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How Billion Rand Business USN Was Launched From a Small Kitchen

USN might have started small, but Albé Geldenhuys had big plans. It’s taken him 15 years, but he’s built a business that has an international footprint, he’s left both local and international competitors in his dust, and he’s done it through a mix of savvy decisions, costly mistakes, and never slowing down – not for one minute.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats:

  • Player: Albé Geldenhuys
  • Company: USN
  • Launched: 1999
  • What they do: Sports nutrition and supplementation
  • Group turnover: R1 billion
  • Visit:

The Start-up Story

Starting Small, Thinking Big

Lesson one, when you launch a business, know where you want to go. For Geldenhuys, who had consistently been the Health & Racquet Club’s top performing salesman (by a long margin), chasing and achieving targets isn’t just a vocation, it’s his life’s blood. Even the name he gave to his fledgling business marks this mindset: Ultimate Sports Nutrition (USN) was chosen because of the US in its name.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

“At the time, there was a perception that US brands were the best. I wanted to capitalise on that, and the name subtly suggested an international product.”

Like any truly successful entrepreneur, Geldenhuys is a consummate salesman, and he understood from the get go that businesses need to be trading. “At first, I wasn’t even thinking about launching a product line, or even a business. I just wanted to be selling product and making a small profit.”

He bought two product ranges wholesale, Muscle Science and EAS, and sold them to health shops. “The problem was that I started getting complaints. Muscle Science wasn’t a great product, and EAS was a pricey US product.”

Geldenhuys spotted a gap in the market. “What was interesting is that this was already a busy market. It was small and saturated, so there wasn’t really room for another competitor. The available products were either too expensive, or poor quality. I was convinced that if I offered a good quality product at an affordable price, I’d have a shot.”

And USN was born. “I researched formulations in magazines and through supplement reviews. At the time Creatine was a big deal, so I bought barrels of it from Crest Chemicals, bought bottles, mixed my formulations and bottled it.”

He started selling to everyone: Friends, people he’d met at the Hatfield gym, and most importantly Blue Bulls rugby players who also worked out at the gym. “I targeted anyone. I had no strategy beyond just sell, sell, sell,” he recalls. The ‘non’ strategy worked though, because soon supplement shops started contacting Geldenhuys directly, particularly the in-house Health & Racquet shops. Word spread: If you wanted to buy good quality sports supplements at an affordable price, Albé was your guy.

Bootstrapped Basics

As a start-up, USN was a money-in, money-out business. “I could only buy raw materials as and when I had the cash. Everything we made went back into product. We kept our overheads incredibly lean, and just focused on growing sales, and having enough product to meet demand.”

The entrepreneur was thinking about how to scale the business’s growth. He realised that just manufacturing and packaging the best product at a reasonable price, with a diverse offering wasn’t enough.

“Making sales always goes back to the same key question: What do your consumers really need from you? At first, the answer to that question was a good product at an affordable price. We experienced rapid growth based on simply meeting a need in the market. But we wanted to be bigger, and that meant expanding our market. So I needed to ask the question again.

“Now what do our consumers need from us? The answer was simple. They needed to understand how to use our products. The demand was there, but most people weren’t actually sure how to use sports supplements properly. That was our in. We started educating the market, adding meal plans to our packaging, and focusing on telling people how to use what, and what the results would be if our various products were used correctly.”

By January 2000 USN was still operating from the kitchen. It had a turnover of R20 000 a month, and enjoyed a 60% gross profit, largely because it had no overheads, and the product sold below retail prices.

“We were proud of our turnover, but I was focused on the next step,” says Geldenhuys. “I approached ChemPure to assist with the products. I had market research, they had the raw materials.”

Related: How the Mad World Group Grew the Smart Way

ChemPure was housed within the CSIR, and agreed to incubate the still-small USN within its premises. It was a game changer for the start-up. They moved out of the kitchen, and within four months had grown their turnover from R20 000 to R160 000 a month. From that moment, USN started doubling its turnover every month.

Geldenhuys, his brother and girlfriend (soon to be wife) were a tiny team on fire. One of the key secrets to Geldenhuys’s success at this stage was that he always got paid. He made sure invoices were sent timeously, and he followed them up relentlessly until the cash was in the bank.

Growing in Leaps and Bounds

Since its inception, USN has enjoyed massive growth. From R20 000 a month turnover in January 2000, by the end of 2002 the product was in Springbok Pharmacies and Dis-Chems around the country, and monthly turnover was in the millions. Geldenhuys had achieved this feat without splashing out any cash on big advertising campaigns.

