Player: Peter Mountford
Company: CEO, Super Group Holdings
Awards: EY Southern Africa World Entrepreneur Award 2016
Group Turnover: R30 billion for the 2017 financial year
Market Cap: R12 billion.
When Peter Mountford was asked to return to Super Group as CEO in 2009, it was to help the holding company regroup and find its way back to profitability. The business had lost its way. Super Group itself had annualised pre-tax losses of approximately R1,5 billion. Its borrowings had escalated to R4,3 billion and there was virtually no shareholder equity left in the business as a result of aggregated losses.
Something had to be done if the group was to survive. Sharks were circling the waters, looking for opportunities for a hostile takeover. Attrition and even death were imminent. The whole situation was a lesson that even large, profitable businesses can lose their way. It was time to make some changes.
Q: How did Super Group find itself in such a precarious position in 2009?
In a sense, the group had lost direction from 2006 to 2009. Our core businesses are supply chain, fleet lease and dealership businesses. We had lost sight of that and expanded into a series of industrial products businesses, which were importing and assembling a range of Chinese trucks, material handling equipment and so on. These businesses had underperformed and were losing R1 billion per annum.
We’d also gone into a number of retail and panel beating-type investments, which were also underperforming. Revenues were down, borrowings were up, and many of the group’s businesses were experiencing a cash squeeze. The group found itself under enormous pressure as a result.
Q: Why were these businesses performing so poorly?
Each of the businesses needs to be looked at in its own right. The material handling and trucking-type businesses were entering a highly competitive South Africa landscape.
Super Group entered the market through businesses that largely imported and assembled products, but were competing against strong manufactured products and brands in South Africa. They just weren’t getting critical mass. This resulted in overstocking issues, which meant the businesses in that space were in a cash squeeze.
In the retail environment, Mica hardware had seen a failure of systems, and in response to that the business had moved to a royalty-based model. The value proposition for a franchisee is central procurement, administration, stock control, creditors and payments and collections.
A royalty model didn’t add value for us or them. Mica had a loss level of R500 million. We focused on turning that around, and managed to do so, but we knew a change in direction was necessary as well.
We realised reasonable value on the sale of Mica, and the business could have worked within the group, but we also recognised that our core interests weren’t in franchised brands that had building material retail interests.
In coming back to the group we did an environmental scan that pinpointed Super Group’s core competencies, and these were supply chain, fleet leasing and dealerships.
Q: What were the key elements of the turnaround strategy?
In a nutshell, you need to reduce costs, bring down — or even eradicate — debt, increase cash flow and improve your focus.
We placed significant emphasis on cash generation and the need to get our balance sheet back to where it should be. At that stage, Super Group’s asset value was largely held across 16 lending banks. We needed to re-establish ownership of the underlying net assets of the business, which meant we needed to start making a profit.
We spent three years focused on regenerating our three core business pillars, highlighting the importance of cash generation. We managed to turn the group around to modest profitability — R150 million pre-tax profit by 2010. By 2012 the core group businesses were starting to perform well, and we had paid back all of our borrowings, were in a net cash position, and had managed to re-establish ownership of the underlying net assets of the business.
Q: What did rebuilding your core competencies entail?
First, and most importantly, it meant exiting areas that were not part of our core competencies. We immediately exited the industrial products division. This was a massive burning platform for us, losing over R1 billion per annum.
We were then able to realise some fairly reasonable cash injections via the disposal of AutoZone, which yielded over R400 million, and Mica Hardware, which over time realised over R230 million.
After we jettisoned some of our underperforming areas, we could now focus on rebuilding our core competencies.
We recognised that while the dealership model isn’t the most profitable area of our business, it does have an important role to play. In a mobility sense it’s complementary to both supply chain and fleet lease operations.
Focusing on driving operating margins
We had a strong management team in place and so we focused on driving our operating margins as a percentage of sales from lagging areas of 1,5% up to where we are today at 3,2%. We chose one area to focus our attention on, and that was it. We paid attention to the numbers, and how we could achieve the numbers we were looking for.
Within this context the dealership model becomes good. It’s relatively modest in a capital intensity sense, and we could leverage our other businesses off the dealerships. As a result, we’ve grown our dealership interests quite nicely.
By 2009 our supply chain businesses had lost a significant portion of their customer base. They had a failing fleet scenario, with large elements of their fleets parked off.
We needed to re-establish some of the management levels and layers that no longer existed — starting with marketing and new business development departments. At the time we hardly had the ability to respond to tenders. Because of cost-cutting a lot of those elements had fallen by the wayside.
