One of the first things you notice about Bryan Hirsch is his energy. It literally oozes out of every pore, so when you learn he will soon celebrate his 60th birthday, you’re nothing if not humbled. This is a man who manages assets worth hundreds of millions of rands for his clients, appears on two national radio shows that generate over 100 calls a week for him to return (something he does with almost fanatical dedication), writes a column for Business Day, has written his own book on financial planning and still finds time to be a dynamic and driven CEO for the South African branch of Pioneer Financial Planning, making him responsible for operations in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He’s also beaten cancer.
And Hirsch shows no sign of slowing down. If there’s anyone who is up to the challenge of leading the way in financial planning, this is the man. He has his finger on the pulse of change and a vision for the future that is innovative and exciting. There’s not much that he hasn’t seen, done and learnt during his lifetime of involvement in this industry. His experience shows, not only in the financial advice he dispenses, but also in the wisdom that colours his approach to life and people.
Entrepreneur: Who are your customers and how do you identify your best prospects?
Bryan Hirsch: One of the important lessons I learnt early on in my business life was never to underestimate a prospect. You have to remember that to each person their money is important, and a small amount of money is probably more important to someone who is not wealthy than a large amount is to a millionaire. Our customers are people who need simple solutions to protect themselves or people who have money to invest. They include older people with small amounts of money, younger people who want to start a portfolio and very wealthy people who have hundreds of millions to invest.
E: Most companies talk about their good service, but many fall short of the promise. What is your attitude to service?
BH: In terms of service, I have one simple business philosophy: to provide clients with the same service that I would expect if I was a customer of this organisation. I am fanatical about that and some people find it difficult to live up to the high standard I set in the organisation, but it’s something I will never compromise on. I give good service and I call people back.
E: Many entrepreneurs have great product or service ideas, but fall short in one key component of their business design: how they capture value. How do you capture value?
BH: In one of three ways. Firstly, we earn commission from traditional insurance products. We also earn fees which are a predetermined percentage on investment products that we sell. Finally, I charge consulting fees, although we don’t look to that to make money. A key driver of value capture is new customers. The customers we have are our stock in trade; they need to be serviced and retained, but the growth of our business has got to come from new customers. And then we also give clients asset advice, placing their assets with various institutions.
E: One of the drivers of business success is the re-engineering of a company’s business design to meet the ever-changing needs of the business’s customer segment. Has your business design changed over the years and why?
BH: It has definitely changed and is not at all the same as it was 10 years ago. This is because, historically, we operated in a far more segmented way, whereas our approach today is far more holistic. This change was precipitated by the fact that, in the past, people lapsed policies because they didn’t understand why they were buying them, they didn’t understand how those products were supposed to fit into their bigger picture. Now we look at a client’s bigger picture and sell them products that fit into this picture. I liken it to a jigsaw puzzle and believe that people should never make an investment, or add a piece to their puzzle, if they don’t understand where it fits in. So today, we don’t sell products – we look at what the individual’s needs are and tailormake holistic financial planning solutions according to their needs and wants.
BH: Although I initially looked at actuarial studies as a potential career, all my life I have been an outgoing, uninhibited individual and I found I was very good at sales. As a youngster I used to be a Cub and we’d do ‘Bob a Job’, where you’d earn a bob for doing a job for someone. This was when I was eight years old and every year I kept a book of what jobs I did at people’s homes and would go back the following year and suggest an increase for the same job.
When I was 10, I was also a Cub reporter for The Star newspaper and I used to get scores from three different sports fields on a Saturday, phone them through and get paid two-and-six for each one. I had three grounds: the Wanderers, Zoo Lake and Pirates. I couldn’t handle all of them myself, so I had people working for me at each of the grounds. One of my co-directors’ mothers looked at all this and said to me: “You’re a born salesperson, you’re a good prospector and you’re organised. You’re an ideal person to enter the insurance sales industry.” I didn’t even know what insurance was, but I chose it when I left school and learned the business from A-Z in London and South Africa, working for Legal & General, and then at Liberty Life.