And then he got his first real curve ball. In early 2003, Dis-Chem bought a 50% stake in Evox, one of USN’s biggest competitors. Dis-Chem was USN’s biggest customer, so the move shook Geldenhuys to the core, as he knew Dis-Chem would promote Evox.

“I was always stingy with money. I liked a nice healthy bank balance. We’d enjoyed massive growth without spending anything on marketing, and that was the way I liked it. But I also knew it was time to spend some of our hard-earned cash to build brand awareness. It was time to advertise.”

True to form, Geldenhuys wasn’t just going to splash some cash around and hope it worked. He was going to be strategic about his marketing spend.

“Always look at yourself, and what you bring to the table. I had some great contacts in rugby thanks to my sales background at the Hatfield Health and Racquet club. This was my in.”

Geldenhuys approached Jaco van der Westhuizen, a Blue Bulls player who had been injured and was out of shape. “I made him an offer. ‘If you get into fantastic shape, using my products and sticking to a strict health routine, I’ll put your face everywhere – in Men’s Health magazine, on billboards – everywhere. You’ll get noticed. Everyone will be talking about you’.”

Within seven weeks van der Westhuizen went from flat and white to an athlete in incredible shape. “The transformation was unbelievable, and we made a huge splash of it. He was the talk of the town.” Within three months van der Westhuizen was on the Springbok team.

“It did wonders for both our brands. He was also our first USN brand ambassador.” The first of many. Geldenhuys soon realised that his business was long past start-up stage. “Spending money made us more money. We were creating more demand than ever before. People were talking about us. Turnover grew, profits grew and the business grew.”

Geldenhuys’s strategy to ensure Evox didn’t steal his market share was two pronged. He needed to send buyers into stores looking for the product, and once there ensure USN was the brand they actually bought.

“We returned to a strategy that we knew worked: People need to know how to use your product. The more consumers know, the more likely they are to buy, but the more the assistants in the stores know, the more likely they are to recommend your products, and so we trained the guys in stores. They must know more about USN than Evox. Period.”

Within six months the relationship between Evox and Dis-Chem ended. Evox had relaxed its marketing efforts, expecting Dis-Chem to sell for them, and Dis-Chem had done the same, expecting Evox to put in the work and prove the ROI of the acquisition.

The real winner was USN, which had used the challenge as a reason to up its game and focus on cementing an even bigger section of the market.

The Downside of Growth

In many respects, the business grew too fast. “I had my finger on everything: Stock, our warehouse twice a day, finance. I even stuck labels on bottles if I had to. By 2004, our sales were excellent, but our back-end was a mess. We’d grown too big for our structures. I wanted to focus on product development, advertising and sales. I didn’t want to be MD as well, but I knew we needed a detail-orientated person to focus on putting proper systems and processes in place. I appointed one of my managers, Johan Visagie, a lawyer friend who was excellent at the details, to be MD.

“I’m an autocratic leader. I tell everyone how things are going to happen, and they make them work. I’d go so far as to say that I rule by fear. My team listens to what I say, and the structure was always clear. Johan was a mild-mannered, diplomatic HR guy. Where I had been a firm task master, Johan was a gentler and friendlier boss, trying to operate within a framework that I had created. The company culture didn’t know how to adjust and we ended up losing some great people as a result.

Related: How to Become a Millionaire by Age 30

“The second problem was that although I needed a strong MD, Johan had previously worked under me. He didn’t come into the role and immediately embrace it as a position of equal footing. He didn’t push me or challenge me. I started feeling very alone in my own business.

“We’d enjoyed phenomenal growth, but I’d gone from knowing every single little detail in every spreadsheet, to walking through our own warehouse and feeling lost. I needed a strong partner who I could bounce ideas off and who would give me honest feedback. My MD told me what he thought I wanted to hear, instead of what I needed to hear, or what was actually happening in the business.”

As Visagie got more involved in the business, Geldenhuys’s feel for the numbers started slipping as gradually a distance opened up between him and the daily operations of the business.

It would take five years, Visagie stepping down and a new CEO (whose name we’ve chosen not to mention in this article) at the helm before the implications of that separation from the numbers would really make itself felt.

“In 2010, based on our market presence and massive sales figures, PSG approached us with an offer to purchase. I had no intention of selling – in fact, I’ve always believed that if someone approaches you to sell, it means you’re doing something right – but I invited them in to do an audit anyway.”