Q: Once you had regained a measure of control over the business and were back in a cash positive position, what was the next step?
By 2012 we were in a position to enter a more expansionary phase, which gave us the ability, with a very strong balance sheet, to start looking at what new business areas we wanted to enter in South Africa and abroad.
We did not repeat Super Group’s mistake of the past, which was to enter into completely new territories. Instead, we focused on opportunities that played into our core strengths.
In South Africa we identified four key growth areas.
- Fast foods distribution. This is a high-growth area. Our first acquisition was Digistics, a company that provides end-to-end supply chain solutions to many of the major fast food distributors in South Africa, from procurement to freight forwarding and clearing, warehousing, distribution and even collecting debtors’ book on behalf of the franchisor. This was absolutely within our core.
- Fuels, hazardous chemicals and bulk powders. Up until that point we had largely left this environment unchallenged and in the hands of our competitors, who had a very strong position in this sector. We invested in Haulcon, which at the time was a failing group, rebranded the business as SG Bulk, and have built that up into a successful bulk cement powder, hazardous chemicals and fuels distribution-type business.
- The bottom end of the retail market. Most of the supply chain players in our environment are focused on top-end and mid-trade distribution. Top-end encompasses the big five retail groups, and mid-tier retailers like 7-Eleven and Spar. We felt there was an opportunity to focus on effective distribution into the garage forecourts, cafés and spaza-type environments. The initiative has worked well, and really got legs from 2009 onwards. Today it’s a business that does R2,3 billion annual turnover.
- Pharmaceutical and medical distribution. This seemed like a major opportunity for us, given Super Group’s market-leading technology capabilities. One of our businesses has promoted and implemented a range of warehouse management, transport planning and optimisation, and visibility systems that enable our clients to have complete supply chain visibility of their products, right down to any performance against a standard activity-time specification.
This capability is important in the pharmaceutical environment. We apply it in the automotive parts sector, but it offers huge value in pharmaceutical and medical environments, where lot, batch control and visibility of a product is essential.
This is an area where we see huge potential, but of our four growth areas, has been the least successful to date. We haven’t achieved the traction we expected, as we’ve only been able to grow organically, and have not made acquisitions in the sector.
A few acquisitions have come to market, but they’ve been priced at very high and, we believe, unsustainable multiples by some of our competitors. We continue to grow those businesses organically and that remains a strategic agenda item for us but we’re also vigilant in recognising when PE multiples aren’t working for us. Experience has taught us that you can end up over-investing in a business that doesn’t perform.
Q: How do you determine whether a business is a good investment or not?
One of the realities of the new accounting standards is that purchasing businesses at investment value above net asset value sets off an intangible, and those intangibles have to be amortised to the income statement over the useful life of the technologies in those businesses, or over the average life of contracts in those businesses.
There are no free lunches in the acquisition space now, and we will not look at deals that are diluted in terms of our earnings per share, or that look unsustainable relative to the underlying core contracts and outstanding periods on those contracts.
The same is true of dealerships. We will not buy dealerships through a multiple of economic cycles; there are sensible price-earning multiples for these types of businesses and we will stick to those parameters.
Q: What has been Super Group’s international growth path?
We’ve grown Super Group’s fleet in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and invested into supply chain and dealership environments in Germany and the UK, respectively.
We’ve focused on areas we understand, and that require core time-critical distribution solutions, such as the automotive and medical industries in Germany.
Having an international footprint also mitigates our risk, from a currency perspective as well as market cycles.
Q: You’ve said that you believe in a small business culture with decisive business capabilities.
To be successful, I believe you need to retain a small business mindset. You need to be quick, decisive and entrepreneurial in your decision-making processes. We’ve resisted bogging the organisation down with administrative processes and documents, such as daily sales forecasts, daily order covers and daily cash flow forecasts.
We run a small executive team at group level, and keep our decision-making process highly efficient. We do read our financial dashboards carefully, but don’t get bogged down by bureaucracy for the sake of it. We’ve had a long and strong relationship with our non-executive directors, and have developed a mutual trust and understanding of our strategy and modus operandi, which has worked well because it allows us to make decisions quickly.
We’ve also carefully ensured that absolute management control is retained over all of the businesses within the group. Each business has a CEO who is directly accountable for all aspects of the businesses, removing the danger of a centralised decision-making process that undermines the entrepreneurial capabilities of businesses in various territories.
Bureaucratic matrix structures tend to be removed from the coal face; when that happens, the wrong decisions are made, which ultimately hurts the business.
