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Lessons Learnt

TWP: Nigel Townshend

Nigel Townshend, founder of consulting engineering giant TWP, takes Entrepreneur through the successes and challenges of growing a business from nothing to a listed entity.

Juliet Pitman



Nigel Townsend of TWP

You started TWP at the age of 25. What are some of the toughest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom at the age of 22 with about R500 in my pocket and no real support structure to speak of. Setting myself up in a foreign country and establishing the business was therefore a significant challenge. I’ve also experienced the challenges that many company founders face. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and one goes through periods of loss of confidence. In such situations, one can end up being too afraid or unsure to make any decisions, but I’ve learned to make the best decision one can given the facts at one’s disposal. It’s something we teach our people at TWP – the only people who make the wrong decisions are those who don’t make any decisions at all.

You listed the company in 2007 after having grown it from scratch. What were some of the challenges involved in this change, and what structures did you put in place to manage them? Going from what was essentially a family business to a public company answerable to around 1 500 shareholders was a big step. One of the most significant changes involves the new responsibility to shareholders. However, we had the benefit of five years’ careful planning during which time we put in place the necessary corporate governance, shareholder relationship and management structures.

What are you most proud of having achieved?

Starting this business from nothing in a new environment and building it into Africa’s largest organisation of its type has been incredibly gratifying. Being the first engineering professional services company to list on the JSE was also a defining moment.

Was there a particular area in your industry or in business that didn’t come naturally, and that you had to work hard to master?
I am not naturally an outgoing person and public speaking does not come naturally to me. Initially, this wasn’t a problem because the other member of the executive team had these strengths. However, he left the business and this created a sense of insecurity among some people. Life is not only about reality; it’s also about people’s perceptions and the only way to dispel uncertainty and change people’s negative perceptions is to communicate. It was critical at that time in the business that I learned to master that particular skill sufficiently to instill a sense of security in our staff and clients.

Your business employs highly skilled professional people. What have you found to be the most effective way of getting the best out of them?
You need to give them latitude to make decisions and get on with things, while providing a support structure in case things go wrong. And you have to ensure that people are comfortable enough to come to you if they are feeling out of their depth, before things start to go wrong. So setting up a culture of support instead of blame is important. You also need to provide an environment for people to grow. We try to encourage our people to make themselves redundant in a particular role so that they can evolve and move into a new position.  The least effective way of managing this kind of workforce is to be rigid and dictatorial.

What is the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve received – and taken – lots of bad advice. I think that the mistake people sometimes make is to look at the person giving advice, and not at the advice itself. It’s easy to believe that someone should know what they are talking about, but their stature, position and even their experience is no guarantee that the advice they give is sound or that it’s the best advice for you. The best advice I’ve received is that in life you need three people: a good doctor, a good lawyer and a good bank manager.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Lessons Learnt

7 Pieces Of Wise Advice For Start-Up Entrepreneurs From Successful Business Owners

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

Nadine Todd




“What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.” 

So you want to start a business? Seven successful entrepreneurs share their words of wisdom for start-up entrepreneurs

1. Offer advice and share your expertise freely

The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn’t make my service redundant — it built trust between us. — Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. Stop planning and start doing

We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on. — Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

3. Play your heart out and the money will follow

I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don’t stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It’s the same in business. You can’t look at the bottom line first; it’s the other way around. — Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

4. Love learning lessons

What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you. I wasn’t paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn’t realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me. — Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. Landing an investor starts with your story

A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level. — Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Offer solutions

If you’re not solving a problem and creating value, don’t ship it — throw it away. That’s cheaper than selling a bad product. — Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. Small, clever decisions lead to big profits

One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It’s that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it’s about. — Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, Watermark

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.





In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton



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Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

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