and 1992, Van Wyk produced over 120 albums, including many for Yvonne Chaka Chaka for whom he also wrote songs. “At that time, I realised that the only way to sell records was to put the artists on a touring circuit.” The fact that no one else was doing it at the time and that he knew precious little about live music tours and concerts didn’t deter him from, as Van Wyk puts it, ‘giving it a bash’.

“We went on tour and played all over the country on weekends,” he recalls, “but in the process I realised that I was paying a lot of money to sound and stage companies, so I figured I may as well go and buy my own staging system. I also ended up buying my own trucking to transport us all over the country while we toured.”

The tours worked and Van Wyk helped to shoot local artists to relative stardom. “Around that time I teamed up with another guy who had a lighting system. I had the sound, we both invested in staging and we started promoting shows,” he relates. Big Concerts was officially born in 1989. But, the cultural boycott prevented the company from securing international artists, so Van Wyk started out with music festivals that featured local talent such as Mango Groove, Johnny Clegg and Lucky Dube, teaming up with local radio stations to bring out a series of  ‘Big Birthday Concerts’.

And then came the tipping point. “I got a call from a guy by the name of Ray Phiri, a guitar-player for the band, Stimela, which played on Paul Simon’s Graceland album. He was in New York with Paul who he said was very interested in putting on a concert in Southern Africa, so I flew to New York to meet them and on my return, started working on getting the cultural boycott lifted,“ says Van Wyk.
His skills in diplomacy, now honed to a fine point after years of dealing with difficult artists and their agents, stood him in good stead during that time. “We did it through the Musicians’ Union and it involved a lot of negotiations with the ANC, Mandela, Pik Botha and the like, to get buy-in from all sides,” he relates.

Many will remember the Paul Simon concert as one that signalled the beginning of a new era for live entertainment in South Africa, but it was also one that lost Van Wyk a lot of money and got his offices bombed. “Hand grenades were thrown into our offices in Johannesburg to protest against the lifting of the boycott, and although Paul Simon said the show should go on, there were protests outside the arenas and people were afraid,” he explains. The show went ahead but tickets didn’t sell and Big Concerts took a R1,2 million knock – a lot of money in 1992.

The process was invaluable as a business learning experience, as Van Wyk outlines: “We were totally green and there was nothing to work from, no existing concert route and we had no idea what anything would cost. We didn’t even have a template for how to budget – we literally pulled figures out of the air and scribbled them down on pieces of paper. So the tour was nerve-wracking but it gave us yardsticks. At least we knew afterwards what things like sound, lighting, accommodation, transport and equipment would cost. And it was from there that the costing system and template we use today – which has over 150 detailed items – was developed. Now if an act comes to the country, we have both a budget template and a timeline template. In business you learn from your mistakes and we certainly learned from that early experience.”

When an opportunity arose to promote Chris de Burgh on tour the following year, Van Wyk was understandably nervous, but his fears proved unfounded. “We initially went on offer with 12 shows around the country and ended up selling 21 shows to 105 000 people. It was through the roof,” he says, smiling. Duran Duran followed and the floodgates to international talent opened, with the company promoting 12 to 16 international artists annually.

But, bringing out bands like U2, Billy Joel, Sting, Robbie Williams, Michael Jackson and Phil Collins is not like promoting a local artist on a weekend tour. It requires
professionalism, savvy, extraordinary negotiation skills and a fine-tuned feel for how the industry works. Van Wyk had a lot to learn. “I worked in Swaziland on a concert with Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading and Jonathon Butler, and there I met an international promoter called Andrew Zweck who today is involved in Live Nation, the biggest promoter in the world. He took me through the ropes and taught me a lot about the business, the line items, how sponsors work, what contracts need to be included and the like,” he says. But, while being a pioneer meant he had to learn everything from scratch, it had its advantages as well, one of which was that Big Concerts could take ownership of opportunities ahead of competitors. In this respect, Van Wyk has been smart. Today the company owns a substantial chunk of the live events value chain and derives additional income streams from merchandising and liquor sales at shows. What started out as a team comprising Van Wyk, his wife, Isa, and an accountant, has grown into a company with eight departments that source the talent, organise and promote the tours, manage the shows, secure sponsorship, handle production and technical issues, keep the artists happy while they’re here and negotiate offers with agents.