Nicolas Bereng Is Creating An Industry Where None Exists in SA
Nicolas Bereng is a young entrepreneur with dreams of creating not only a new company, but a brand new industry as well. Here’s his advice on pursuing big, audacious (and scary) goals.
- Player: Nicolas Bereng
- Company:Brand LAIKI
- Est: 2015
- About: Brand LAIKI aims to combine education and entertainment in order to create an interest in books and reading amongst South African schoolchildren. One of the company’s chief aims is to organise events where reading and learning can be promoted. These events will make use of modern technologies like virtual and augmented reality.
- Visit: www.brandlaiki.com
Nicolas Bereng is trying to create an industry that doesn’t really exist in South Africa.
“We’re trying to establish the concept of edutainment locally,” says Nicolas. “It’s really not something that exists or that people understand at present. Even people who I would define as ‘edutainers’ don’t necessarily call themselves that.”
So how do you create a new industry?
“It isn’t easy,” he says. “It’s driven me to tears at times, but ultimately, I’m so passionate about the idea that I’m incapable of abandoning it. If you really care about something, it carries you through the hard times.”
Here is Nicolas Bereng’s advice on cultivating a winning mindset and pursuing audacious goals:
Passion breeds passion
I’ve managed to get buy-in from some large businesses and partners, despite the fact that I’m young and the company is still new. I think the reason people have been willing to meet with me is largely because of my passion. They might not quite ‘get’ the concept of edutainment yet, but my passion is infectious. They can sense that this isn’t a business idea I’ll simply abandon when things get hard. I’m determined to make this work, and people can see this, which increases their passion for it as well.
Change your perspective
My parents moved overseas in 2006, and after I finished school in South Africa, I spent quite a bit of time with them in Europe. Although I loved South Africa and knew that I wanted to return and build a business here, the experience was still immensely valuable. Travel changes your perspective — it makes you look at things in a new way. It’s easy to get trapped in your own environment and to believe that there is only one ‘correct’ way to do things.
Changing your environment can spark creativity, and can even make you think on a big scale.
In the age of information, ignorance is a choice
Thanks to modern technologies like the Internet, we have access to unimaginable amounts of information, so I always tell kids that there is no excuse for ignorance. We all have the tools needed to gain knowledge, we just need to embrace them.
Reading is everything
To me, reading is one of the most important activities anyone can engage in, which is why Brand LAIKI is focused on inspiring kids to read more using urban music and new technologies. Like travel, reading has the ability to broaden your horizons and to make you look at things in a new light. We might not all have the ability to travel regularly, but we can all read.
After school, I spent about a year just reading. I went through dozens and dozens of books. The knowledge I gained has proved invaluable. As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford not to read. There are so many brilliant books out there that can help you along your journey.
Be committed but flexible
I’m very passionate about the business, so I always say that I don’t have a ‘plan B’. I’m completely committed to making this work. However, I still try to be flexible in certain ways. I won’t abandon my dream, but I’m open to change. Business ideas change and evolve over time. You have to be willing to adapt. If you’re too married to your specific concept, you’ll struggle.
Be willing to walk away from opportunities
While it’s very important to be flexible and to adapt your ideas as necessary, you should also be able to walk away from opportunities when they become too constricting. Don’t allow your ideas to be watered down or changed entirely. This often means saying no to short-term success, which can be hard, but it’s important to focus on your long-term goals.
If you understand people, you understand business
When you get right down to it, business is ultimately about people. When you’re doing business, you’re dealing with people. Because of this, it’s important to try to understand people. What are their aims? What are their concerns? How can you help them? I think empathy is incredibly important. You can’t just use people. That’s not how you create a successful business in the long term.
How To Build A Billion-Dollar Brand
Being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult tasks you can take on.
Being an entrepreneur is one of the most difficult tasks you can take on. In fact, some people find it soul crushing if not done right. When done properly though, it can be the greatest thing you can do in your life.
Starting as an entrepreneur means knowing what you really want to do, what your passion is and how to deliver that to consumers. It’s not about pushing it on them but listening and seeing how you can serve them.
Most entrepreneurs stop as soon as they hit success and sell off their company, but not all of them. On this episode, we are joined by Michael Mente, who has been a massively successful entrepreneur since 2003 when he helped create the incredibly popular clothing company: Revolve.
Michael Mente dropped out of an entrepreneur program at the University of Southern California to become an entrepreneur by profession. He’s Currently the CEO and co-founder of Revolve and is set to bring in $400 million in sales this year. His company is considered the one-stop shop for clothing items designed by some of the hottest emerging designers.