The results were devastating. “They discovered R12 million in stock losses. My CEO had projected a profit of R28 million, and instead, we had lost R12 million. It was unbelievable.”

Where Had Things Gone So Wrong?Albe-Geldenhuys-USN

Expensive Mistakes

“I had completely taken my eye off the ball, putting all my trust into our CEO while I continued to focus on sales, product development and launching USN overseas.”

The CEO in question had originally joined the business to head up a new sports drink division. He’d been an executive at Coca-Cola, and he understood the market. “Up until that point, we’d been pumping money into the new product but it wasn’t really working, and we were losing a lot of money. When he joined us he was exactly what I thought I needed: A silver back with lots of business experience. He talked an excellent game, and I thought we could benefit from his expertise.”

He soon went from running the drinks division to being appointed sales director. And then he left due to a job offer to run Coca-Cola in Kenya. “I was disappointed to lose him; I had really started to rely on him,” says Geldenhuys, which is why, when he wanted to return to the business – but this time as CEO – Geldenhuys readily agreed.

“Johan had served the business well, but I believed that a new CEO would be a better fit for the growth path I wanted to take USN on, so I agreed to his terms, he joined us and Johan stepped down.”

It would prove to be the single biggest and most expensive mistake Geldenhuys would make. “There were so many issues it’s almost painful to list them,” he says.

“His first hire was a drinks director who arrived and then two months later had a big back operation and was off for six months. He hired a financial manager who was indiscreet with salaries, which also cost us a lot, because we had to suddenly increase a number of salaries to keep staff.

“He had a penchant for employing people from big corporate backgrounds who wanted to follow the corporate systems that they knew. We had always done so well because at heart we were a small, agile, flexible entrepreneurial business and not a corporate. We were losing that magic.

“The most unexpected development, was how this man whom I liked and trusted to be the CEO that my company needed, suddenly became power hungry and started abusing his role. I’ve always believed that it’s good to put pressure on people, but you can’t treat them badly. Worst of all, he was making mistakes. He over-ordered products we had discontinued. He was running the business, and yet he had no idea what was happening in the business. He was over his head, but hiding it well as he talked a good game.”

And then PSG came along and revealed just how far the rot had spread. “At the time, our turnover was R300 million, with a projected profit of R28 million, which I was already unhappy about – where had our great margins gone? Then PSG came along and said, sorry, you’ve actually lost R12 million in stock, and you’re making no profit.

“I was floored. I’d put a lot of faith in my CEO. But I also realised I’d been a bit of an ostrich with my head in the sand. There were so many things I couldn’t control that I didn’t want to see what was actually going on. It was time for change.”

Related: Surprising Things 5 Entrepreneurs Do in Their Lunch Breaks

The Billion Rand Question

In 2010, USN had a high turnover, but the business was in shambles. Despite its size, failure was a real possibility – but not an option for Geldenhuys. One of the PSG auditors, Jurie Bezuidenhout, wanted to join the business.

“He had a private equity background and he really understood financials. He felt he could help me effect a turnaround. I also had an excellent sales manager who was about to leave because of the CEO. Things suddenly clicked into place for me. With a strong sales director, chief financial officer and myself focusing on the products, we could turn this business around, without an MD or a CEO.

“R10 million and an unpleasant fight later, we parted ways with the CEO. Next was our head of logistics. We had massive stock losses and our efficiencies had dropped. We started out with service levels of 95%, which meant that 95% of our stock reached the shelves where it was meant to go. Under the helm of our new logistics manager, this dropped to 72%. It cost me six months’ salary to get rid of him, but it was worth every cent.”

Now the business went back to basics.

“We’re not a logistics company. We never will be. We need to focus on what we’re good at, and outsource the areas that we’re clearly not good at. We got UTI Pharma in to run the logistics side of our business. We sold the warehouse and all of our trucks. We had to retrench staff, which is never easy, but ultimately we needed to make decisions for the good of the business.

“Today, we focus on developing products and marketing. As soon as we went back to our roots we started making more money, and more profits – and the refreshed focus allowed us to focus on international growth.”

The proof is in the figures. Since 2010 USN’s turnover has grown from R300 million to R1 billion, and with the brand having launched in the UK in 2009, Australia in 2012 and the US in 2015, that growth is set to continue into the stratosphere.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.


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.

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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.


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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.

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