BH: My sporting interests forced me to go into sales and there’s a bit of a story behind that. In 1968 I was working for Liberty Life as a junior clerk and the British Lions were playing against Transvaal at Ellis Park, so I asked my boss if I could go and watch the rugby, pointing out to him that I wouldn’t take lunch and that I always come in very early to work every morning. He said “no”, and that afternoon Transvaal beat the British Lions. I wasn’t at the game, but almost every other male in the company had gone, so the next day I resigned. Donald Gordon, who headed up the company at the time, phoned and asked me what I was doing. He negotiated with me, and said he would pay me a salary for three months while I tried selling on my own and if I didn’t make it, I could come back to the company. So I stayed at Liberty Life and started selling. I have never looked back.
BH: There are a number of things I try and do. On my first prospecting call, I don’t try and sell anything. I always tell people upfront what business I am in and that I’d like to come and see them. And the times when people do turn me away, I keep their name and phone them back in six months. Keeping in touch is so important because this business is about building new relationships and opening doors for the future. Some of the best advice I have heard is that successful people stop being successful because they stop doing what they hated doing initially, but that made them successful in the first place. When it comes to sales, people hate cold canvassing because they don’t like no’s. In this business you have to be meeting new people all the time. You have to keep finding new customers. And sometimes that takes doing what you don’t like doing.
BH: I am innovative in my ability to cross-pollinate. I’ve never seen a customer in the light of buying one product. When I see an individual, I think of them holistically and how I can help them in all aspects, with pension funds, medical aid and investments. I also make it my business to understand people’s business so I can always identify opportunities. I keep my eyes and ears open all the time for opportunities.
E: Can you think of an example of something that you have failed at and learnt from?
BH: I failed dismally with many business partners. I am a very hard taskmaster and sometimes tried to get my own way. It was only later on that I learned there are different ways of doing things. I also learned a great lesson: that you don’t have to get to the top of every mountain. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, get off the mountain. Or go another route. I believe that prolonged stress for any activity can lead to some sort of illness. In my case I got cancer and then a relapse, all because I always had to climb every mountain or because every challenge had to be successfully completed. That is why the lesson of not having to climb every mountain changed my life. You can fail sometimes; you don’t have to succeed in everything. People strive for two reasons: the desire to succeed and a fear of failure. Both are powerful motivators, but one is negative and one is positive. I learned to stick to the positive one and that it’s okay to fail.
BH: Brian Joffe, because he’s a leader of leaders, a man with something special who has been able to get people to follow him. Mark Lamberti of Massmart Holdings, because he went into an industry that had many players and competitors and he created something enormously successful. Donald Gordon – he’s been my mentor and has created two world industries in one lifetime; insurance in South Africa and property in the UK. Mark Weinberg in the UK, who revolutionised the whole insurance business, and then Jack Welch – I read everything he writes.
BH: The best education I got came from belonging to the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO), where I interacted with 10 other execs on a monthly basis. It’s about making company presidents better through education. You can be invited to join if you’re under the age of 45, have a certain turnover and a certain number of staff. It was a place where I could always talk about anything from life to business and knew that the other execs there had nothing other than my best interests at heart for the time that we would meet. It helped me to find a lot of solutions. I also learned a lot from my clients about service and good advice, and about how well their families were taken care of after they themselves passed away.
BH: For the next year or two I will certainly be here – we have a story to tell and one of the things we are looking at is to list our international business in South Africa. After that I need to find someone to take over from me. This is a personal business and when you are dealing with individuals, you need to ensure that you can still deliver what you initially promised. We want to make sure that even when I am not here in the future, we can still provide clients with the same service they are used to, all the time ensuring that we give them peace of mind and creative solutions.
Two critical challenges facing business today
1. Keeping people motivated and understanding what their role is in the company. It is critical that people realise how their personal needs are aligned to the corporate needs. In addition, so few companies keep their staff fully in the picture in terms of the successes in the company. People want to work for successful companies and informing them of successes helps keep them motivated.
2. Getting people to understand that there is nothing wrong with saying they don’t know how to do something. It doesn’t make you a bad employee. It’s better to ask 10 times and learn than to make mistakes because you pretended to know what you were doing.
Valuable advice for entrepreneurs
Afritorch Digital An Overnight Success That Was Years In The Making
By any standard, local start-up AfriTorch Digital has seen phenomenal growth and traction. But, while the company’s success might seem quick and effortless, there is a lot of hard work behind it.
- Players: Michel M. Katuta and Thabo Mphate
- Company: Afritorch Digital
- Established: 2017
- Visit: afritorchdigital.com
- About: Afritorch Digital assists research agencies in conducting market research through its in-depth knowledge of the African continent and its use of the latest digital technologies.