Over the years, Michael began developing organic relationships with bloggers to represent the brand on a more realistic level. To do so, Revolve regularly holds trips for influencers to gather, relax and recreate the lifestyle of an ideal Revolve customer.
Michael saw a gap between affordable and high end items, which provided grounds for him to create an online shopping experience that falls in the middle. Supporting up-and-coming designers and digital influencers has become the core of Revolve’s growth and they decided to expand their digital offerings by launching a sister company, Forward, in 2008. Since then, Forward has grown to become a fashion powerhouse and go-to place for premier luxury fashion.
I loved Michael’s humble wisdom about what it has taken to create this kind of success in such a competitive industry.
Discover all of that and much more, on Episode 583.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
What Top Venture Capitalists Are Looking For In Your Start-Up
Keet van Zyl, one of South Africa’s top Venture Capital investors unpacks what he looks for in a start-up, what your pitch deck should include, and the red flags that investors walk away from. Would your start-up make the cut?
- Player: Keet van Zyl
- Company: Knife Capital
- Claim to fame: Keet is a Venture Catalyst with extensive high-growth investment experience. In 2010 he co-founded growth equity fund manager Knife Capital.
- What they do: Knife Capital is an independent growth equity investment firm focusing on innovation-driven ventures with proven traction. By leveraging knowledge, networks and funding, Knife Capital aims to accelerate the international expansion of entrepreneurial businesses that achieved a product/market fit in a beachhead market. They have offices in Cape Town and London and invest via a consortium of funding partnerships, including SARS section 12J Venture Capital Company: KNF Ventures and Draper-Gain Investments.
- Visit: www.knifecap.com
Why would you choose to back Gazelles over Unicorns, and what does this investment strategy mean for start-ups looking for investment in South Africa?
Unicorns are start-ups (sometimes without an established performance record), valued at $1 billion or more, normally pre-public listing (IPO).
Gazelles are young post-commercialisation phase businesses that are able to scale and maintain a high revenue growth rate off a decent base over a prolonged period. In the US, this is usually well in excess of 20% year-on-year for a period of three to four years or more, starting from a revenue base of at least $1 million. My view is that in South Africa this range should be a sustainable year-on-year growth rate of 30%+ for three years or more off a revenue base of at least R5 million.
Related: Is Venture Capital Right For You?
If I could know for sure that a start-up was going to turn into a Unicorn, I would obviously choose to back it over a Gazelle. But that is just the thing: The risk/return ratio of chasing mythical African Unicorns with a very low probability of actually achieving Unicorn status is not necessarily a viable investment strategy. There are enough entrepreneurs out there who are building sustainable high-growth businesses requiring opportunity funding to accelerate growth through access to knowledge and market access networks.
Many South African start-up investors require businesses to have proven traction to de-risk investments to some extent (and many of those who don’t, do so after gaining a few battle-scars). Start-ups looking for investment should first bootstrap to some extent or get enough funding from the so-called ‘three Fs’ (friends, family and fools) to gain some momentum in one or more key traction verticals before approaching the more formal early-stage investors.
As an investor, do profitable businesses that solve real, meaningful problems attract your interest? Why?
Absolutely — profitable businesses that solve real, meaningful problems attract our interest for investment as long as they are still in their growth phase (as opposed to maturity/ harvesting phase). At the core of any successful start-up lies a good product/service and a large addressable market for that product/service. This enables a start-up to grow or scale and become sustainable. Businesses that solve real, meaningful problems have a better chance of aggressively penetrating their identified target market and profitability is a great traction milestone. Too many start-ups focus on building a solution looking for a problem to solve — instead of the other way around.
What separates a good pitch from a great pitch?
I’ve seen thousands of start-up pitches through the years, and unfortunately most of them miss the mark by a long way. The better ones contain all the key components of a pitch, but the really great ones tell a brief but engaging story that follows a ‘Hearts — Minds — Wallets’ narrative in a true authentic way.
This includes first appealing to the ‘hearts’ of potential investors by taking them through a journey to get them excited about the opportunity. Then the entrepreneur has to augment the story with facts and a solid business case to win their ‘minds’, concluding with a clear ‘ask’ of the funding requirements and how this investment could positively affect their ‘wallets’.
How can an entrepreneur determine whether their business is funding ready or not?