This last item is perhaps the most trying part of the business and one for which Van Wyk takes personal responsibility. “It involves a lot of negotiating, a great deal of diplomacy and occasionally having to bite your tongue,” he laughs. “While the artists are mostly lovely people, their agents can make impossible demands and you go back and forth with an offer, listening to comments like, ‘My artist won’t get out of bed for that money!’ and reworking things until it’s signed and everyone’s happy.”

But he’s quick to point out that he still makes mistakes. He gives a recent example: “We always put our artists up in five-star accommodation, but in the past we’ve not stipulated which hotel. It’s never been a problem before but I had one incident recently where artists wanted to be put up in a specific five-star hotel that costs four times what other five-star hotels cost. And offers are accepted subject to what’s known as an artist’s rider, which is a 50 page document that details, amongst other things, the fact that the hotel is to be chosen by the artist. I’m afraid I lost that argument. So you learn things all the time,” he says.

After the personal demands of artists, price is often the biggest point of negotiation, and something that in the past few years has caused Van Wyk no small amount of frustration. He explains how a competitor promoter, keen to make their mark by landing big name artists, regularly undercut his prices. The promoter in question has since become embroiled in concert disasters, breach of contract litigation and artists subsequently cancelling their acts – but not before they did some damage. “We’d get involved in negotiations where an agent would want to go with us, but would need us to match the price that the other promoter was offering. And the easiest thing is to go back to the spreadsheet and force-fit things, increasing the ticket price for example, to make the numbers work. On paper it looks great but then you encounter public resistance in ticket sales, which don’t go as well as they should. I did it once or twice because I wanted the business but it went against my gut feel and in the end with a recent act, I pulled my offer and walked away from the deal,” explains Van Wyk.

On that point, he adds how important it is to read the market correctly when determining the price of tickets. “It takes five things to pull off a successful event – a happy audience, acknowledgement from artists that the tour was successful and professionally run, sponsors who get a return on their investment, good media appraisal and last but not least, money in the bank for the promoter. There have been times when I’ve had the first four, but not the last one, and the reason is usually ticket sales,” he says. Sometimes the market is flooded, or perhaps the entertainment Rand is being spread too thinly between things like cell phones, casinos or the lottery. “You also learn that an older artist will attract a demographic that’s older, in a higher LSM bracket and therefore able to spend more money. Also, no artist has a fixed price because certain artists mean more in certain territories,” he explains.

Pulling off successful (and profitable) events time and time again has kept the big names coming back and Big Concerts has developed a reputation for excellence that means it can stand shoulder to shoulder with top-class promoters from around the world. The company was recently included in the Pollstar list of the World’s Top 100 Promoters, reaching position 21. No other African promoter features in this Top 100. The secret lies partially in being driven to deliver excellence at all costs and in partnering with the right people. “Over the years we’ve put a lot of pressure on the technical companies we work with to meet international standards and invest in state-of-the-art equipment. It’s been in their interests to do so because they get so much business from us, but it has also been an important factor in our own success, and the feedback we get from artists time and time again is that we are certainly on a par, but probably more slick than promoters in bigger countries,” says Van Wyk.

This undoubtedly has a lot to do with Van Wyk’s energy. He may be 55 but he shows no signs of slowing down. He can still party up a storm with the likes of
Enrique Iglesias (although he admits it wears him out) and he says his sons help to keep him in touch with who’s up and coming on the music scene. “I have all the latest stuff on my iPod,” he laughs, and then launches into rapturous praise for Muse’s latest live concert DVD filmed at Wembley. He knows too that the music industry is a rapidly changing one but like all pioneers, he’s got his finger on that pulse too.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.


Entrepreneur Profiles

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.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Players: Michel M. Katuta and Thabo Mphate
  • Company: Afritorch Digital
  • Established: 2017
  • Visit:
  • 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.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

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.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

“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.

Take note

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.

Continue Reading

Entrepreneur Profiles

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.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Player: Jason English
  • Position: CEO
  • Company: Prommac
  • Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
  • Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
  • Visit:
  • 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.

Jason English

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

“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.

Related: Establishing The Wheels Of Change In Business

“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.”

Exponential growth

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.


Continue Reading

Entrepreneur Profiles

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.

Nadine Todd




Vital stats

  • 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:

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.”

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

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.

Do this

Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.

Continue Reading


FREE E-BOOK: How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Sign up now for Entrepreneur's Daily Newsletters to Download​​