There is a saying that goes: It takes years to become an overnight success. While a company or individual might seem to enjoy sudden (and seemingly effortless) success, there is often more to the story. The results are usually public and well-publicised, but the years of hard work that came before go unnoticed.
Local start-up AfriTorch Digital is a great example of this. Since launching in May 2017, the business has seen excellent growth. “To be honest, we were very surprised by the level of success. Things progressed a lot quicker than we anticipated,” says co-founder Thabo Mphate.
“All the goals we had hoped to reach in four or sixth months, we managed to hit in the first month. It was just amazing.”
Preparing to launch
While AfriTorch Digital has certainly seen quick growth and success, it would be a mistake to assume that the same is true of the two founders. For them, the creation of AfriTorch was years in the making.
“The goal was always to start our own business,” says Thabo. “I think we’re both entrepreneurs at heart, and we saw an opportunity to create a unique kind of business that offered an innovative solution to clients, but we also realised the value of getting some experience first. Without the knowledge, experience, network and intimate understanding of the industry landscape, getting AfriTorch off the ground would have been incredibly difficult.”
Entrepreneurs tend to dislike working for other people. They want to forge their own path. However, as AfriTorch Digital’s case illustrates, spending time in the industry that you’d like to launch your business in is tremendously useful.
“Finding clients when we launched AfriTorch was relatively easy,” says company co-founder and CEO Michel Katuta. “One reason for this, I think, was that we were offering potential clients a great solution, but the other was that we had established a name for ourselves in the industry. People knew us. We had worked for respected companies, and we had done work for large clients. So, when we launched, we were able to provide a new start-up with credibility in the industry.”
The Lesson: Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t always start with the launch of a company. Spending time in an established business, gaining experience and making contacts, can be invaluable. Very often, it’s the relationships you build during this time and the knowledge you accumulate that will help make your company a success.
Solving a problem
Everyone knows that launching a successful business means solving a burning problem, but what does that mean in practice? Aren’t all the burning problems already being addressed? And how do you attempt this without any money?
Thabo and Michel identified a small group of potential clients with a burning problem. Crucially, it was a problem that no one outside of the research field could have identified. Having spent years in the trenches, they saw a massive gap waiting to be filled.
“A decade ago, researchers were still debating whether the future of the field was in the digital space. That debate is now over. Everyone agrees that online is the way to go. What once took months now takes days or hours, and the cost of research can be reduced by a factor of five,” says Michel.
“But researchers are not technology specialists. If made available, they are eager to adopt digital tools, but they aren’t eager to develop these tools themselves. That’s not their area of expertise.”
AfriTorch Digital stepped up to provide these tools. Katuta has a background in software engineering, so he could approach research problems with the eye of a tech specialist. Very soon, research agencies were lining up to make use of AfriTorch Digital’s services.
“We work with research agencies that conduct research on behalf of their clients. We provide the digital tools needed to conduct research online, and we provide the online communities. A big reason for our success is that we understand Africa. A lot of companies want to conduct research in Africa, but traditionally, this has been very hard. There was a lack of access and a lack of infrastructure that made research very hit-and-miss. Thanks to the continent’s adoption of mobile technology, it’s now much easier. If you have the technological know-how and an understanding of the environment, you can do amazing things,” says Michel.
The Lesson: Find a niche and own it. Research agencies might not have seemed like an obvious and lucrative market, but having spent time in the industry, the AfriTorch founders were able to identify clients who would be desperate for their offering. Spending time in an industry will help you see where the opportunities lie.
Before launching a business, get to know an industry from the inside out. This will give you an unparalleled view into gaps you can service.
Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’
Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.
- Player: Jason English
- Position: CEO
- Company: Prommac
- Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
- Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
- Visit: prommac.com
- About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.
Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.
Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.
“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.
“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.
“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.
“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.
“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.
“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.
“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.
“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.
“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.
“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.
“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.
“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.
“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”
When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.
Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?
You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.
- Player: Billy Selekane
- Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
- About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
- Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com
We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.
In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.
“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.
The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.
“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.
Related: Billy Selekane
The monkey on your back
“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”
Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.
“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.
“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.
“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.
“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”
Getting out of the monkey business
To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.
According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.
First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”
Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.
“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”
Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.
“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”
If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.
Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.
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