Venture capital should not be the go-to funding choice for everyone starting a business. It is an inspirational metaphor at the bleeding edge of entrepreneurship. There are many other credible funding mechanisms out there across the debt/equity spectrum, and entrepreneurs should assess the criteria based on where they are in their business growth cycle, and then gauge their funding readiness.
A venture backable business has a high growth trajectory of at least 30% to 40% year-on-year for the foreseeable future with a clear exit strategy for investors to realise returns of at least five to ten times the money invested (in South Africa this is most likely a trade sale to a large strategic investor that can scale the product, intellectual property or team by utilising its already established distribution channels).
Entrepreneurs have to ask themselves whether their growth goals can be achieved without venture funding — in which case bootstrapping is the way to go. And lastly whether the current founding team can embrace trading ownership (and thereby some element of control) in the business for a financial partner.
In order to facilitate the funding process, it is advisable for entrepreneurs to always have the following elements at hand: A one-page teaser document containing a summary of the business and funding requirements; and a business pitch deck, with a detailed financial model and a virtual data room containing key business documentation for investor scrutiny. (See table)
What do so many start-ups not understand about funding?
The largest deal origination sources of start-up funding in South Africa come through warm referrals. It is simply not good enough to find the email address of a venture capitalist and send through a cold email expecting a positive outcome. Study the investment mandates of potential funders, build an investor universe of preferred partners and do some homework to figure out a way to get referred.
And then: The 8020 principle is as alive in entrepreneurship today as it was in Pareto’s pea garden. 20% of start-ups have 80% of the disruptive solutions and will receive 80% of the funding. One only has to watch one episode of Idols to realise that many people have an inflated sense of their own abilities. There is a very fine line between a tenacious entrepreneur who does not take no for an answer where success is inevitable despite the setbacks, and a lost cause. Start-up entrepreneurs need to figure out on which end of this spectrum they are.
Lastly: Like it or not, at some level all roads lead to the assumptions behind your financial model. We’ve heard it all from the ever-present ‘these projections are conservative’ to ‘real life won’t mimic excel anyway so what’s the point of building a model?’… Build a model! And make it granular. We know there will be pivots, delays, underestimation of costs, corporates who pay late, and so on. But we need to agree on the basic set of metrics that reflect the commercial DNA of the business at this point in time.
Do you believe most businesses can be bootstrapped?
Yes and no — to some extent and at certain stages of the business. The one thing that start-ups who believe in themselves must jealously guard is the management team’s equity ownership in the business. Risk funding will generally result in the start-up founders having to share this equity with outside parties. The more one can bootstrap while increasing value, the better in the long run for the founders — but not to the detriment of the business.
What is the role of bootstrapping versus funding in a vibrant market?
Bootstrapping is a viable option for most lifestyle businesses where growth is slower, but a start-up is a high growth potential company in search of a repeatable and scalable business model. If the business solves a real, meaningful problem and the business model is scalable, it’s a question of time before competitors establish themselves in the market. This means that the window of opportunity for growth and market penetration is closing, and while bootstrapping could be ideal, by the time the start-up gets to ‘Point B’ — the goalposts may have moved. Funding in a vibrant market can accelerate growth and ensure that windows of opportunity are not missed.
Related: How To Get Venture Capital
What red flags immediately warn you off investment opportunities/start-ups?
My number one red flag is a culture clash. Either between us as investors and the entrepreneurs, or subtle politics within the entrepreneurial team. We’ve learnt the hard way that the one thing that you can’t fix with money is a toxic corporate culture. Most other fundamental business gaps can be closed with enough investment. Knife Capital has an internal [subjective] measure for assessing corporate culture in companies called the ‘Speed of Climbing Stairs Index’. The theory is that there is a direct correlation between staff morale/corporate culture, and the speed at which employees will climb a proverbial staircase at the office. If it’s not fast enough, we will not invest.
Other red flags include questionable ethics, lack of product/market fit, cash flow management issues and entrepreneurs betting on a product as opposed to building a multi-product sustainable business.
What specifically do you look for in your investments?
- A Solid Investment Case: This comprises a good product/ service with a competitive advantage; a large addressable market for that product, a strong management team, a scalable business model, funding to accelerate growth and an achievable realisation strategy.
- Awesome People: Start-up investment is a long journey to success and we feel that we may as well embark on that journey with amazing people.
- Strong Culture: The company culture needs to be solid in order to celebrate the successes as well as survive the setbacks.
- Execution Capabilities: The value of an idea without execution capabilities is zero. So we look for the ability to execute.
- Proven Traction: There needs to be some element of momentum that can be demonstrated or quantified.
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